The Bhai Of YouTube: Mumbiker Nikhil
How does a former flight attendant reinvent his life? How does a dejected actor fulfil his dreams? And how does a son find fulfilment after his father passes away?
Nikhil Sharma’s story is what Bollywood scripts are made of. And as he would say on one of his vlogs, “Picture abhi baaki hai, doston! (The movie is yet to run its course!)”
Twenty nine-year-old YouTube vlogger Mumbiker Nikhil set out to be a “motovlogger” in 2015 (that’s why his name is “Mum-biker”, not Mumbaikar, a fan I question during my research tells me) and first saw a spike in the views on his channel during a biking trip from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. At that time, Nikhil was little more than an unsuccessful actor; his dreams of becoming a star, after he quit his job as a flight attendant with Qatar Airways, seemed to be in danger.
“I learnt about being responsible towards society from Shaktimaan!” —Nikhil sharma
Today, Nikhil Sharma is one of India’s largest YouTube vloggers with over 3.4 million subscribers, over 1 million followers on Instagram, a “merch line” in his name, and an endless stream of fan clubs. His fans figure out “bhai’s” home address, chase him in cars, and it won’t be long before his “meet and greets” will need added security. In the last few weeks, Nikhil Sharma and his fiancé Shanice Shrestha have become the darlings of the Internet; the good friends revealed their relationship status, and soon after, Nikhil went on one knee and proposed… The hundreds of memes fans put out about Nikhil every week went from funny to mush in no time!
How does he look at fame, I ask Nikhil. “Fame is the return of all the time put in to create content that entertains,” he says.
And what about the responsibility that comes with it?
I flash back to a vlog by Nikhil during the CAA-NRC protests, where he urged his young followers to not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed or religion. The video has since been put on private mode, but his sense of social responsibility was there for all to see.
“For this, I would like to thank Shaktimaan,” he says, with the Nikhil swag we will talk about soon. “He taught us many things, and one was responsibility towards society. And as a YouTuber, I can’t motivate people to do risky stuff and must be careful I don’t hurt anyone’s sentiments!”
Nikhil is aware that his young subscriber base will emulate his smallest of actions. So you see him warning his viewers about following speed limits when biking, managing the pandemic responsibly and “listening to mama”.
Success hasn’t gone to his head either. Not only does Nikhil continue to live in the modest-sized apartment in suburban Mumbai in which he grew up, he often rides a scooter!
“Fame is the return of all the time put in to create content that entertains”—Nikhil Sharma
“It’s the best way to commute in Mumbai traffic,” says the guy who is invited abroad for launches of the best luxury cars in the world. On the streets of the city, you could spot Nikhil on a scooter, vlogging camera in hand, wearing a ragged shirt to protect his clothes from the dust, whizzing from a meeting at a five-star to a celebrity appearance at a store. Nikhil laughs, “The five-star hotels don’t understand that a guest can arrive on a scooter too; they often don’t have parking for two-wheelers.”
Nikhil’s father, who passed away a couple of years before Nikhil’s YouTube career took off, was a theatre manager for a cinema hall in Kanjurmarg. Is that where he developed his dream of becoming a star? And is that where he picked up the Salman Khan swag he talks with?
Nikhil laughs. You realise the swag in his voice is a result of confidence. “Success is just a way to see life,” he says. “Fancy homes, cars and other stuff are add-on achievements but cannot define your success.”
Entrepreneur or creator?: Ranveer Allahbadia
I first noticed Ranveer Allahbadia when I was the editor of Men’s Health magazine. This boy – barely out of his teens – called himself BeerBiceps and did fitness challenges on YouTube in a kitschy new video format shot on phones that had suddenly metamorphised into cameras.
Could he be competition, I wondered.
Then I looked at the quality of his videos and said, “Naaah!”
If I were to ask myself the same question today, my answer would be very different.
At 27 today, Ranveer Allahbadia commands 2.95 million subscribers on YouTube, one million followers on Instagram, 150k on Twitter. But even if we dismiss social media numbers, no one can ignore his crazy fan-following. Being spotted at a social media fan fest is one thing, getting mobbed at a mall is another.
“To be an infotainment creator, you’ve got to identify things that excite you” —Ranveer Allahbadia
“Fame is an outcome of the value you add in the world,” says “guru” Ranveer Allahbadia, who shoots from the mezzanine floor of a fancy office he has created. “Fame is also the outcome of years of work behind the scenes,” he says.
Then, thankfully behaving like someone his own age, he adds: “The first time I got recognised in public, I happened to be with a bunch of school friends, including my ex. It felt pretty cool getting recognised in front of your past!”
Ranveer comes from a family of doctors, went to Dhirubhai Ambani school with star kids and then to engineering college. But he is an entrepreneur at heart.
“Start-ups and entrepreneurship was always the goal,” he says. “The plan was to launch an Uber business model for personal training. During this process, an investor asked me ‘How are you going to market this?’ This led me to start the YouTube channel BeerBiceps.”
Two years later, Ranveer got together with his college junior and now business partner Viraj, who started handling brand engagements for him. “We realised our model could be scaled to other [social media] creators as well, so we launched Monk Entertainment. We are now a 50-people organisation providing multiple value-adding services to talents and brands.”
“I’m an entrepreneur, who has found himself in the field of content” —Ranveer Allahbadia
The creative cap fits Ranveer Allahbadia’s head on demand, but watchers would argue that his interests seem driven either by the pull and push of market demands, or simply a short interest span.
“We started as a cooking and fitness channel, progressed to fashion,” he says, oddly referring to his one-man operation in the plural. “We then moved to grooming, motivation, entrepreneurship, and now podcasts.” Ranveer has featured everyone from Bollywood stars like Saif Ali Khan and Tiger Shroff to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to business leaders, authors and more.
“In order to be an infotainment creator, you’ve got to identify things that excite you. Those interests keep changing for me,” he says. “I figured out I’m learning so much through talking to other people, I might as well record these conversations as podcasts and put them out for the world.”
So are you a creator first, or an entrepreneur, we ask. “I’m an entrepreneur, who has found himself in the field of content.”
I flash back to the day after this cover shoot when Ranveer’s bright repartee created enough of an impression for me to offer him a fortnightly social media column in Brunch immediately. Two days later, when I followed up with Ranveer for the answers, I could him see him ‘Typing…’ for seven minutes non-stop, but before I could conclude that he was just another kid with an excuse, lo and behold, well-worded answers to each question pinged me back.
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From HT Brunch, October 11, 2020
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