The ‘Ahadishika’ sisters

The ‘Ahadishika’ sisters are social media influencers who are in the film, modelling, dance and music space. Actor Krishnakumar, wife Sindhu and their four daughters – Ahaana, Diya, Ishaani and Hansika – are undoubtedly the most visible Malayali family on social media today, with individual followings not many film stars can boast of. To the extent that a one-minute dance video of the four sisters clocks something like six million views. Ahaana, the oldest, is a well-known actor in Malayalam as well, Diya is a full-time influencer, Ishaani in college, while Hansika, the youngest, is still in school.

It would seem like it’s dressing up and fun and dance 24/7 at your home. What is the real picture?
Ahaana: Well, the actual content creation is just 5-6 days a week and we just put it out at regular intervals. If it’s a paid promotion, there will be scheduled shoots of course. But if someone randomly walks into our house they would think we are any other middle-class family.

Diya: I only dress up when there is an occasion but when I do, I make sure I’m extra as hell! I love flaunting myself and the best part of being an influencer is that you get to try so many new clothes, that too for free. But yes, keeping all that aside I do prioritise spending a lot of personal time with my best friends and family. When I’m with friends, the phone is a strict no-no.

What, in your view, is the best part of being a social media celebrity?
Ahaana: Social media played an integral part in my life, personally. It was after a gap of five years that I did my second full-fledged film, Luca. I could have been easily forgotten in that period but social media helped me stay relevant throughout and people knew me. At times I feel you get way more recognition and adulation than you deserve on social media. But the feeling of having an audience can be empowering, and it motivates you to do better, to put out good content. For the four of us, it’s not just a fun place but our work place as well.

Diya: It’s a huge opportunity that me and my whole family have been blessed with and we are forever grateful to God for that.

Hansika: The best part is that a lot of people from different places get to know us and they start to like us though they don’t know us outside of social media.

And what is the worst part of it? Hansika, you grew up from a chubby child to a teen in front of us. Ever wished you could be anonymous at school?
Ahaana: I honestly can’t think of anything and I’m not being diplomatic here. There are people who try to trash you but that’s some 5% and they don’t matter, at least to me. The pros, on the other hand, are endless and I enjoy every moment of it. It’s great fun.

Diya: Nothing much. But there can be online harassment from some unknown wannabe at times. Also, we can’t always express our real feelings 100% on social media platforms, everyone is waiting to judge us. I mean, after all, I’m just a 23-year-old. People often forget that and make me look like an “influencer” who should always be happy. In real life I think I’m the most sensitive person at home. But no-one on social media knows that because they only see what I show them. But then, I have become an influencer anyway so why not make the best out of it while we can?

Ishaani: Social media can be toxic for your mental health at times.

Hansika: The worst part is some people take social media so seriously that they think it’s all real and that whatever people do on the platform is how they are in normal life. At times, I find people hating me and my family for no reason.
And at school, they do recognise me and I have a lot of well-wishers there but they don’t treat me differently! I have never felt the need to be anonymous in school, but in general, sometimes yes.

What, in your view, makes you different from the rest?
Diya: I always believe in being straightforward. If any problems arise from that, we learn to face them.

Ishaani: I’ve always felt that the four of us are different from others mainly because it’s not a regular sight to see four girls from the same family. And it’s not just that, I believe we all have our own individuality, which makes each of us stand out.

Are you able to make a career out of social media? Any advice to aspiring social media stars?
Ahaana: Social media influencer marketing is something which works very well for brands today and so it does have strong career possibilities at the moment, we can’t say how it will be in the future. As for Instagram, lots of brands spend their advertising budget on social media today, along with traditional methods of advertising. But it’s not just the numbers which count but about how many dedicated followers you have. They should feel like checking out a product you talk about it. In YouTube if you put out good content and get good views, you needn’t even endorse products for revenue.

My advice would be: for your content to stand out, you need to create a USP for yourself, that could be in the way you present things or something else. You need to put in effort.

Diya: Well, if you know what you are doing, definitely you can make a living out of social media. And I personally think I’m getting good at it. My advice would be: don’t let a business page use you or take advantage of you. If you don’t know how to work on collaborations or promotions ask an expert. Asking doesn’t harm you in any way but being taken advantage of does.

Ishaani: In a long run, I doubt. But as of now, yes, I’m able to make a career out of social media. My advice to aspiring social media stars would be not to get overwhelmed by everything. If you use it wisely, it’s the best place to be.

What do your parents say about all this? How do you manage studies amidst all this, Hansika?
Ahaana: They are happy and grateful.
Hansika: Parents ask me to study instead of being on social media. Everyone asks me how I get the time to study but somehow I’m able to manage both.

Your dream…
Ahaana: I just want to do a lot of interesting work as an actor, currently. I hope I will be able to tell a lot of stories.
Diya: When I was a child I wanted to become a very popular cinema artist. But now I just want to be a better human being with each passing day.
Hansika: I wish to be known as a famous dancer and an actor.

‘If you maintain a certain ethics, people will trust you’
Balram Menon

By combining travel, history and food, Kochiite food vlogger, Balram Menon stands out with his crisp and colourful food trail videos on Instagram. An instrumentation engineer currently running a business in Kochi, he says good food will remain a passion for him, not a profession.

It would look like food vloggers are living everyone’s dream, travelling around and eating great food for free!

Well, it might seem like I’m eating out all the time but I travel only during weekends or whenever I’m free, and upload the videos through the week. For me personally, this is a hobby. I don’t make money out of it, and I need the freedom to not give a good review if the food is bad. I also like to keep my vlogs homely and personal. Above all, identifying the flavours is not always an easy task. When a dish it made hot and spicy, for example, it drowns out the real flavours though it would appear tasty. In fact, a professional food reviewer is supposed to visit an outlet thrice before giving a verdict.

