Niharika NM on reaching an Instagram milestone, making the switch from YouTube to Reels, and her backup career options
When Niharika NM hit a million followers on Instagram, she celebrated by dancing to the song ‘Vaathi Coming’ from Vijay’s upcoming Tamil movie, Master. It can’t get more apt than that for someone whose fans came for the relatable Reels and stayed for the South Indian humour. She reached the milestone on December 17, exactly two months after touching the one lakh mark.
This puts her in an elite bracket of 0.32% of users who have this kind of reach (according to the Mention x Hubspot Instagram Engagement Report 2020). Other Indian influencers who have similar numbers include YouTuber-turned-actor Prajakta Koli (@mostlysane, 3 million), content creator Kusha Kapila (@kushakapila, 1.5 million) and chef Ranveer Brar (@ranveer.brar, 1.2 million). The pandemic also helped accelerate her growth, as did guest appearances on Netflix India’s social media show, Behensplaining. “It can be a little intimidating to think of the people behind these numbers… It is very easy to lose track of what you truly want to do and what you are passionate about once you start playing the number game — that is not where I intend to go or to be,” says the 23-year-old Los Angeles-based content creator who is simultaneously working on an MBA degree.
A snapshot from Niharika’s reels | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Niharika is not new to the social media scene. Back in 2016 — in her second year of engineering college — she started a successful YouTube channel with long-form sketches such as ‘Types of Students Before an Exam’ and ‘Annoying Things That People Do’. “It just started as a hobby, but when the videos began getting a lot of attention, it required me to be consistent. Not being able to balance academics and content creation, I slowly dropped off the scene,” she explains. After moving to the US for her MBA, she chose the easier option when Instagram launched the Reels feature. “There was no other excuse to avoid creating content. Also, it is easier to hold audience attention for 15 to 20 seconds than it is for 15 minutes,” she laughs.
Three to follow
- Liza Koshy: She has such a magnetic and charming personality which keeps me engaged
- David Dobrick: His vlogs are absolutely entertaining and it makes me feel I am part of his friend group
- Jordindian: I have a soft spot for them. I think they are the funniest people I know, they’re just incredible.
Born in Chennai and brought up in Bengaluru, Niharika’s taste in comedy is “extremely diverse”. She counts everyone from Jim Carrey to Rowan Atkinson and Brahmanandam to Vadivelu, as well as Vivek, Santhanam and Vennela Kishore among her inspirations. “If all else fails, I turn to my friends and family because they’re all absolute clowns,” she says. True to this, her content often references them, especially her parents, whom she describes as “very traditional but also cool at the same time”. Through her childhood, they captured her innate humour on video and are therefore very used to it. “Whatever I do they’re like ‘Oh my god, so great, we love it!’ So, I don’t really trust their judgment but they love me and I love them,” she adds.
Repping the South
The casual way in which she throws around ‘da’ and ‘machan’ in her 30-second clips has probably done more for Tamil and Kannada than Chennai Express did to mainstream South Indian languages and culture. In a recent Reel, she starts off by singing along to ‘Body’ by Megan Thee Stallion and pivots to arguing with a bad driver in Kannada. It hits a sweet spot of both western and Indian pop culture. In a space where regional accents and actions can easily fall into offensive parody territory, how does she tread the line? “I try to stay in my lane and not generalise. Which is why most of my videos start with ‘sometimes my friend/mum says this’. I make sure it is about my life, so others can relate to it instead of me preaching what other’s experiences possibly are,” she explains. Her signature way of saying ‘actually’ always manages to elicit a laugh.
Instead of considering social media a beast that needs to be fed constantly, Niharika looks at it more as a creative outlet. “I don’t really force myself because that won’t be organic or funny or relatable. I make sure I give myself a break to recharge in case I don’t feel like it on a particular day,” she says. Of course, there are inspired days when more than one sketch is created. As for trolls, she largely ignores them and will try to differentiate between fact and opinion. She says, “I am quite aware that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. It would be weird if that was the case, since comedy is so subjective!”
Despite the large following, Niharika makes it a point to check who is sliding into her DMs almost every day. “I absolutely love it when people send me reaction videos of their parents watching my content. Then there was a girl who sent me screenshots of a conversation between her and her best friend, where every message was a line from my videos. It made me feel really important, at least for a brief second,” she recalls.
She likens being a content creator to being an entrepreneur, where “you need to take risks to get rewards”. She also recommends having more than one revenue stream so if one brand limits ad spends (especially in a vulnerable post-Covid economy) you have other sources of income. Apart from her work with Netflix, she has also created sponsored posts for Amazon Prime Video. “I think I am monetising my skills to the best of my ability. If I wasn’t a comedian or a content creator, I would definitely use my MBA or my engineering degree to become an entrepreneur in the tech space, just to be aligned with the true Bengaluru spirit,” she concludes.
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