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Indian women who rule YouTube

A look at some of the top women YouTube creators

  • Published 27.12.19, 1:37 AM
  • Updated 27.12.19, 1:37 AM
  • 8 mins read
As compared to only one woman with over a million subscribers in 2016, today there are 120 women YouTube creators with over a million subscribers iStock

Indian women have truly broken through the glass ceiling on YouTube. The channel came to India in 2007 but even as recently as 2016 only one woman had crossed the magic 1-million mark. Today, by contrast, there are over 120 women who have over a million subscribers.

Indians love to cook, or at least watch cooking shows. Of the top 10 women YouTube creators with over a million followers, two are home cooks who share recipe videos with a combined following of nearly 14 million subscribers. Indian viewers also enjoy a good laugh and three of the top 10 women YouTube creators put up comedy/entertainment videos and have a combined following of a little over 14 million. Beauty tips are also popular among women viewers, with two of the creators having a combined following of 12.8 million subscribers. And music continues to be an all-time hit, with three women YouTube creators having a combined subscriber base of over 18 million.

Here’s a look at five of the top 10 women YouTube creators:

Nisha Madhulika: She loves to cook and viewers love to learn from her. With nearly 8 million subscribers, she is the recipe queen
Nisha Madhulika: She loves to cook and viewers love to learn from her. With nearly 8 million subscribers, she is the recipe queen

Nisha Madhulika, 7.99 million viewers

For 61-year-old Nisha Madhulika, cooking has always been a passion. But it was her desire to better utilise her time, after her children had grown up that made this Noida resident put up recipes on YouTube way back in 2011.

“It was exciting, and I was enthusiastic, so I used to post a recipe a day,” she says admitting that initially she got only 200-250 views for her recipes and had only around 50-60 subscribers. However, she didn’t start off thinking she would become a YouTube star and therefore she wasn’t discouraged. She noticed that around festival times she would get a major jump in viewership. “I started focusing on that and putting up recipes that were appropriate for that festival,” she explains.

Nisha puts up recipes in Hindi and interacts with her viewers. She takes into consideration their suggestions, whether for a new dish or a new way to make a dish. She says there is a demand for easy to make dishes with simple ingredients, but which still have a newness about them. For instance, she made mango laddoos and ginger barfi, both were very popular.

Now she posts three recipes a week but is constantly thinking of newer recipes. “Even when I eat at a restaurant, I am always thinking how I can adapt the recipe,” she says.

Another USP of her recipes are that they are vegetarian and without onion and garlic. “There are a large number of people in India who eat vegetarian food without onion and garlic, they are my target segment,” says Nisha. Her chole bhature recipe has over 15 million views.

Did she ever think that posting recipes on YouTube would become her profession? No, she says. She started putting them up as a way to kill boredom and share her knowledge. Now she feels she owes it to her viewers, it has become a way of life.

Shruti Arjun Anand: A computer engineer who has taken YouTube by storm with her beauty tips and comedy channels
Shruti Arjun Anand: A computer engineer who has taken YouTube by storm with her beauty tips and comedy channels

Anaysa, 7.9 million; Shruti Arjun Anand – 5.8 million

Shruti Arjun Anand is a 32- year-old computer engineer by profession. It was while she was in the US in 2012 that she started putting up beauty videos on YouTube. “There were hardly any DIY or beauty tip videos for brown skin then,” says Shruti.

Today she and her husband handle 7 channels of which six have over 1 million subscribers.

Shruti started her journey with a handheld camera. Most of the content then was being viewed only by friends and family. She returned to India in 2013 and decided to not work and become a full-time YouTube creator. Besides beauty she started putting up videos on women’s health and later documented her pregnancy journey. These videos were doing well and she was getting a lot of traction but she says videos only started going viral after the introduction of the Jio network. “Before that you only had loyal subscribers. Nearly all the videos got the same viewership,” she explains. But with Jio suddenly a large number of people started using the Internet and since it was a new experience for many, videos started becoming viral. “You would have one video with 30,000-40,000 views and suddenly another might have over a million views,” she says. “But now the consumer pattern has evolved. The videos in nearly all our channels are performing consistently.”

When Shruti started, the beauty videos were in English. But she soon realised that to expand her viewership she needed to attract the Hindi-speaking audience. “The issue I found was that if you are catering to English speaking audience on YouTube, they will soon start following an international channel. This audience very easily jumps on to NRI creators. I wasn’t happy with that,” she says. She put a few Hindi videos on her channel but that led to confusion not only with her audience but also with the YouTube algorithm. “YouTube prefers it if the videos are in the same language. One in Hindi and one in English doesn’t work for them.”

In December 2015, she launched Anaysa with a focus on health, beauty and women-centric content for the Hindi-speaking audience. Anaysa has 7.9 million subscribers with average views of a million. A video for an easy hack to apply eyeliner perfectly has 43 million views. Anaysa’s USP is its content. The videos are not tutorials but instead are funny skits with tips thrown in. Shruti provides all the content for Anaysa but she is not the face and hires people to enact the content.

Once that channel took off she decided to do something different on her original channel, Shruti Arjun Anand. “I was always interested in comedy but I don’t have a theatre background and when I said I wanted to do it most people thought I won’t be able to.” However, her content which is inspired by real people found an audience and today has 5.8 million subscribers. “There was so much drama going on in our community when I was growing up,” laughs the Jhansi-born woman.

Shruti’s husband Anand is a B.Tech from IIT Delhi and has worked for various multinational companies. However, a couple of years ago, he quit his job and joined Shruti full time. While she creates the content, he manages the production house.

Shruti writes the script with the help of her team and acts in all the videos. She has a team comprising a director, a cameraman, production assistant etc.

