What were you like at age five? In Kochi, Nihal Rajagopalan had already shot a video that would fetch over 2 million views. The three-year-old video shows him in a chef’s hat and apron, preparing mango ice-cream in Mickey Mouse moulds. Rajagopalan’s little hands operate the blender with ease (thought he does seem awestruck by its speed). He breaks into a song midway, tries to remember the ingredients, and talks about the texture of his ice-cream like a professional, only to dig right into his ice-cream as soon as it’s ready.
Facebook acquired the rights for this video for $2,000 USD in 2016. And Rajagopalan, better known as Kicha, is now nine and successfully runs his channel KichaTube HD, with 35,000 subscribers.
In Noida, 9-year-old Anantya Anand makes videos that tell kids how to pack their travel bags with enough space to squeeze in their favourite toy. Kyra Kanojia, 8, also from Noida, reviews and assembles toys, sometimes failing at the first attempt but trying again nevertheless. Kota siblings Ayush, 5, and Prakruti Kalra, 12, create Hindi comedy sketches with moral lessons about spending money wisely or inculcating good habits. These kids, all under the age of 13, are some of the youngest YouTubers in the country, with each of their videos views getting millions of views.
According to a KPMG study last year, User Generated Content (UGC) occupies the second largest share in India’s online video consumption, after comedy shows. YouTube accounts for 60% to 70% of this viewing, with 225 million monthly active users. “YouTube kids, as a category, took off in 2015 and channels by individual kid creators started picking up in 2017,” says Satya Raghavan, director of YouTube Content Partnerships in India.
These videos are typically shot and scripted by parents at home, feature kids and are aimed at kids. Anand, also does videos on fashion, sporting festive looks, offering travel tips, performing funny sketches about like as a primary-school student. “I write scripts for her but she rarely sticks to them,” says her mother, Nisha Anand. “She always adds her own bit, which makes the video funnier.”
Most kids shoot on weekends, and while some of the 3-4 minute videos take an hour or two to shoot, the longer ones can take six to eight hours with breaks. Piyush Kalra, 38, the father of Ayush and Prakruti, says that the breaks are crucial. “As parents, we care about not wanting to overwork our kids,” he says. “We also have to remember that kids have short attention spans. It’s almost impossible to make them do something they don’t want to.” Often, he wraps up early if the children seem to lose interest.
Anantya Anand, 9, Noida(2.5 million subscribers)
Anantya Anand was barely four, but her family has already figured out that she loved the camera. Her aunt, Shruti Arjun Anand, 33, a lifestyle and beauty vlogger who lived in the US then, recalls how tirelessly she’d talk on Skype. “She would talk about her day and comment about random things, but not a minute of it would be boring, just like a seasoned blogger,” Arjun says. Little Anand started off starring in her aunt’s videos as model for children’s hairstyles but eventually convinced her aunt that she needed her own platform. MyMissAnand, set up in 2017, features her talking about her daily routines, travel tales, taking up safe online challenges like treasure hunts and veggie-eating dares. “The most popular are comedy sketches on different types of teachers, life with and without siblings and on good students vs bad students,” Anand says.
Videos get an average of 4 million views, surprising her mother, Nisha Anand, who scripts them. “Kids in the US are do cool videos about their morning or after-school routine that Anantya loved watching. We really didn’t think it would catch on so well in India,” she says. Shooting takes six hours on the weekends, and the channel releases two or three videos a month, with 150 uploaded since 2017.
At 9, Anand is also learning to deal with online fame. Fans write in and ask to take selfies with her at malls. “We were in Europe on a family vacation last year when a little girl from Afghanistan recognised Anantya and approached her for a picture,” recalls her mother. The YouTuber was overwhelmed but her family says that this popularity has disadvantages as well. “So far she hasn’t got too many hate messages but we’ve taught her to ignore people who spew hatred,” says her aunt Shruti Anand. “We explained to her that she is not answerable to anyone. Her friends and family are always going to be proud of her talent and that’s what should keep her going,” she adds.
Nihal Rajagopalan, 9, Kochi (35,000 subscribers)
Nihal Rajagopalan, nicknamed Kicha, has been a constant in the kitchen from the age of three. His mother, Ruby, 47, a professional baker, would indulge him by answering his questions and letting him watch her bake. When he was not trying to help his mother, he’d watch YouTube videos of the nine-year-old American toy reviewer, Evan, on his channel EvanTube HD. Kicha adored him.
