PHOTOGRAPHY – ABHEET GIDWANI
CLOTHING – FALGUNI SHANE PEACOCK
The first lady in the Indian blogging scene, MissMalini needs no introduction. Starting off as what can only be described as a side gig; MissMalini.com soon became a full-time thing, currently with over 4 million unique visitors a month from all over the globe. MissMalini road to entrepreneurship was a windy one with her playing the roles of a backup dancer, a radio jockey, a video jockey, a columnist and finally a blogger. MissMalini herself seems to be on full throttle with the current focus on making MissMalini.com a bigger and influencing hit, with diverse entities like an award, beauty, and TV shows. By the looks of it, the eponymous digital site is taking a life of its own. We got the woman of letters to talk to us in our latest issue about her journey, her stint as the famous ‘MissMalini’ and her future plans. Read on –
[Q] As a daughter of an Indian Diplomat you have travelled and lived almost all over the world. How has that phase of your life shaped you into the person that you are today?
So, growing up because of my father being a diplomat I lived all over the world and it has absolutely made me who I am today. I think people always worry that if we take the kids out of school and move to different countries, the children have trouble adjusting. It was literally the best teacher for me ever. Travel and you know, my best friends were from all over the world, like my best friend is Korean and one is from Zanzibar, we just learnt so much about different cultures and it also teaches you to be very open and friendly because you have to make new friends every three years and I think that really helped me looking back at my career.
[Q] You were also involved in college-level dancing and was scouted to tour with some of the biggest pop stars of India. How did the shift from dancing to media come about?
I feel like the shift from dancing to media was so random. I always wanted to dance for the rest of my life. I loved it so much and so many of those Sukhbir songs are still stuck in my head forever. I think the shift happened because the whole digital universe had just kicked off, so I moved to Bombay in the year 2000 and I joined MTV India and I was running the MTV India website. I was really into social media and the digital world even before Facebook had started, then slowly these things came about and it just was epic timing. There was no such thing as blogging at that time. I just really like trying new things. So, after being a dancer and working in MTV I ended up being at a radio station where I was a radio jockey for 9 years. And that radio station was owned by Mid-day so I ended up writing a gossip column called ‘Malini’s Mumbai’ and looking back, wow, it kind of was like foreshadowing because now it’s like ‘MissMalini’. So it all kind of fell into place, I really loved writing, I loved being on radio, but I always felt there was no documentation of life in India for millennials and that there wasn’t really a place where you could come and seek positive uplifting content. A lot of Bollywood content tends to be negative and fashion policing and I wanted to talk about positive things and I think that’s juts sort of how it fell together.
[Q] How has MissMalini’s content changed over the years? Do you have any certain criteria for content that you still follow since you started the blog?
My content has had a lot of evolution. I always say that little MissMalini has grown up now. I think for us, we set three rules early on. One is that we are never going to write something that we can’t say to somebody’s face, which I think it’s a really great self-check for all social media. And then we said we want to spark joy with the content we create. So, there’s a great show by Marie Kondo called ‘Tidying up’ where she teaches you how to arrange your clothes and she says only hold onto the things that spark joy, so we said why don’t we also give things that spark joy. And the third was to remember that followers are people too, because we have kind of dehumanized each other on the internet and each other to another account so I wanted to make sure that we still look at each other as human and behave in the virtual world, the way that we do in real life. The most important revolution that happened, happened about last year where apart from being Bollywood, Lifestyle, Fashion, Beauty Content; I kicked off a group called ‘Malini’s Girl Tribe’ on Facebook and now there’s about 36k members and it has just been the most gratifying thing. The conversations, it’s a safe space, it’s a fun space for women to connect on everything, from where to buy like a nice, little black dress to a Kanjeevaram saree to where to go on a holiday to mental health to professional advice to parenting advice. So, I feel like this is something that I really want to focus in my life and I hope the community will really back, especially to women who have such a hard time on social media today.
[Q] How do you stay relevant in an industry where the dynamics of content creation changes so often?
