India’s TikTok Stars Get Ready To Chase Stardom Again
Abhirami K, 20, posted her short videos, lip-syncing and dancing to Malayalam movie songs, on TikTok. That made her a star with more than a million followers. But India’s ban on Chinese apps amid border tensions means that she may have to start afresh.
“I’m not sure what will happen next, or will the app be back or not,” Abhirami said. “The kind of popularity I have is because of TikTok.”
TikTok turned into an addiction in India in the last two years. More than 200 million Indians shared 15-second videos, memes and photos of dancing, mimicking, acting or simply making funny faces on the app owned by ByteDance Ltd. Scores became popular, many of them from the nation’s small towns and villages and still in their teens.
Like Yuvraj Singh from Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Popular as Baba Jackson for his imitation of Michael Jackson’s airwalking, he was noticed after Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan shared his TikTok videos. Last month, he won Rs 1 crore at a reality dance competition. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party fielded Sonali Phogat, a TikTok star, for assembly polls in Haryana.
India’s pushback against Chinese apps takes away the platform from such young influencers who earned an income showcasing their talent. Others may have lost their shot at stardom, at least till an equally popular alternative emerges.
“TikTok is where we get recognition. The interface is such that all type of content—cooking, comedy, dancing, singing—is available,” Meenu B Lakshmi, an aspiring college lecturer, said. “I know so many popular creators from across the country because of TikTok.”
She couldn’t save her and family’s videos of dancing and lip-syncing to Malayalam and Bollywood songs. “I didn’t anticipate things will change this fast,” said Meenu, 24, from Kottayam, Kerala who had 1.7 million followers. “Before I could retrieve all the data from the app, it was gone.”
Sumit Jain, 28, owner of a men’s apparel store in Dhule, Maharashtra, some 325 km northeast of Mumbai, was followed by 3.8 million users who liked his dance videos. “I don’t understand technical things, nor can I make scripts. I knew how to dance and show it to others, and TikTok gave me that,” he said. “You can be from a small village and dream of becoming famous here.”
Success on TikTok also helped such influencers get traction on Instagram and other platforms where brands sought them out for paid promotion.
For Anuraj Rajan, 35, TikTok was the first platform before he took his moviemaking passion to Facebook and YouTube. “What I am today is because of TikTok. It gave me success,” said Rajan, who has more than 1.1 million followers. He even mentored young aspiring stars to create content for the app.
“On TikTok, if your video is good, it might touch 1 million views overnight,” he said. “That kind of instant success is not there on other platforms, such as YouTube. It takes time to reach that scale.”
Most influencers BloombergQuint spoke with support the government’s stand against Chinese apps, given the situation at the border. And they have started looking for alternatives.
TikTok users started creating accounts on YouTube and other apps after India announced the ban. Almost half of the new apps on the Indian app store are short video sharing platforms. The top four on Google Play store, Roposo, Chingari, Tik Kik and Mitron, have seen millions of downloads.
Adina Adhikari, 15, a student from Kolkata who made close to Rs 30,000 a month on TikTok by posting lip-syncing and dancing videos, now has a verified account on Roposo, “I can upload a video and if I get close to 10,000 bonus points that will convert into Rs 100 on my Paytm account.”
Roposo added more than 10 million users within 12 hours of the ban, Mayank Bhangadia, founder of app, said over the phone. The platform, owned by mobile marketing InMobi Group, has 65 million users and looking to touch 100 million. “Roposo fits perfectly to provide every talented Indian an opportunity to grow rapidly.”
Chingari, sharing numbers with BloombergQuint, said it now has 11.26 milllion users and is adding 200,000 every day. It’s co-founder Sumit Ghosh’s even conducted a Twitter poll asking if users would like to import all their TikTok content to the app.
Mitron, now with 20 million users, said it added 8 million in two days after the ban, and users are viewing nearly 40 million videos every hour.
Meenu, the TikTok influencer from Kottayam, has garnered 25,000 followers on YouTube and has accounts on other platforms as well. But she isn’t sure if she would be able to replicate her TikTok success.
But Adhikari said even TikTok required a streak of luck. “Anything can go viral, you can become famous anytime,” she said. “Not everyone is talented but they can get famous. ‘Kismat ki baat hai’ (it’s about luck).”