In 2015, Kicha managed to convince his dad to make a cameraphone video of him making ice popsicles and upload it on YouTube. They set up a channel called KichaTube HD, similar to Evan’s. “Friends and colleagues said they found the little chef amusing and wanted more,” says Rajagopal Krishnan, 47 an advertising professional.
Since then Kicha has posted over 150 cooking videos in the last four years. These are easy, no flame recipes and the Kerala delicacy, putta, or steamed rice cakes, which he prepared for Ellen DeGeneres, when he was invited to her show in 2016. Kicha cooks in real-time with recipes provided by his mother. “He is a different person on camera,” says Ruby. “We rehearse once, but when the camera rolls, he does what he wants, says what he wants, makes little bloopers too but carries on confidently.”
Kids bully him, sometimes, saying that he isn’t a real chef. “YouTube disabled the comments section on children’s channels about two months ago, but before that I made it a point to go through every comment and remove the abusive ones so that he wouldn’t spot them,” says Krishnan.
They make it a point to keep sharing all the positive feedback he receives to keep him motivated. “The good thing is he rarely harps on unpleasant things and gets happy knowing that so many people are sending him love from across the world,” his father says.
Kicha hopes to make a cake that looks like him and is as big as him. However, his “real aim is to become an astronaut chef and cook in space” when grows up.
Ayush, 5, and Prakruti Kalra, 12, Kota (2.2 million subscribers)
Piyush Kalra, a sales professional from Kota, started the YouTube channel Aayu and Pihu Show in 2017 only because he couldn’t find good Hindi videos for his son, Ayush, who was about three then. “We wanted to keep him occupied by watching fun, informative videos, but there were none in Hindi,” he says. “I thought of letting them make their own shows. It could creating better content for other parents and keep my kids occupied.”
They started off with shooting simple no-flame cooking videos. “The kids enjoyed shooting them, but we didn’t get too many views and didn’t know why,” he says. They were close to giving up altogether when it they realised that the videos with funny interactions between the kids seemed to go down well with viewers. “We decided to start doing funny sketches about everyday life, but ended every video with a moral,” he says.
They have uploaded around 180 such videos in the last three years, releasing a video every week. There’s one in which the kids don’t want to go to school and eventually understand that school is actually is a lot of fun. In another, they learn to appreciate everything their home-maker mother does in a day. There’s also one about table manners. “Most feedback is about how these videos are family-friendly and entertaining,” says Kalra. “But some kids tend to compare Pihu to Aayu, calling him cuter and a better actor, which is sometimes a little unfair to our daughter. It has taught her to deal with unpleasant feedback and know that she cannot always expect praise.”
Kyrascope Toy Reviews
Kyra Kanojia, 8, Noida (11,000 subscribers)
Manish Kanojia, 42, a creative director in a tech company, knew his daughter Kyra, loved playing with toys like any other five-year-old. But what was amusing was how she insisted on assembling it first, even when she couldn’t really read the instructions. “She said it’s because she’d seen other kids assembling their toys on YouTube,” he says. “What was more interesting is that she would stop to explain what she was doing and she had patience that most kids that age don’t have,” he says. He asked her if she wanted to feature in a YouTube channel and started Kyrascope Toy Reviews in 2016.
From unboxing videos, to videos on assembling augmented-reality toys, Kyra has uploaded around 150 videos in the last two and half years. “I’m called the toy expert among my friends,” she claims. “Every time someone wants a new toy they ask me if it’s worth the purchase and I feel really nice about it,” she says. Kyra has also received a note of appreciation from her school for her entrepreneurial efforts.
“Our weekly shooting sessions are a father-daughter bonding time,” says Kanojia. “The best part of being a child toy reviewer is she can’t be dishonest, her displeasure just shows on her face.” If a toy isn’t fun, if it is too tough or too easy she loses interest and will be visibly upset, he explains.
Initially, viewers would criticise her English pronunciations. “I would respond saying she is after all only a child,” he says. The most worrisome was when someone in school told her that being famous means you may get kidnapped. Her parents had to then explain to her that nothing of that sort would happen. “These are things you need to brace a kid for,” says Kanojia.