If you spend any amount of time watching videos on Facebook or reels on Instagram, it wouldn’t be surprising if you came across Shayan Roy’s profile. Born and brought up in Shillong until his family relocated to Mumbai when he was 12, Shayan is known for his hilarious online videos and fantastic commentary on growing up in a Bengali household. He has a 100,000+ strong community of followers on Instagram who he keeps hooked with his entertaining videos.
My Kolkata spoke to Shayan to unravel how he creates his content, his relationship with his parents (who appear ever-so-often in his videos), where his inspirations come from, his connection to the City of Joy and more. Edited excerpts from the conversation follow…
My Kolkata: How did your content creation journey begin?
Shayan Roy: My journey in video content creation was quite unexpected. I think I was at the right place at the right time, having just joined BuzzFeed India as a writer when they were starting up video operations. YouTube and Facebook videos were also gaining traction in India during that time. I was also really lucky to be surrounded by some of the most creative minds I've met.
Has online content creation changed since the early days?
It certainly was different then – there weren't too many rules to follow and we had the luxury of throwing things on the wall and to see what sticks. It was definitely the most I've ever learned, and also one of the most fun experiences of my life. I'm very thankful for that time.
What process do you follow while creating content? Where do you get your inspiration from?
I'd love to call it a process, but the truth is that I'm wildly inconsistent with how I come up with my content. I think I draw inspiration from mundane things that I experience in my daily life, which I then try to express in the funniest way I can. I'm struck by inspiration at random times of the day (or night), and the hundreds of ‘content idea’ notes I have on my phone are a testament to that. Over the years, I think my brain has trained itself to look at everything through a ‘potential content’ lens. I'm sure it gets quite annoying for the people around me!
You haven’t lived in Kolkata but have spent a lot of your time there, especially during your childhood. What about the city is special to you?
I think I've begun appreciating Kolkata more and more as I grow older. Although I've never resided there, everything about it — from the architecture to even the pace of life feels like home to me now. And it definitely has the best street food. If I'm being specific, nobody does phuchkas, egg rolls or veg chops like Kolkata does. I'd also have to give a special mention to Suresh Sweets in Dhakuria. In my eyes, they can do no wrong.
How often do you visit?
I've been visiting Kolkata at least two to three times a year lately, seeing as many of my cousins and friends are frantically getting married! It gives me a good excuse to keep coming back, exploring the streets by myself (something I rarely do in other places), and cheating on my diet plan!
Your videos on Bengalis and Bengali life have struck a chord. Did you anticipate such a response?
Like I said, I try to draw inspiration from my daily life, and that includes having fun with the subtleties and oddities of growing up in a Bengali family. I never anticipated such an amazing response, but I now realise that so many people have had life experiences similar to mine, which is why these videos have resonated with so many people. It's one of the biggest lessons I've learned on my journey — stay true to your roots and be honest about the person you are and the things you enjoy.
Your videos feature your parents too. How easy or difficult was it to get them to agree to be in your videos? Has including them changed your level of comfort with them?
Working with my parents on my videos feels like such a happy accident to me. Initially, it just started out as a way for me to connect with my parents as a 20-something – to try and spend more time with them while we lead our busy lives. In the beginning, I was confused about why my parents were so eager to be part of any video I asked them to be in. But talking to them later, I found out that they were excited to do them because they wanted to be a bigger part of my life. It was a mutual desire between me and my parents, and it's the most beautiful thing I've experienced. I feel closer than ever to both of them.
Shayan with his parents Santanu and Nandini Roy
How important is it to plan out your content beforehand?
Although I look at spontaneity as a crucial tool in content creation, I think planning is important no matter what field of work you're in. I highly encourage content creators to be comfortable and free-flowing whenever they're creating something. With that being said, it's only going to get you to a certain level if you don't have a long-term idea of where you want to be. If your intention is to grow your reach and work on bigger projects, you need to create a vision of what you want your career to look like, which will help you take active and conscious steps towards getting there.
There’s always certain kinds of content that do better than others. How do you strike a balance creating content that you want and jumping on trends?
That's certainly true. But it is my firm belief that there's no substitute to creating your own unique brand. Jumping on trends is a quick way to build your base, but I think having your own voice and style, and building original creative properties is what's going to make your followers stick. I wish I could say that I'm comfortable striking that balance, but it's still a learning process for me. The internet is an ever-changing beast, so I'm always trying my best to find that fine line between making the content I love and keeping up with the latest trends and developments.
Are there any videos that performed beyond your expectations?
Where do I even begin? Some of the views on the BuzzFeed India videos I made on YouTube still blow my mind, not to mention the multitudes of short-form content that have performed beyond my wildest dreams on Instagram. I acknowledge that some of these things have a lot of luck and good timing attached to them, not to mention I have very little idea about how any of the platform algorithms work. So, whenever something I make does well, I don't always understand why that's happened. The best I can do is just try to appreciate it and not get too swept away, because I'll probably not know how to replicate it. I'm rolling the content creation dice on a daily basis. #LudoKing
With social media being such a big part of our lives now, how difficult is it to separate the real and reel world?
This is something I've struggled with ever since I started creating content and began getting recognised for it. That validation initially feels great, but if you're not careful, it can create a warped notion of what reality is. I have often found myself getting angry because not everyone in real life treats me the way they would online. I've also had feelings of inadequacy when my content isn't getting great numbers, or when I'm not being productive enough. I'd like to think that I'm getting better at dealing with it as I get older, and I now try to compartmentalise my online presence from my actual life, which helps in re-enforcing the fact that the number of views my videos are getting don't define my worth as a human being.
With 101K followers on Instagram, is there pressure to create something every day? Does it take a toll on mental health?
The short answer is yes. It does take a toll if you're not careful. But I also think a small amount of pressure can be a good thing and keep you on your toes as a creator. The fact that the content-creation industry keeps growing bigger every day is a good thing, because although it makes the situation more competitive, it also means that it is now a viable career option for so many kids trying to figure out what they want to do in life.
‘A small amount of pressure can be a good thing and keep you on your toes as a creator,' says Shayan
Along with being a digital content creator, you are also pursuing your music career. Has that always been a passion of yours? Why did you decide to take a dive into the music world?
Music has been something I have taken very seriously for about half my life now. I've wanted to be a musician for a lot longer than I've been a content creator. It's kind of a bug in my head bordering on an obsession, but I absolutely love the feeling of performing my own songs on stage. Very few things come close to that high for me. Releasing music took a bit of a backseat for me during the pandemic and I've been cautious about stepping back into it. I've written a ton of songs over the last couple of years and it's been a process of learning to fall in love with it again, and not taking it too seriously. My hope is that once I start releasing the music again, I won’t ever look back.
What advice would you give anyone looking to build a career in digital content creation?
Be yourself. There's literally nobody else on the planet who can do that better than you. If you can do that, I think that gives you the best chance to enjoy what you do, every single day.
Shayan’s top 5 activities to do when in Kolkata
- Going on runs around the city by myself without much direction (shoutout to Google Maps)
- Visiting friends or relatives who live in really old buildings that I absolutely adore
- Sitting in taxis and doing my best to convince the drivers that I actually grew up in Kolkata
- Eating (a lot)
- Sleeping in the afternoon