Orry’s incredible guide to minting money

File photo of Orhan Awatramani in London. “You can not pull off the clothes that I wear even if you can wear them,” he said.   (Andrew Kimber)
File photo of Orhan Awatramani in London. “You can not pull off the clothes that I wear even if you can wear them,” he said. (Andrew Kimber)

Summary

  • Orhan Awatramani became a social media sensation this year. His madness has a method

Mumbai: At about 7.40pm on 18 December, I walked into Orhan Awatramani’s ground floor apartment in Mumbai’s Altamount Road, also known as the ‘Billionaires’ Row’. Shoes have to be taken off before you can enter his living room, which is as minimalist as it gets. A beige L-shaped sofa with grey and white cushions, a large television, a desktop calendar and a family photograph— Awatramani with his two brothers—is all I saw. An apple cinnamon scented candle filled the air with an overpowering fragrance.

Awatramani, nonetheless, doesn’t believe in minimalism. Popularly known as Orry, he is variously described as an “internet personality", a “social activist", a “socialite", a “social media star". He is more like a super influencer, always photographed in high-end brands. In 2023, he emerged with a style statement that ranges from the polished to the rather outrageous. One day, he is in a hot pink Versace suit. The next day, in a hoodie, from the Spanish luxury fashion house Loewe. From the avalanche of photographs, videos and reels dumped every second by celebrities on social media, Awatramani’s were one of the most sifted through this year.

He met me in a maroon tee, with a brown leather jacket over it. But more than his sense of fashion and entertaining dialogues—he uses obtuse lines like “I am a liver"—I wanted to understand the businessman in him.

After all, he has built a career merely from selfies—with actors, singers, politicians and corporate personalities such as the Ambanis. In fact, Awatramani’s apartment is barely a couple of hundred meters away from Antilia, the home of Mukesh Ambani, the chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries Ltd and India’s richest man.

To be more specific, he has built a career mostly out of Instagram, the most popular social media platform in India at the moment. On Instagram, Orry follows 955 people. But 857,000 follow him. That’s a goldmine.

“You have to be able to spin hay into gold," Awatramani told me, referring to the German fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin popularized by the Brothers Grimm.

“If I run an Instagram account and it does not make profit, then it is not successful," he said. “Success is measured in how much money you make. Your follower count can go up but that does not mean you have succeeded. I am after good content and the profit that comes with it," he added. “It is not silly if it is making you money."

We will return to Awatramani’s ways of turning what appears silly into cash. But first, a short timeline of what he did prior to becoming the internet sensation that he is today.

Farmer wears Prada

Awatramani first popped into the streaming world when photographs with Kylie Jenner, the younger sibling of Kim Kardashian, went viral in 2017.
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Awatramani first popped into the streaming world when photographs with Kylie Jenner, the younger sibling of Kim Kardashian, went viral in 2017.

Very little is known about Awatramani’s personal life and upbringing. His age is a mystery, too—he doesn’t like to talk about it.

When I scrolled the internet for cues, I found he was born in 1999. That makes him 24 years old now. There are stories that say he did his schooling in Tamil Nadu before landing up in New York to study at the Parsons School of Design.

He said he worked around the world doing odd jobs. What were those? “Waiting on table in swish restaurants"; “farming llamas"; “cleaning animal dung in Prada boots". A waiter’s job at a top-end restaurant in New York was particularly cool, he said—not everyone gets an opportunity to serve at this restaurant.

Awatramani first popped into the streaming world when photographs with Kylie Jenner, the younger sibling of Kim Kardashian, the American socialite and businesswoman, went viral in 2017. He looked very different back then—he was clean shaven. He has worked on himself ever since. Now, he keeps a beard, appears fitter and fashionably elegant. Indeed, on Snapchat, his tagline is: “I’m already pretty cool, but I wanna get cooler".