So, I’m 42 years old and so I completely understand how things change and times evolve and there’s like millennials and Gen-Z. I think you have to adopt the new technology that people are using. Gone are the days where you just expect people to come and consume content where you are. So, you started on Facebook, then you went to Twitter and then you went to Snapchat and now we are on TikTok. So, you have to adapt and learn the new platforms. I think it’s very important to stay relevant by understanding how people are consuming content. Today, they are watching 5 hours of video with 15 seconds at a time. So, you have to customise your content for those different platforms. Think and talk about the things that are relevant. In a very geeky way, there are a lot of tools you can use to sort of to mine Google to see what are the things that are trending. So that’s kind of the geeky side of it.
[Q] What else do you have planned for the platform MissMalini.com?
There are a couple of different things. We are definitely expanding on content and are working on OTT shows. We are also breaking back into the podcast because I often say ‘Radio’ is my first love and ‘Blogging’ is my marriage. I don’t really blog much now, and because now we are a media company where we have a lot of bloggers. We are also expanding the Girl Tribe, and an app will be coming soon which we are excited about. I’m writing my second book, which is very late on delivery, but it will come out this year as well. Most importantly, what I really want to do is to create a safe space for women to be empowered in a way that, a lot of times people don’t go looking out for empowerment, especially those who need it the most. So, you have to seed powerful characters and inspiring women into entertaining content. I’m trying to bring back sexiness into empowered things.
[Q] Who has been the biggest influencer in your life?
I’ve had so many different influences at different points in my life. But one person is definitely my sister, she’s always been my hero. She’s 12 years older than me so she’s like my second mom, in a sense. So, her and then there are so many different people I look up to. Everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Arianna Huffington to Lilly Singh to Priyanka Chopra, literally people from every walk of life. And I find a lot of inspiration in the girls from the Girl Tribe. Just a bunch of young women hustling and living their best lives!
[Q] Who do you think is your biggest competition? Are you the kind to thrive on healthy competition, or do you simply ignore it and focus on yourself?
The amazing thing about creating content in a positive space is there is no competition. You want to do it all together. The more people who are creating positive content, everybody wins. Nobody has ever said ‘Oh there’s too much positive content’. So, there’s enough of a market and enough of an audience for it. I love the concept of collaborating. So I work with the Arianna Huffington Foundation. I’ve had fun collaborations with Lilly Singh and I would love to do something with Oprah Winfrey one day. I’m definitely not even in their league so I cannot really consider them as competition. I was very lucky that I got to head Michelle Obama once and she said something really amazing. She said, ‘All women can help each other rise and there is no reason that we have to be in competition with each other. We can all grow together.’ And then there’s this line I really love – ‘We don’t need to unscrew anyone else’s light bulb for ours to shine.’
[Q] What was something that you did not expect, in terms of change, after your blog took off?
I think the biggest change was that there was no concept of influencers when I started out. Looking back in 2008, MissMalini as a brand was an influencer but there is no such word. I didn’t expect the industry to blow up the way it did. I’m very happy and proud that we have something to do with the way it paved its way in India. It’s great to see so many great influencers living their dream and making a career out of it. They don’t have to become doctors, lawyers or engineers anymore. The change was very surprising for the whole industry and it became so big. We are super excited that it did!
[Q] Is there a pressure to come up with novel content very frequently? And if so, how did you cope with it?
There is always that pressure to come up with new content because, because now we binge-watch shows and after you’ve finished a show, you’re left wondering what to do next. You spend so much time creating content that is consumed in two hours. So, there is definitely a lot of pressure to do all of it, but it’s also very exciting. In the digital world, you don’t have that many rules or laws, that you have to have a certain number of words or a certain limit to how many videos you can put out. You can put out any amount of videos that you want. So, the way we deal with it is we think about what you want to do and that’s where our team of 65 people coming together and doing it. I wouldn’t be able to keep up with all of it myself, so it’s a lot of planning, a lot of ideating, looking at what’s happening in the world around us, who are the special women, what are the special moments like women’s Day or Mother’s Day and so on. I really love how Falguni Shane Peacock have constantly reinvented themselves. They’re worn by every big artist all round the world. They have definitely done it right. They have reinvented themselves constantly and that’s what we try to do.
[Q] What is the one thing in the blogging industry that you think people are doing wrong or getting it wrong?
