YouTube creators Kusha Kapila, Dolly Singh, Saloni Gaur, Ankush Bahuguna and Karan Sareen discuss their muse – the 'Dilli wali aunty' – becoming hyper vigilant as creators and what creating content in lockdown is like:
Sneha Menon Desai: Each of you, in some capacity, has mined the Delhi Wali Aunty to create such interesting content. How would you describe this aunty, who is she?
Kusha Kapila: She is the reason I'm in therapy, she is years and years of trauma. The reason that I'm in therapy as an adult is because you internalized what aunties, uncles and all your relatives say to you. It's only when you grow older that you realize that they're also victims of a system that shames younger people or kids to put across its point. They're also victims of patriarchy. So now I'm more empathetic towards them, but when I was in college, I was very angry at them. Most of them knew that I had a problem with them. I remember this aunty told me, 'Child you've become very fat, very healthy.' and I said: Aunty you've also grown old.
Saloni Gaur: An aunty used to stay in my neighborhood, like my character Pados Wali Aunty. She had two houses at the two ends of the same lane. She would sit somewhere in the middle, just to know who was going where. If you were carrying a bag, she'd want to know what was in it. My mom would tell me to touch her feet and she would just ask: Where are you coming from? She wanted to know what was happening in other people's houses, who was quarreling, everything from A to Z.
Karan Sareen: She's the reason why we don't want to go on family gatherings and functions. Despite getting free food and the opportunity to meet some cousins and dance, it's still very toxic and scary – the idea that you'll meet them and they'll say things like, 'You've become like this, you've become like that.' One time, this woman asked me what my future plans were. I said, 'Aunty, I plan to take up fashion designing.' She said, 'Okay, but you still wear such clothes?' I think that was the epitome of what a Delhi Aunty can be.
Ankush Bahuguna: Delhi aunties have this beautiful quality of being obnoxious but still doing it with so much conviction, that you give in. If you're riding the Metro, there's literally no space and they'll still tell you to adjust. Before you can even respond, they will adjust themselves and you'll wind up half out of the seat. They won't even make eye contact, just sit.
SMD: Clearly, this Delhi Wali Aunty unifies all of you and yet Ankush, you have the East Delhi vibe spot on, Karan's is West Delhi, you girls are South Delhi, Nazma Aapi was born at the start of the Delhi riots – how does one geography have so many different content niches. What differentiates each of these aunties?
AB: I think an East Delhi Aunty will be as obnoxious like another aunty, but probably pettier.
KS: West Delhi is downright loud, it's something you just can't ignore, even if you try to.
AB: I think at their core, they're pretty similar.
KS: That's the point, Delhi is the melting point.
AB: Yeah, everybody is living together, it's a shared experience. All have seen the same TV serials, all have the same fights in their own neighborhoods, so everybody just lives for the same gossip.
KK: Delhi is a place that a lot of people move to for their careers, they come from smaller towns, or towns that might not have as much exposure. Even I am sometimes really taken aback by just how people have zero fucks to give. Delhi is brash and extremely chaotic. People have no chill. I had to catch a flight and I requested an uncle to let me pass so I didn't miss it. He was like, 'First ask and take permission.' I said that I just did. And he was like, 'What kind of hooliganism is going on here? No way will I let you catch the flight at any cost, get out of my way.' This is normal Delhi for me.
SMD: As the views pile up and you know you're reaching more people, are you more cautious about what you say because you're representative of a culture?
KS: Certainly. Initially, I had this series that I was doing in Punjabi. All my grandparents speak Punjabi. We have some phrases that sound normal to us, but a certain word came out in a way that somebody felt was racist. The phrase 'kaala chor' in Punjabi means someone who steals in the dark. But someone who's not very Delhi or very Punjabi will not understand that. Somebody said, 'Don't you think it's very racist of you to say that?' I had to explain it to them and then I took down the video, removed that phrase and reposted that video the same night. I'm okay with taking down my content because I don't want any long-term problems. There are a lot of things on the internet that aren't right and I don't want to be a part of that. So I have to be a little more cautious.
SG: I check my content twice before I put out my videos on Twitter, out of the fear of being boycotted. I don't use abusive language so it's out of the question for anyone to counter me saying, 'What is the foul language you're using.' I just make sure to not jump to conclusions or comment on things I don't know about, especially political subjects. I'd once quickly made and uploaded a video and then later realized that nothing of that sort had happened. So now I first try and listen, and absorb things correctly before making a video. I don't shoot a video based on the first thing I heard. One has to be careful.
KK: With time, all creators have to understand to be less impulsive and more nuanced. Also, if you've profited off a certain culture and if it's being misrepresented (elsewhere), people remind you that you can't just co-opt the culture and not defend it when needed. A lot of morality reminders come from your followers. I am hyper-vigilant in life, which is something I'm working. If I'm sitting with 10 or 12 friends and someone says a slur that they don't know is a casteist slur, I'm immediately like: You can't say this, you're gong get cancelled, you're going to get called out. They're like, 'Kusha there is no one here, its just the 12 of us, we're in a room. ' But you're trained to instantly respond to stuff like this. There was a time when I used this casteist slur and I immediately got a text asking me not to use that word. I put out a story apologizing and saying I operated from a place of misinformation and would like to correct it. Even if you've made a mistake, there are ways to correct it by instantly reading up on the issue and correcting yourself.
AB: Even I've learnt to be like subconsciously hyper-vigilant. If I'm writing a script, I keep checking if particular words are problematic. What happens is that people learn newer things every day on the internet, there are newer conversations every day and certain conversations you're not aware of. Sometimes it's ignorance and sometimes it's misinformation and you don't know what you're doing wrong.
I'm hyper-vigilant of saying something incorrect. Because then people who are more aware on the internet will call you out. You have to be careful, you have to be ready. Remove the unnecessary hate from actual criticism because that's how people will learn. When you're putting content out, why would you want to put out problematic content out? There are so many other ways to create comedy, to create valuable content that makes people laugh. It's a process of constantly getting called out, learning, then making new mistakes, getting called out again and learning. Sometimes people forget that the things they're calling you out for are things they themselves have only learned just two days ago. I'm not saying that it justifies me making mistakes, but I just feel that cancel culture gets extremely toxic sometimes. We're also learning, right? These aren't things we learn't at school.
KK: I'm sure that people who get excessively cancelled bear a grudge because no sort of constructive development can happen possibly from such a conversation.
SMD: What are the challenges of creating in lockdown?
KK: There are fights, soreness, despair, anxiety, depression, especially if you live with somebody else. It's a nightmare for them because sometimes, you need their help. I live with my husband and I ask him to help sometimes and suddenly, he says things like, I don't want to visit the sugarcane farm, I don't want you to be a creator. Don't force me to act in your video.' It's not easy. There are still a lot of technical glitches and logistical issues. You can't produce content if you're unable to create that atmosphere in your house. I'd go to the roof and upload content from there.
SG: The apartment that we've rented in Mumbai is really beautiful, but my original house in Buland Sheher was not. Now you see plants and props behind me because I believe that videos should have an aesthetic.When I used to make videos at my hostel, you could see the dampness of the wall behind me in the frame. Brands would never ever ask you to make videos in front of a damp wall. They always tell you that your videos should look beautiful, no matter what the content is.
AB: This is so relatable. My home is not at all Instagram-friendly. There's a carton on the floor, polythene sheets on the floor. Living with a content creator is a pain in the ass, I don't know how my parents put up with it. My mom is also an actor, I shoot content with her. If we're both in a scene, we need someone to move the camera. My dad is not a cinematographer, he's not a director, but he has to learn. I think about how annoying that is for them.
SG: I was at home during the lockdown and I got a call to audition for a film so I had to record the audition and send it. I asked my mom to shoot it. It was 43° C, but while I was normal, my mom was drenched with sweat. She was so afraid while shooting.
KS: For live things, I get very stressed. The moment I got your message for this interview, the first thing I did was tell my niece not to talk for these two hours. And I promised to give her chips in return. Thankfully, she happened to have a test from 3 pm to 4 pm. I was so grateful. Otherwise, it's really difficult. People keep telling me that my sleep schedule is bad because I stay awake till 3 am, then go to sleep and wake up again by 6 am. But this is the only time I get. I have to make videos at night when everybody is sleeping.