She feels people watch YouTube because they don’t want to watch TV. There is a certain rawness in the quality of YouTube videos which attracts people. If it had the same slickness as a TV programme, people would probably not watch it.

Kabita Singh: This Pune-based home cook has 5.8 million subscribers and some of her recipes are so popular that they have been viewed over 20 million times
Kabita Singh: This Pune-based home cook has 5.8 million subscribers and some of her recipes are so popular that they have been viewed over 20 million times

Kabita Singh – 5.8 million viewers

When 38-year-old Kabita Singh, a home maker and mother of two, started putting up videos of her daily cooking on YouTube, five years ago, it was just to share with friends and family. She never for a moment dreamt that one day over 5.8 million people would subscribe to her YouTube channel – Kabita’s Kitchen – and that some of her recipes would be viewed over 20 million times.

Her first 89 videos did not get much of a response initially. But her 90th video changed everything. Her recipe for making gulab jamun out of bread went viral. Within a month it was receiving nearly a lakh views daily. The recipe which was posted four years ago has been seen 23 million times.

“Things changed after that,” says the Pune-based home cook who likes to post simple recipes. She started paying attention to the viewers’ comments. They would often ask her to share the recipe of a particular dish. She would share that recipe and let the viewer know. This created a lot of interaction with the viewers and they further shared the recipes. “Most of my viewers are bachelors or young cooks who have just started cooking. They are also middle class so I never use very expensive ingredients.” In fact, she often shares tricks to reduce the cost of ingredients, such as using malai instead of cream.

Initially her videos were 10-15 minute long, almost like a tutorial. But after getting feedback from viewers she shortened them to less than five minutes. Today she follows Google trends and cooks as per season, festival and mood of the people. “It’s Christmas time, if I share a recipe for Baingan ka bharta, no one will watch it. But if I share the recipe for a cake, that would be popular.”

Kabita crossed 1 million subscribers in 2016 and that’s when she realised that being a YouTuber could be a full-time profession. For four years she had worked with a single camera and tripod. But last year she converted one room into a proper studio and invested in another camera and a cameraman. “The visual appearance of the food is also very important,” she says.

She posts three videos a week now instead of six to seven as she used to do earlier. Till now, she has posted 746 videos and has worked with various brands such as Maggi, Britannia, Dabur etc.

“I am earning as much as I would have if I was working in banking or IT,” says the wife of a Pune-based banker “But I am following my passion.”

Her biggest complaint related to her profession are the trolls. “You need to be mentally strong to deal with trolls since you can’t take any action against them.”

Kabita also has two side channels, one for quick snack recipes, and the other for video blogs or vlogs that provide a peek into her life outside cooking.

Prajakta Koli: This 26-year-old Mumbai girl loves to interact with her viewers
Prajakta Koli: This 26-year-old Mumbai girl loves to interact with her viewers

Mostly Sane, Prajakta Koli -- 4.8 million viewers

She’s a young, bubbly Mumbai girl who wanted to be a RJ. And at 21 Prajakta Koli started interning with a radio production house in Mumbai but somehow RJing did not work out for her. It was a chance meeting with Sudeep Lahiri, VP, Content and Strategies, One Digital Entertainment, that led to her setting up her own YouTube channel called MostlySane in February 2015.

“I used to write a blog that was a sarcastic take on everyday life. Sudeep thought I could develop that into a script for a comedy series on YouTube,” says Prajakta whose YouTube channel has 4.8 million subscribers. She has posted 641 videos till now. When she started out, she got around 2,000 subscribers quite quickly. Her breakout video was ‘10 hilarious words Delhi people use’ in June 2015. Within two weeks of the video she had 25,000 subscribers. The video continues to do well and has been viewed 3.2 million times till now.

Prajakta acts in all her videos and plays numerous characters. “There are no other actors, I play everyone,” says Prajakta, adding that she is always ready for an acting opportunity if it comes her way. For the first two years, she shot videos in her room with the help of her friends. “It was a nerve-wracking experience,” she laughs. Now she shoots at a studio and has a team of editors, writers, directors and production assistants.

Her videos are popular primarily with teenagers and those in their 20s. She posts three videos every week. On Tuesdays she posts a video where she interacts with a celebrity. The videos are called Real-Talk-Tuesdays. She has interacted with the who’s who of Bollywood, from Kareena Kapoor, Kajol and Saif to Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan. On Thursdays she posts her comedy videos. One of the most popular characters she plays is ‘Montu’, a young man who plays her sibling on screen. She says all her characters are based on real people. The scripts are inspired from her own experiences and also from those of her friends. On Saturday she posts a video called SawaalSaturday in which she answers questions from viewers. Everything from whether she is planning to get married to if she has ever fallen into a swimming pool, are asked and answered. One of the reasons for Prajakta’s popularity is her constant interaction with her loyal viewers whom she refers to as Dumdums. She goes through most of the comments, replying to fans and ignoring the trolls.

Brand collaboration on her videos are done in a very organic fashion and she has worked with several brands such as Gillette, Xiaomi, Hyundai, Samsung etc.

Prajakta who has 1.7 million followers on Instagram and 350 fan pages dedicated to her on the Internet, has also used her influence to talk about hate speech, body shaming, homophobia and xenophobia. Prajakta was the only Indian among 50 digital creators worldwide who were part of Creators of Change, a YouTube initiative. She composed a song, No Offence, condemning hate speech. It was one of the four shortlisted and screened at the UN headquarters in 2018 and has had over 12 million views.

Prajakta’s popularity amongst younger people led her to be featured on Forbes 30 Under-30 list of most influential Indians under 30 last February.