I don’t know if it’s something that we’re getting it wrong. I think the only issue in the blogging industry is that people are looking too quickly for fast money. If you start a blog or if you become an influencer just to earn money, you won’t be authentic enough to resonate with an audience, and that’s quite depressing. The ones who are more successful or the ones who didn’t do it to earn money are pretty much the ones who end up making money.
[Q] Living in a world where you are subjected to constant scrutiny, what is social media pressure according to you?
I think social media pressure comes from two sides. One, I feel is that there is a lot of fatigue. One can feel tired looking at everybody else’s perfect lives and I think people need to understand that if you look at my Instagram or any celebrities’ Instagram, it’s only a curation of perfect moments. It doesn’t really reflect everything that happens. So, nobody should feel that ‘Oh my God, look at this person‘s life, it’s brilliant and mine is not.’ Everybody’s lives are the same. I think the other thing is we were never taught how to use social media. So, we use it as a dumping ground for the negative emotions. We are very quick to react and to get offended and to attack each other when we would never do that in real life. That’s why my second book is literally about how to be good on social media, like how to be a good person on social media and spread positivity because I think it’s the need of the hour. We need to put positivity out in the virtual world and we are the generation that learnt using cell phones. So we need to bridge the gap and spread awareness about social media, the value of it, the benefits of it and also the dangers.
[Q] What is a day in MissMalini’s life like?
A day in MissMalini’s life is never the same over two days. There will be days where I will be in my pyjamas, blogging, solving a puzzle or writing my book and then there will be days where full day I will be a boss lady, when there will be meetings, office, or I’ll be shooting something or doing an interview with someone or I’ll need to come to a fabulous evening like this. On a lot of these days, there are different things happening. I’m very happy and lucky that I have an incredible team that takes care of me and I wouldn’t be able to do it if there wasn’t anyone who I could blindly follow and have my schedule managed.
[Q] How do you deal with a day gone bad?
I am very bad at dealing with bad days, to be very honest. I get very grouchy if my day doesn’t start well. I’m not proud about it and I’m trying to work on it. I’m quick to get angry and then I slowly simmer down. But I’m trying to work on it. I started with this Buddhist chanting recently, and that’s really putting me in a better mind space.
[Q] What is your golden rule when it comes to crisis management?
My golden rule, which I don’t know if I follow all the time, is to step away and before you react or send an angry email simmer down and send it when you have reflected upon it.
[Q] How do you deal with your vulnerabilities? Do you often put up a strong-front?
Vulnerability is tough, and I think all of us have that. I think the great thing in today’s date is that it’s totally fine to admit it. People can now talk about anxiety and toxic environments, so it’s completely fine. I have a therapist that I’m happy to tell about, and I tell them to go see him because he’s amazing. I think that it’s okay to not be okay all the time and that’s the struggle everyone has – that was our life is not perfect every day. And, it doesn’t have to be because if it was, we wouldn’t appreciate it. Without the bitter, the sweet isn’t that sweet.
[Q] What is that one advice or suggestion from someone that you still apply in your life?
I think there are so many different pieces of advice that I’ve got from so many people at different times in my life. I think the best piece of advice that I’ve ever gotten was from my sister, who is my hero, that whatever you do you do it with empathy and kindness.
[Q] What are some of the personal beliefs that you firmly stand by professionally?
I think I really stand by by having fun. The whole purpose of life is to not just make a lot of money and work yourself to death. It is to enjoy the journey, and I definitely apply that. I like to joke around in my office as much as I can. I try to focus on living in the moment and realising that there is no tomorrow or yesterday, it’s always now you have to live in. I really like coming up with new ideas. I never really like to stay in a rut, which is probably why I have done so many different things.
[Q] What are your upcoming projects?
I’m ready with my second book. I’m definitely going to be launching some OTT shows. I’m also launching some podcasts very soon. I’m going to be doing some shows on other platforms as well, which you will see you soon. I’m really excited about expanding Malini’s Girl Tribe. That is going to be my number one priority. I’m trying to connect with more women and we’re going to try to create a sisterhood for everybody’s mental health, peace and safety and fun.