They aren’t loud or sensational, they don’t beg viewers to ‘like, subscribe and share’ their videos, nor do they break into dance and song. But then, Arjun Doney’s one-minute video skits, featuring him, wife Tara and their two kids, mostly set inside their apartment with minimal props, walk away with nearly a million views.
How do they do it? Could it be that their two kids, five-year-old Sarah and toddler Maria (aka Marco in the videos) have the cutest of smiles and natural acting skills? Or that it’s fascinating to watch a good-looking couple having this kind of fun after marriage and two kids?
Whatever it is, their videos are termed ‘addictive’ by their legions of fans, many of whom say they have restored their faith in happy families. In fact, quite a few of the comments they get are on the lines of ‘Wish I had a perfect family like yours’, ‘Did you guys really have an arranged marriage?’ ‘You are inspiring me to try marriage!’ and more.
One might think the couple are full-time YouTubers considering their view count but they are not. Arjun, who grew up in the UAE, has his own business in Sharjah, and started making videos with his family as a trial for his fitness videos, he says. “Fitness is something I do on the side though I’m a certified trainer. We started uploading the videos on YouTube so that our extended family in Kerala could watch them. This was during the 2020 lockdown and there was a lot of time at hand suddenly. We haven’t actively done anything to promote our videos. But at some point they just exploded. We have no idea how the YouTube algorithm works,” he says.
Tara, who has a degree in HR, worked in sales till their first daughter was born, but was all up for acting, though she had not done anything remotely related to the stage in her life. “I was the quiet kid in school and my old classmates were majorly surprised on seeing me in the videos,” she says. (Tara appears often as TV ghost woman from The Ring and even as Nagavalli the possessed dancer in one) “But then my hostel friends aren’t too surprised so I guess there was a streak of it in me always.”
Ask Arjun and Tara whether they are as cool a couple in real life and they brush it off with a laugh. (In one of the videos, for example, Sarah announces that a parent has to attend a meeting at school and immediately both parents start dressing up, in the hope of meeting good-looking teachers of the opposite sex) “You shouldn’t really judge anyone from a one-minute video on social media. We too have problems; it’s not comedy 24/7 in our house. We do try to present our issues too, albeit in a fun and exaggerated manner.”
But they did have an arranged marriage? “Yes, but I’d just say that it just worked for us, we aren’t promoting either arranged marriages or love marriages.”
Most of the videos see the family as themselves or as other people, with Arjun playing the woman and Tara the man at times, while Sarah and Maria top it off with their killer one-liners and expressions. Sarah is the one with the most fans, and she seems to have realised it at one point, as she started demanding chocolate bribes from her parents to ‘act’. “Kids are our major fanbase and a lot of tiny kids binge-watch our videos when being made to eat, their parents say.” Even little Maria loves watching her own videos on the loop, apparently. Some of the videos feature their parents, sister and even the household help as well, all of whom are now familiar to viewers.
While the sketches might appear short and casual, quite a bit of thought goes into them, says Arjun, who is the one who comes up with the scripts. “It’s not easy to make the kids act, and it’s also quite a challenge to come up with something children as well as adults would enjoy. It has to be kid-friendly, shouldn’t reinstate gender stereotypes, which is why we often switch gender roles. We take care not to take generalised videos like ‘How Malayalis speak/eat’ etc. This is how we are as individuals, that’s all we want to convey.”
At the same time even they get their share of criticism as well, with people asking why they mention beef, why Tara doesn’t hide dark circles etc. “I’d never been interested in make-up and it wouldn’t really suit the situations we present. This is how families look like at home,” says Tara.
So what next? “We don’t know how long we can do this as it’s getting difficult with the kids’ schools reopening. Yes, YouTube does generate quite a good amount as revenue but it’s just a bonus for us. What’s most important is that the kids will have something to look back at when they grow up. I don’t have even a single video of me as a kid,” says Arjun.
And how does it feel being famous all of a sudden? “We aren’t famous, 50k Instagram followers is nothing in the world of social media,” says Arjun, adding that he actually would rather be behind the camera even today. “Both of us are basically introverts and we can never act in front of other people. But I had always dreamt of writing scripts. However, I always thought you had to know someone from the film industry in order to get a chance. The major change today is that social media has provided everyone with a platform to explore their talents, not just me.”