Every other person is a food reviewer now. What in your view has made you popular?
Like in every other profession, if you maintain a certain ethics, people will trust you, I believe. Also, my aim is to show people dishes and places to eat which aren’t very well-known. I ask locals for recommendations, not Google. In Hyderabad, for example, people generally go straight for Paradise Biryani. But I got to know about a certain Meridian Biryani and their mutton was indescribable. Also, history has always been my favourite subject, so I add a little bit of the history of the place, whenever I visit a new place.

People tell me not to mention pork or beef in my videos, but how can I not mention items which are the most consumed in the world? Food is the best ice-breaker and it has no religion.

Unforgettable dishes, cuisines, food trails…

Every cuisine has its own unique flavors, but being a Malayali, definitely beef and porotta comes first in the list for me. I have tried food from all 14 districts of Kerala and the five South Indian States primarily. It’s fascinating to experience the flavours changing as fast as the dialects. The most flavoursome meat is mutton, actually, not chicken, which we are obsessed with as Malayalis. And among the variants, Mughlai mutton is undoubtedly the star.

Prior to Covid I had travelled to South America and Mongolia, where the local cuisine can be baffling. There’s a local dish named Ceviche in the Galapagos Islands, which is basically raw prawns with squeezed lime. Then there was the Guinea pig roast from Ecuador and a particular kind of arrack in Mongolia made from fermented horse milk. Everyone including women drink it, just like the fermented sugarcane drink in Portugal. Luckily, I don’t have food allergies.

On the food bucket list are…

One more South American trip. Kashmir too where I hope to try the mutton rich Kashmiri Thali named Wazwan, which is served on the day before a wedding. It has a lot of history behind it. The Kashmiri Pundits have a separate cuisine which is not much known, with many dishes made out of lotus stem. Above all, I wish to keep learning about food.

Does family accompany you in your visits? Are you a good cook yourself?
Yes, I travel mostly with my wife Sunita and son Ram. I’m a terrible cook but Sunita is a good one, and my great supporter. In fact, that’s how our marriage happened. On my first visit to her house, great food was served and I didn’t think twice!

‘Come, let’s be fire and slice the guns’

For the young and restless of Kerala, ‘Vedan’ is not just a Malayalam rapper. He’s a movement against caste and colour discrimination, someone who has put down in words the anger and frustration of the sidelined, who is in no mood to take any more humiliation. Hiran Das Murali aka Vedan released his first video Voice of the Voiceless on YouTube about a year back, and his third crowd-funded one, Vaa, in April. Vedan makes no effort to make himself or his videos look good or colourful but people found the same energy and politics in his razor-sharp lyrics as in Enjoy Enjaami, and Vedan soon became known as the Arivu of Kerala. Over to Vedan.

Do you feel the timing of your video was just perfect, with people seeking out the music of the suppressed and the marginalized after Enjoy Enjaami?
Well, with regard to Enjoy Enjaami, Arivu is the Indie rapper I listen to most. He had called me after I released my second video and said he would like to meet. We did and we are very close now. We are both saying the same things through our music and only the language is different. My music belongs to them too and vice versa.

Why did you choose rap as the genre?
What I say through my music was something we had been discussing in our small circles of friends. I wanted those ideas to reach a wider audience through some art form. Since rap has a history of being the art form of the oppressed, I decided to choose it. Rap as a genre was invented by Blacks Americans who wanted a means of expressing their thoughts and problems. We also have a parallel for rap music; the nadan pattu or folk songs of Kerala which always talk of the sorrows of the suppressed. The rhythm is different but the essence is the same.

You chose a slum area as background and an indie dog as your co-star in a scene in your videos…
Yes, the background is a slum area near the Thrissur railway station, nearby my house. I wanted to show places which remain invisible usually. The dog in the video is my pet dog Buddhan. I take him everywhere I go and he’s as gentle as his name suggests. You can consider my featuring an Indian dog as part of my politics. Pariah dogs have always been sidelined though they are the ones who suit our Indian climate best.

What have been the reactions you have been getting for your videos?
Well, the people who have reached out to me are mostly those who felt that I said something they always wanted to say through my words. More than the musical aspect, it’s the words I’m getting responses for and that gives me immense pleasure. I also feel I’m not such a great rapper.

Have you come across people denying the existence of the discrimination you talk about?
See, will a Malayali man be ready to recognize the misogyny inside him? Forget Kerala, which man would admit he’s a misogynist? Similar is the case with casteism in Kerala. Even if the person knows it, he won’t admit it.

And it’s natural, it’s difficult to realise one day that something you have believed for years, a belief you have been following, is not right. Unlearning doesn’t happen naturally and only very few come out of those beliefs.

What, in your view, is the solution?
Things can easily improve with a better system of education and a better political system. It won’t happen any time soon, though. The existing school and college education aims solely at creating an ideal employee; an engineer or a doctor, not a good human being. It’s a system designed to teach you to make money. If that changes, belief systems will also change.

You have worked in a couple of Malayalam movies. How woke do you think is Malayalam cinema in terms of caste politics?
I think it’s great that Malayalam cinema has started to speak about this subject. Films like Kala, Nayattu, Kammattippadam, The great Indian Kitchen.. they also speak about a lot of things, and talk the correct politics. It gives me great happiness to see this happen and to watch these movies. I would definitely want to be part of such a movie in the future.

What’s next? And the ultimate dream?
Nothing immediately, as I’m stuck with a major artistic block. All I want to do now is come and play with Buddhan. I have many a lot of dreams. I think I’m one of the very few in Kerala who talk Dalit politics through music. I would like to make it reach more people my doing an All-India tour one day. There are a lot of financial barriers but let’s see.