Awatramani, today, is seen in parties with the Ambani family’s scions. According to some people, he has worked at Reliance as an intern. His job involved working across the conglomerate’s retail brands. A LinkedIn profile earlier stated that he worked in the ‘special projects’ team at the chairman’s office. When I asked, Awatramani did not want to comment on Reliance or his work with the company. The LinkedIn page’s veracity is unknown and has now been deleted.

Reliance Industries did not respond to Mint’s queries.

Big Boss calls

Awatramani has a contrarian social media strategy. He doesn’t want to be viewed as the boy next door. His unique selling point is the fact that people can’t relate to him.
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Awatramani has a contrarian social media strategy. He doesn’t want to be viewed as the boy next door. His unique selling point is the fact that people can’t relate to him.

Although Awatramani has been crafting his image for years, the meteoric rise started in 2022. He began sharing selfies and photos with celebrities and film stars almost like a teaser for many months before the paparazzi was ready to click him solo. Now they do—photos of him and actor Janhvi Kapoor (Sridevi and Boney Kapoor’s daughter) leaving a restaurant did the rounds late last year. He is frequently clicked with other star kids about to launch themselves in the Hindi film industry.

In India, content creators often jostle to stay relevant and have to reinvent themselves frequently. Don’t forget, today, even celebrities are content creators. Sports and film stars regularly put out videos and photos; some of them consciously attempt to become more approachable. Nonetheless, Awatramani’s strategy is contrarian. He doesn’t want to be viewed as the boy next door. His unique selling point is the fact that people can’t relate to him.

“I do not think I am relatable. I do not market myself as someone relatable," he told me. “Can you walk into the house of Big Boss, the biggest TV reality show? Those are not opportunities that fall on the common man."

Awatramani was invited for the reality show Big Boss as a wild-card contestant in November this year.

“I am aspirational and you are watching me achieve those things, drive that car, go to that restaurant. You cannot pull off the clothes that I wear even if you can wear them," he added.

He is right. The only other person I can think of, and who does it with equal or better panache, is actor Ranveer Singh.

20 lakh selfie

Awatramani views the clothes he wears, and the outrageous phone cases he uses, as an investment. He can auction them, going ahead.
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Awatramani views the clothes he wears, and the outrageous phone cases he uses, as an investment. He can auction them, going ahead.

The clothes that Awatramani wears might make him money, going ahead. There is a method to the madness.

He explained to me the rationale behind procuring and wearing outfits that could appear outright outrageous to many. These clothes are an investment. They have been carefully picked to garner attention. “Today, there are pages written on social media on those outfits. Tomorrow, I can auction my clothes or phone cases," he said.

Yes, the influencer is also known for carrying outrageous phone cases— those in the shape of a banana, a crab on a plate, a chef’s knife.

His phone cases have a “stylist" and “a manager", he informed me, and recounted the story of how all this began. Once, in London, his phone case cracked. His manager in the city sent him a few cases. He ended up rejecting all of them because “they were ugly and boring" and asked for cases that “will make headlines". Carrying the headline-grabbing cases has worked. Awatramani claimed he has offers from 10 companies who want to make phone case brands.

While these are the business models of the future, Awatramani currently makes money in much the same way as any other influencer. Except that his cheque sizes are fatter. He refused to share with me how much he makes from shooting brand reels (micro video sharing services). But we have some estimates from social media marketing executives.

A star of his stature could easily charge between 5 lakh and 7 lakh for a shoot that can take about two hours. Because of various brand associations, a star influencer can earn as much as 20 lakh a month. While the earnings from social media are seasonal and depend on the barometer of likes, dislikes and the comments it generates, a 2.4 crore annual income is similar to what chief executives of mid-sized companies in India earn today.

At the Big Boss show, Awatramani said that people are ready to pay him 20-30 lakh for a selfie with him, in a pose he is popular for. His trademark style is standing with his palm on the shoulder of the other person while being clicked. Some executives at marketing agencies said that such amounts are unheard of and are inflated.

