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AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool
Taking charge of her narrative.
GETTING PERSONAL

As YouTubers eye Bollywood glory, movie star Alia Bhatt is aiming for their bastion

By Ananya Bhattacharya

A robust social media presence has for a while been a sure ticket to other mediums.

The first Indian YouTuber to garner 10 million subscribers, Bhuvan Bam went from musician to comedian to writer-actor in a short film. Prajakta Koli, aka Mostly Sane, who has nearly 4 million subscribers on the video-sharing platform, went on to star in a WhatsApp commercial. There are more such examples. One of the ultimate goals for many of these artistes is the Bollywood silver screen.

However, the reverse journey is rare.

For instance, with 28 films in her kitty, Alia Bhatt is already a household name in India. Loved by critics and fans alike, her 2018 espionage drama Raazi became the first woman-centric film and the first movie to be directed by one to enter the coveted Rs100-crore club. The 26-year-old is also among the most Instagram-famous Indian celebrities, boasting 34.2 million followers. On Twitter, she reaches nearly 20 million.

In this context, Bhatt’s June 26 launch of her own YouTube channel, seven years after her film debut, may seem counterintuitive—but it is not.

Boosting the “Alia” brand

YouTube can be wildly lucrative, experts say.

“The lure of YouTube’s 100 million subscriber base growing at 100,000 a day is an order of magnitude larger in scale—that makes Alia Bhatt’s (Instagram) following look somewhat niche,” Sandeep Murthy, partner at venture capital firm Lightbox, points out. “As her influence grows at the same pace and scale of YouTube, so will that of the brands she endorses.”

Scores of Indian bloggers have become influencers and micro-influencers that give out boy- and girl-next-door vibes to befriend their followers, feeding them brands in more organic ways. Launching a personal YouTube channel can help Bollywood stars do the same. It helps reach more millennials and Gen Zs, according to Sunder Aaron, co-founder and general manager of digital content company The Q India.

Moreover, Bhatt, who already owns a minority stake in subscription-based fashion commerce portal Stylecracker, could leverage her YouTube presence “to launch a product or brand of her own,” Murthy said. “Kylie Jenner was an Instagram celebrity before she was the founder of Kylie Cosmetics—a $900 million cosmetics giant.”

However, competition is rife and Bhatt’s already busy.

“The danger she (or any actor) will face is in overextending herself,” The Q’s Aaron said. “It will be a challenge for her to remain consistently engaging, which is expected from today’s always-on fans. Popular influencers create new and innovative forms of content, sharing videos, images and stories multiple times a day.”

Bhatt did not respond to Quartz’s requests for comment at the time of publishing.

Bollywood goes online

The actress is not the first from Bollywood to take to YouTube.

“There is a growing trend among actors to launch a YouTube channel just to interact with their fans, showcase their products, future collaborations, behind-the-scenes footage, and some occasional vlogging,” said Subrat Kar, CEO and co-founder of video analytics startup Vidooly. 

He cited examples of Ajay Devgn, Priyanka Chopra, Arjun Kapoor, Varun Dhawan, and Shilpa Shetty Kundra. Devgn, for instance, uses his channel to promote movies under his banner, and Shetty Kundra her healthy lifestyle books and food recipes.

These stars seem to have taken a page out of Hollywood’s playbook where celebrities like Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Will Smith, Reese Witherspoon, and Amy Poehler all have a strong YouTube presence.

In any case, long-form content isn’t the only big draw. Experiments with short form is also on. Shahid KapoorJacqueline Fernandez, and Tiger Shroff debuted on TikTok, the social network where users upload 15-second videos. More recently, on June 18, director Kiran Rao began making 10-second films for mobile-viewing for Facebook India.