Actor Ayush Mehra believes the next big opportunity is around the corner.
And he might be right. The actor, most known for his work on YouTube sketches for popular channels such as Arre, Filter Copy and Just Human Things, was recently cast in his first major project outside the feel-good YouTube universe. He’s all set to star in Applause Entertainment’s upcoming streaming project Call My Agent – the official Indian remake of the popular French show of the same name.
Most recently, Ayush has been seen in web series such as Please Find Attached and Operation MBBS on Dice Media (creators of shows such as Little Things and What The Folks). The second season of Please Find Attached released on YouTube last week, with the first episode having clocked almost 5 million views in 5 days. The series follows a couple who live together and work together, and all the complications that come with that.
With over 800k followers on Instagram, Ayush is a part of the first generation of digital stars – actors who’ve made a name for themselves online and are forging a career for themselves on the new medium.
Over Zoom, the actor spoke to me about the fears of being typecast in the feel-good space, the impact of an actor’s social media following on finding opportunities and why a YouTube show shouldn’t be seen as any less than a streaming project.
What’s the response been like so far to the second season of Please Find Attached?
It’s been great. The first episode got over 3 million views in just four days. My DMs are full of messages. I thought we’d get a decent response to the show after the full season is out because everyone’s so used to watching everything at once and then reacting. But this has been pretty instant and we’ve managed to surpass our Season 1 expectations in four days with just the first episode, which we genuinely didn’t expect.
Dice Media’s shows tend to be in a similar zone, they’re all urban relationship dramas. Is there pressure to ensure the show stands out from the crowd?
Of course, there is pressure, but in a good way. The good part about Dice shows, or any show on YouTube is that we’re not trying to depict a perfect relationship or make a perfect show. We’re trying to give you a real story with real people and relatable problems. In Please Find Attached, it’s two people in a relationship who also work together and their struggle to find a balance between work and love. It’s real and simple and raw and that’s what makes it beautiful.
Please Find Attached and the other series you’ve been a part of have all been on YouTube. In the age of OTT platforms and streaming, what do you feel a show on YouTube gives you?
On YouTube, you get instant validation and feedback. If they like it, they’ll tell you in the comments and in four days we had almost 7000 comments. If you’re on a Netflix or Amazon or Hotstar, you don’t know how it’s done but when it’s YouTube you can clearly see how it’s doing how people are reacting to it.
There’s also a lot of people who don’t have access to streaming platforms who watch shows on YouTube instead. YouTube also has a much younger audience of 10-25-year-olds who are very vocal and I don’t think you’d get this kind of love on a platform. So I’m very fortunate to have so many shows on YouTube because they’ve built whatever I am today.
I imagine there’s a sense of security and comfort that comes with being a part of a lot of Dice Media projects on YouTube. But is there a fear you’ll be typecast in this one feel-good romance zone and not be considered a serious actor and get offered different kinds of roles?
That honestly doesn’t worry me at all. There’s a right time for everything. I’ve been very lucky to have got this far, and you can only go upwards from here.
That fear of being typecast as a charming cute little boy did play on my mind a lot initially. But the minute I started doing different kind of roles, like in Operation MBBS which was a medical drama where I played as a medical student from UP, that’s when people started noticing that there is that side to me as well.
It’s actually funny because I feel like romance and this whole cutesy zone isn’t even my forte. I genuinely feel that high drama and intense roles are what I am trained for as an actor. And I know that it’s just going to take that one project, that one serious role to flip everything and get people to see me differently, and I’m sure it’s going to come soon.
You’ve talked a lot about your struggle as an actor and doing over a thousand auditions before finding your space on the web doing sketches and series. Do you feel that’s the new ‘correct’ path for aspiring actors?
When I started doing ads and auditioning, I never had the faintest idea of the power of the web. I’d done 150 ads, but the minute FilterCopy and Arre and TVF sketches came along that’s when it all changed for me. I always thought the web was just a place that I could showcase what I could do but it’s obviously so much more than that. So it was a mix of being in the right place at the right time, trying to do your best with your craft, and being a part of good projects. Not necessarily big projects, but good projects.
Many actors have talked about the importance of having a large social media following and how they’ve been replaced in projects by people with larger followings. How much of your work is dependent on social media, and would you advise aspiring actors to build their following?
I have heard this a lot, that having a large following gets you more roles, but it’s never worked for me. I didn’t have much of a following when I started getting opportunities on the web. So I don’t believe that idea that you have to have a following, because if you’re a good actor, irrespective of your following, people are going to cast you. So I don’t think quantifying following with acting is really going to help.
But yes, there may be people looking for talent and there may be people looking for your following, and it does get confusing and you get frustrated about what to do. But if doing that is working for people and they’re getting roles then great, go for it. Try everything possible, you never know. But it is very subjective, I don’t think there’s only one way to it.
How is an actor’s success measured on the web? With movies, they tend to look at box office figures or critical acclaim. On the web is it about views? Is that what leads to more opportunities?
I genuinely don’t know (laughs). I think it’s a culmination of a lot of things – the show, how well it’s done, how well you’ve done in it. More than anything, if you’ve done well on a show, then it’s all about word of mouth. I think success is just being watched and people appreciating your work. That leads to more opportunities. That’s my measure of success, anyway. Even if the show doesn’t do well, if your performance works and people are responding to it, something must be going right.
You’ve also been cast in the official remake of Call My Agent which is your first OTT project. Is it fair to say that’s your big breakout opportunity considering it’s in a very different space to your work on the web?
Yes, for sure, it’s in a completely different to the world of YouTube. There were a lot of shows that were offered to me on OTT which just didn’t appeal to me, but this one was the first one which seemed like the right thing to do. I’m really excited just because of the people attached, it’s Shaad Ali, there are phenomenal actors like Rajat Kapoor, Aahana Kumra and Soni Razdan. And as you said, it’s my first big project outside my world.
Are movies still the end goal for you?
I’ve always wanted to act in films, that was always the aim. I started my career thinking I’ll do ads and then films because the web never existed at that point of time. Even today, a lot of people say ‘its only a YouTube show’ but it takes the same amount of effort! It’s still 30 days of shoot and just because it releases on YouTube doesn’t mean it’s a small show. But maybe it’s the mindset of ‘once you’re on OTT or in a film, then you’ve arrived. So, let’s go for it. I’ll try doing that as well.
So yes, movies are still the end goal, but I also don’t know what will happen in the next 2-3 years because of this time we’re living in. We don’t even know what movies will look like or whether there will only be OTT movies, and I have no problem doing those. I never thought things would happen this way or that the web or OTT films would even be a thing, but things have changed and they keep changing so fast. So yes, OTT and films are the next step. That’s the plan.