Bengali food vloggers take over the internet

Their content might be just this side of cringe, but these home-makers from rural Bengal score high on confidence and chutzpah

Shrabonti Bagchi
First Published30 May 2024
 Usha Bishoyi is a food vlogger based out West Bengal's West Medinipur district
Usha Bishoyi is a food vlogger based out West Bengal’s West Medinipur district ((Instagram) )

Usha Bishoyi, a 48-year-old content creator from a village in West Bengal’s West Medinipur district, first started a cooking channel on YouTube in 2021 at her son’s behest. It did not take off. Soon after, the family’s financial situation deteriorated so much that they couldn’t afford to pay for the data needed to keep the channel alive. A couple of years down the line, when they were further in debt, Bishoyi’s son suggested she restart her vlog, but with short videos.

By some algorithmic alchemy, the short videos on her Facebook and Instagram channels, both called oldays_kitchen, started getting hits. With 362,000 followers on Instagram, she’s back in a new avatar on YouTube as well and has 1.79 million followers. Bishoyi has a particular way of presenting her short recipe videos—they all feature a chhora or catchy short rhyme about the dish being cooked or its primary ingredients—and it’s difficult to say whether it’s these, the recipes, or her brightly made up, sari-clad personality that draws viewers. Possibly, it’s a mix. But watching her, what I am struck by is her confidence and ease in front of the camera —as comfortable as the most sophisticated influencer walking the red carpet at Cannes.

Perhaps this is the best thing social media has done for us, or at least a lucky few who have come alive in front of the camera in ways they themselves couldn’t have imagined. “I was a simple Bengali housewife. It’s only thanks to my son, who has encouraged me and taught me everything, that I can do this,” says Bishoyi.

Also read: 4 Andhra recipes for the summer

Some may call their content “cringe”, but Bishoyi and many creators like her—housewives from small town and rural Bengal—have taken to social media with a chutzpah that you can’t help admiring, and have made their families’ lives better through it. “It’s a toss-up between Usha, Sima and Sonali. Stiff competition,” says a friend, sharing an Instagram reel by Sima Mondal (@simamondal3197 on Instagram; 14,700 followers), whose unexpectedly popular videos feature her cooking while her children quiz her on what she’s making. Sonali Halder (@sonalihalder680; 45,700 followers), does the same—unlike Bishoyi, they don’t share elaborate recipes but feature them cooking in their home kitchens, un-made up and usually in basic cotton nighties. Something about their content has struck a chord, and while it’s difficult to pin down internet fame, I’d venture that it’s their sheer confidence in putting up their real, unfiltered, unglamorous lives—along with the eternal Bengali obsession with food.

Their chosen ways of telling their stories may or may not remain popular—social media trends, even for content just this side of cringe, are fickle—but these home-makers have, maybe ephemerally, gamed the algorithmic machine to create better lives for themselves. With brand collaborations and ads, Bishoyi’s family is slowly paying off its debt, and she has appeared on popular Bengali TV shows, including the quiz show Dadagiri hosted by Saurav Ganguli. Halder has tied up with a Kolkata-based influencer marketing agency and has an ongoing collaboration with a small brokerage platform—which has paid for her home renovations.

These obscure corners of the internet may well disappear a few years down the line, as the www becomes more and more a predictable monolith rather than a place of odd discoveries. In the much-cited April article We Need to Rewild the Internet in Noema magazine, about the destruction of what used to be a fertile and strange ecosystem full of surprises, authors Maria Farrell and Robin Berjon write: “When we simplify complex systems, we destroy them, and the devastating consequences sometimes aren’t obvious until it’s too late... the same drive to centralize, control and extract has driven the internet to the same fate as the ravaged forests.”

In the rewilding of the internet, maybe Usha, Sima and Sonali are playing a small role.

Also read: ‘Panchayat’ Season 3 review: Not a comedy anymore

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