Awatramani, meanwhile, said he doesn’t like to discount even when he likes a brand.

A few days ago, a brand approached him for a reel. He was keen on shooting the ad but the negotiations failed, he told me. “I could have done it. But if you want to associate with me, you want to buy that hoarding on Instagram, you want to use my face, then this is my price and I cannot budge on it," he said.

No gatekeeping

“You are living under a rock if you do not know Orry,” P.G. Aditya, cofounder of Talented Agency, said.
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“You are living under a rock if you do not know Orry,” P.G. Aditya, cofounder of Talented Agency, said.

While people like following Awatramani, marketers like him for the package he brings to the table.

“You are living under a rock if you do not know Orry," PG Aditya, co-founder of Talented Agency, an advertising firm, said. “He is the mix of topical and influencer marketing, which we had rarely seen so far in India," he added.

Topical marketing is a planned advertising campaign of a product around an event, something that a brand like Amul is well known for. After India lost the men’s cricket world cup final to Australia earlier this year, Amul came out with an ad that said, ‘Don’t be blue, men in blue!’. The illustration had a player in blue, who looked like captain Rohit Sharma, along with the famous Amul girl. Influencer marketing, on the other hand, is often unplanned.

“At a time when most people’s self esteem is linked to the like, subscribe, share buttons on social media platforms, Orry is clearly a phenomenon of a time when big media is no longer the gatekeeper of who gets to attract attention. And this is only accelerating," Gunjan Arya, chief executive officer at Only Much Louder, an artist management company, told me.

Arya recounted that stand-up comic Varun Thakur had introduced a character called Vicky Malhotra—akin to an alter ego—whose way of talking was similar to Awatramani. “There are more people online than when Thakur did this in 2016. Now, one can use digital medium for content to commerce to community. Distribution is no longer dependent on large media houses but on individuals," Arya added.

Human in AI’s time

 Lil Miquela, a “19-year-old robot”. The super influencer will also have growing competition in the future—if not from humans, from artificial intelligence (AI) engineered influencers.
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Lil Miquela, a “19-year-old robot”. The super influencer will also have growing competition in the future—if not from humans, from artificial intelligence (AI) engineered influencers. (Instagram)

The big question is if this fame will last?

Social media is a fickle phenomenon. Awatramani, and his managers, have done a good job of creating a mystery around his persona. However, with growing popularity, the mystery can diminish.

“The sheen can wear off (in social media stars and brands). It is the case of diminishing marginal returns," Viren Sean Noronha, co-founder and director, The New Thing, an advertising services company, explained to me.

The law of diminishing marginal returns is a theory in economics that predicts that after reaching an optimal level of capacity, any more efforts in production or additions will lead to drop in output.

Nonetheless, Awatramani has impressed Noronha—they recently worked together on a video for Netflix and boAt.

Noronha said he was taken aback by the amount of details that the influencer asked over a 40 minute call, a day before the shoot. “He was very precise on the angles that will be taken, who will be the other influencers sharing the screen, what will be his lines, etc.," Noronha recalled. The next day, during the shoot, Noronha found Awatramani open to feedback. “I will not be surprised if he becomes the head of a brand in the future," Noronha said.

The super influencer will also have growing competition in the future—if not from humans, from artificial intelligence (AI) engineered influencers. Think of Miquela Sousa, also called Lil Miquela. The “19-year-old robot", who lives in Los Angeles, has 2.6 million followers on Instagram. The robot has been pictured with many celebrities.

For now, Awatramani isn’t insecure. And he doesn’t look worried about his popularity fading.

“The AI does not worry me at all because you have to post something special," he said. “I am still entertained by myself. This fame is recent. I have lived my life without it and can live without it after it (fades) as well."

We spoke for 35 minutes. It was time to wrap up. Awatramani had a flight to catch for New Delhi. Before I made my way out, we clicked a photo. He avoided his signature style, the Orry pose, but made sure he edited it.

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