The pros and cons of being influential students

My first year of college, no one knew me on campus. When I came back two years after the lockdowns, almost everyone identified me as the guy who makes math problem videos! exclaims Afrath Quader, an architecture student who is part of the new breed of influential students who have invaded both the internet and the campus.

With smartphones and laptops becoming their temporary classrooms during the three waves of COVID-19, they seem to have made good use of gadgets, not only to gain knowledge, but also to become famous. Now that colleges are open, we’re talking to a few influential students to find out how they’re taking the time to create content in the middle of class and also dealing with their newfound “celebrity” status.

When confinement turned out to be a blessing
Aravindha Krishnan Sriram, a postgraduate student, had also tried his hand at making videos earlier, but it was only during the lockdown that things fell into place. “I saw many reels and stories on social media, and decided to do something different based on my talent,” the journalism student says, adding, “I’m doing a radio show now called Sanikelamai under which I drop a video Every Saturday. They are also available on audio streaming platforms as podcasts. I got a good response for them so I started another show – this time i made videos based on Thirukural, giving kurals a new twist based on real life experiences.

For Sharan Kumar, life got exciting when her parents gave her a laptop during lockdown. “I wanted to do music production since class 9, but I didn’t have the equipment. Once I joined college, I started performing at live events. But when my parents gave me a laptop during confinement, everything changed,” says the student engineer. “I tried my hand at covers, but I always wanted to do something different. When AR Rahman’s Param Sundari (from Mimi) came out, I made a video exploring how the song would sound if other music directors had composed it, and it got millions of views,” beams he.

Sharmila, also an engineering student, shares dance videos online. “I used to post the videos to my social media account privately. During the lockdown, I made my account public. It started as a fun activity and the reach was unexpected,” she smiles.

Burst onto the internet scene
With their videos racking up views, these influencers have become mini-celebrities on campus. “During my UG, I was just another boy who could sing and talk well. But at PG, I am known as a content creator and an influencer. I became popular,” raves Aravindha.

Sharmila says, “Random people come up to me and say hi. I’ve had juniors ask me for selfies. I used to feel weird about it at first, but now it feels good.

Moreover, these influencers have also caught the attention of movie personalities. “Once Shraddha Srinath had shared my video. Chinmayi had also shared my work,” says Afrath, while Sharan adds, “What makes me most happy is the fact that my dad also shares my videos on his WhatsApp status.

Most college staff also seem to appreciate these influencers. “My teachers make fun of me. They ask me how I talk so much on reels, when I’m a calm person in the class,” laughs Afrath.

All they need is a smartphone
Content creation is an intensive creative process, and these students say they’re enjoying the whole trip. “Some of the ideas come to me when I chat with my friends. I then work on those thoughts and see if I can do scripts,” Afrath shares. Speaking about a video of him solving a math problem that went viral, he says: “The spark came when I was looking at my sister’s textbook. Sometimes ideas are spontaneous.

Vishnu, a student from Coimbatore, recently shared a video on exam hall scenarios, which has surpassed one million views. “I did it during the break; it was just an impulsive decision,” the B Com student explains, adding, “If you think of ideas just to make them go viral, it can be hard to focus on just one.

Sharmila adds, “Sometimes my mum and friends come up with ideas for me and I choose what I think will work with the audience.”

Young people say that since all they need is a good smartphone and a fast internet connection, it is easier for them to upload their work. “I used to shoot videos alone in my room because I didn’t feel safe in front of the camera. But now I take the help of my friends. I started watching videos on YouTube to learning shooting techniques; I’m a self-taught content creator,” says Afrath. Sharan adds, “I learned music production on YouTube. Since taking Carnatic and Western keyboard lessons, it’s was easier to understand the process.

Aravindha adds: “I shoot my videos with my phone. I have two lights with bluetooth control and a mic to help me with the process. I generally shoot at night, after 2 a.m., when there is absolute silence. I don’t do a lot of preparation and I try to do a single take because I do a minimum of editing.

The two sides of the coin of fame
Although these young people have taken to social media for a platform to showcase their creativity, it seems to have done them a world of good. For example, Aravindha had the chance to judge an event at another college after becoming an influencer. “Recently I was invited by another college in town to judge the RJ event at their cultures,” he says.

Sharan even had the opportunity to be part of a Tamil film! “I had the chance to assist the musical director (DM Udhayakumar) in Friendship. Although it was an uncredited role, I learned a lot from the experience,” he says, and reveals the biggest benefit to be an influencer.” My college staff follow my social media profile, and sometimes I even get grace notes because of my videos,” he laughs.

But there are also downsides, as Sharmila points out: “I get a lot of DMs since my account is public. I also get negative comments on my posts. My mom and sister sometimes take it seriously, but I try to ignore them. Aravindha adds, “Sometimes our videos become content for meme pages, but that’s part of the game.”

Finding a balance between studies and content creation
With colleges reopening, how do these students manage to keep up to date with their classes, as well as post content to entertain their followers? “When the number of subscribers increases, it also adds this pressure to publish videos regularly. During the first weeks of restarting offline courses, I struggled to do both, but now I have succeeded find a balance,” says Afrath.

Sharan says he spends four hours commuting to and from college and barely has time to regularly come up with new content. “I also have a lot of academic work, with exams and projects. I notice a drop in my subscribers because of it,” he says.

But Sharmila has a solution. “I shoot most of my videos on campus while I stay at the hostel. Yes, there is more work now, with studies and university events, but I try to balance them by creating new content as time allows. I’m not too particular about location, and it gives me lots of options,” she says.