Malini Agarwal, aka ‘Miss Malini’, was amongst India’s first lifestyle bloggers starting out in 2008. She is now head of a huge digital enterprise, reaching millions worldwide. Upon the recent release of her book #To The Moon: How I Blogged My Way To Bollywood, Malini spoke about India’s digital enterprise revolution, content for millenials, influencers versus critics, and whether Bollywood will confront its Harvey Weinsteins.
You describe MissMalini.com as a Pied Piper for India’s digital entrepreneurship revolution. What are three big changes the site brought?
Well, as the first ‘blog’ of its kind, MissMalini.com offered a new breed of entertainment which wasn’t in the usual ‘tabloid format’. Suddenly, there was a voice that spoke the same language as young Indians. Consumers and brands became aware of the power of personality-led content. Second, the site didn’t exist in a silo — it branched out to ‘make friends’ with other platforms, creating native content for Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram. The third was positive journalism. MissMalini decided to celebrate Indian cinema, showing celebrities in a more fun and young light.
Where do the markets for a pop culture-based website like yours lie?
Bollywood is universal — there are fans in every corner of the world. We create content for the millennial generation. Fashion and beauty are a natural extension of that content because Bollywood is a dream — what the stars wear, where they go, who they date, what they eat. What surprises me is the audiences’ intense passion for consuming a quirky variety of things — Salman Khan, beauty videos, Deepika Padukone, and cupcakes that look like Deepika Padukone. The internet is a Disneyland for grown-ups. Build it and they will come.
What is the difference between an influencer and a critic? And, amongst fears of paid content, why not be genuinely critical about fashion?
An influencer is someone like the reader, basically documenting their experiences. A critic is (hopefully) someone with an education and background in the industry they’re critiquing, which qualifies them to make critical judgement. There is definitely an unfortunate amount of “paid press”, but readers need to see that for what it is — an “advertorial” commercial. A vital part of being an influencer is being honest with your readers. If we are promoting a product, it will clearly say this is paid promotion. But the onus is on me — if I start promoting things of poor quality, how long with my influence last?
As a Bollywood influencer, explain the missing response to Hollywood’s rejection of Harvey Weinstein. Is Bollywood too scared to confront its demons, or too sanskaari to have any?
I am sad about this. I really am. At a “boss lady” panel I was moderating with two power women, I remember being told not to bring up sexism in the workplace. I realised it’s probably because the audience contained its fair share of Harvey Weinsteins. There is this long-inculcated fear of “what will people think”, if a woman speaks against harassment. It somehow taints her first. But I have immense respect for stars finally not shying away from naming names. I believe we’re on the edge of something big that will shake the industry to its core soon.
Your book describes just one brush with sexism. How come — and why do you write that part of being a “real boss lady” is to reinforce one woman in your workplace?
Well, I hadn’t faced as explicit and shocking a moment of sexism in my career until that point, coming just a few weeks after I won the ‘Most Influential Woman in Media, Marketing and Advertising 2017’ award. Isn’t it ironic? And yes, I do think being a “boss lady” isn’t just about forging your personal success. Ekta Kapoor says in my book, “Empowered women empower other women.” I love that.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines