The order banning 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok, came as a surprise to Mujeeb Khan, a musician with a following of almost two million people — from hometown Rudrapur in Uttarakhand, to metro cities Delhi and Mumbai.
He supports the government, he says, as the move is linked to the standoff with China and “nothing comes before the nation”. So, on Monday night, soon after the government announcement, he went live on TikTok and urged his fans to start following him on Instagram instead.
Fond of creating cover versions of hit songs, Khan, 24, joined the platform in 2018. He didn’t get much response initially, but then a video he posted with his toddler niece got over a million views. The chacha-bhatiji duo were soon a hit pair, putting up videos with the hashtag #chachukiamyra, where Khan lip-synced to songs as Amyra laughed along.
Last summer, Khan was invited by TikTok to attend a creators’ lab in Mumbai. “I was surprised to find that so many top creators knew me. Fans kept approaching for photographs even when I was roaming in the city,” he says. The TikTok fame helped Khan get music shows and gigs back home, apart from brand collaborations.
TikTok made stars out of many such youngsters in small towns, cities, even villages across India. One of the most popular, Riyaz Aly, all of 16, has almost 43 million followers on the platform. Hailing from Jaigaon, a town in West Bengal on the India-Bhutan border, he is now based in Mumbai, is a fashion icon and is known for his dance moves and music videos.
Another TikTok star is Kishore Bargal, 30, a cotton and corn farmer from Aurangabad’s Pokhari village. He got onto the platform over two years ago, and would post videos sharing farming tips, as well as dancing to Marathi and Bollywood songs and lip-syncing film dialogues.
While Bargal says he can move to a new platform, he worries it will take time for him to build a similar following. “Looking at the likes that my videos got gave me happiness like nothing else,” he says.
Pratik Gaur, who runs the talent management company Celebistaan, says there are over 25,000 creators with more than one million followers on TikTok. Gaur has discovered and groomed most of the top names — including Aly, Nisha Guragain, Faisu, Aashika Bhatia and Jannat Zubair.
Noting how TikTok surged in India after merging with the app Musical.ly, Gaur, 22, says, “This increased the visibility of creators 10 times, and allowed them to follow global trends. The youngsters got to learn new languages, music and dance forms… Each of my top creators charges about Rs 2.5-3 lakh per video, and earns about Rs 50 lakh a month.”
There are hundreds of talent management agencies like his all over the country. Bollywood and TV stars are among celebrities on the platform. Last year, when TikTok was briefly banned following an order by the Madras High Court, owner ByteDance approached the government to run promotions and awareness campaigns on it.
The company also created EduTok, where experts in various fields, such as teachers, gym trainers, doctors, carpenters, shared tips.
Big brands such as Pepsi, Puma, Clean and Clear, Flipkart and Myntra, among others, also run their campaigns on the app through hashtag promotion, influencer outreach and home screen ads. The ad rates, between Rs 5 lakh-Rs 50 lakh, are more economical than YouTube and Instagram, particularly given TikTok’s high engagement through user-generated content and deep reach down to towns and rural areas.
One of the most popular creators on TikTok, Adnaan Shaikh, says his love for dance, acting and modelling found an outlet on the platform. A graduate of Mumbai’s Rizvi College who lives in Dharavi, Shaikh has over 13 million followers on the app. Over the last two years, he has collaborated with Bollywood names such as Alia Bhatt, Ranveer Singh, Varun Dhawan, Shaan, among others.
Explaining what TikTok meant for him, Shaikh, 23, says, “A lot of people like me, who have no connections in the entertainment industry, got a platform to showcase their talents.”
Shaikh adds that he will focus on Instagram and Facebook, while waiting for another creator-friendly app. “Every star, trend and app has an expiry date. We’re thankful to TikTok, let’s see where the future takes us.”
Gaur says they are also watching out for an app that becomes as popular as TikTok. While “there are over a hundred similar Indian apps that have cropped up in the past one month”, he says these will take time to provide the reach of TikTok.
“There will be a definite loss of business. Over the last two years, TikTok groomed youngsters, made them confident, and gave the voiceless youth a platform… If the users scatter across all these (new) apps, we won’t be able to recreate that magic again.”
However, Gaur remains confident. As he underlines, “TikTok is banned, not the talent.
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