How a blog started from a couch became a company: MissMalini’s tryst with Shah Rukh Khan and other Bollywood stars
Bollywood journalism for the longest was all about breaking news, juicy gossip, the spiciest stories, tattles and scandals, until a humble blog came along. If you were to go back in time, and pull out a typical interview with the king of Bollywood, Sharukh Khan, it would have the usual series of questions about upcoming movies, working with co-stars, competition yada yada yada.
Now, enter this young ‘creator’, a term that wasn’t fashionable yet, with a camera and a box of cupcakes! The incident dates back to 2014 during the release of the movie Happy New Year. This blogger/creator was among a long line of journalists waiting for their slot with the movie’s stars. After eight hours of waiting, the moment finally came in the wee hours of the morning.
She quietly handed over the cupcakes to the team and went on to do the most unusual thing during a star interview — a game of charades! The audience for the first time saw Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek Bacchan, Boman Irani, Sonu Sood in their most ‘out of the ordinary’ avatars and loved it!
That’s Malini Agarwal a.k.afor you! Always breaking the mould and carving her own niche.
Malini managed to do something that creators are trying to do a decade later—relate to the audience and create a differentiator—something which was missing on the internet back then. Reigning supreme over the space for many years now, Malini is without doubt one of the most recognisable faces on the Indian internet.
“My turn for the interview came after 8 hours and I was the last one because no one took the web that seriously back then. The worst is, the reporter before me asked a nasty question to Shah Rukh about some spat on Twitter, which irked him. The reporter waited for 8 hours only to piss him off. Why would you do that, what were you hoping to achieve?,” says Malini.
It has been this humane and sensible side of Malini that has made her such a big success in space. It was no overnight miracle but a decade of investment towards relationship building, understanding what the audience would like, daring to start something new and sensible, humane writing.
“I literally had just a camera with me. I never really asked anything mean, I see people ask such ridiculous questions about spats with spouses, being thrown out of parties and so on. I have made my relationships clear—off the record is off the record, I am not a hypocrite. I am sensitive that way. Gossip is fun, but when you cross the line, it’s malicious,” she says.
Secret sauce to success
Like any other blogger, Malini had her doubts when she entered the space back in 2008. The ‘girl with an accent’ (she lived in different parts of the world thanks to her father being a diplomat), landed in Mumbai and wanted to hop and jump onto different things and explore the unexplored.
What stuck with her during those times was her impeccable confidence, networking skills and a flair for writing, besides the support from her co-founders Mike Melli and Noushad (who’s her husband now). Malini highlights that while she may be the face of the brand, “it has not been a one-woman show”.
Interestingly, a few years back Malini was offered to sell the blog for about Rs 25,00,000, but was convinced otherwise by her partners, who made her see through the future potential of her work and the growth ahead. “Thank God they stopped me!”.
The key to Malini’s success has been the fact that she created a differentiator. There came an independent voice that was speaking of the entertainment world in a positive way. She went back to the drawing board contemplating the gap in the fun pop culture voice and representation besides the video and radio jockeys.
She managed to package her content in a unique and personal way, managing to stay ahead of the curve.
“When I started back in 2008, people didn’t know what a blog was and now it's a whole industry. People are dedicated to it as a complete career choice, seeing opportunities to learn about it. I used to struggle with the idea of who I am, I was no bollywood star or a Kim Kardashian. I was just writing a blog and wasn’t sure whose to emulate. So I worried that maybe I am doing it wrong,” she shares.
MissMalini has come a long way, after starting her company as a blog from her couch to now when it’s become a 70-member company.
What was started off as a blog, now offers five different verticals spanning across marketing, talent management, production, content and creative agency services, and a reach of about 60 million people every month through the digital assets.
Recently, MissMalini was acquired by. A new venture—Good Creator Co. (GCC) was born out of the collaboration between the two, along with , and . Through her new initiative, Malini aims to give creators an opportunity to go mainstream and handhold them through the process.
“We are making the largest and most compressive creator ecosystem the country has seen. It will be spearheaded by the abilities of all the four companies. We can do bigger campaigns, creators can come to us and their whole world will be sorted. It is like a digital academy. You don’t have to work in silos anymore and have a whole community to learn along with,” says Malini.
Malini believes collaboration is the key to the future of the booming creator’s economy and the space is likely to witness more such efforts.
Advice for new creators and brand
“Don't limit yourself to a platform.” Malini speaks about how creators were swift enough to jump to YouTube and other social media apps when TikTok got banned in India. “Creators can always have a particular platform as their bread and butter source, but there is no reason one cannot replicate the same success with some repurposing and easy breezy content on other platforms. Don’t be at a single platform’s mercy.”
Malini also urges brands to get out of the rut and find new voices. “The biggest mistake brands make is to repeat their cycles. They need to reinvent and be open to new platforms and let the creators do the talking and create new concepts. Work with talent managers and take their guidance.”
Malini has lived “a life less ordinary.” The girl who came to Mumbai 14 years ago, worked her way through almost every media stream —audio, video, television, web, print— having witnessed the evolution of the creator’s economy first hand.
Rapid fire with MissMalini
—Do everything at the same time. Try everything and keep doing what you love.
It gives you peace of mind to pursue love and happiness.
Thing you wish you could change from the past
I wish I could overthink less. I overthink that I overthink things. It's ridiculous.
Advice to newbies
Seize the day, don’t procrastinate.
People/events that changed your life
—My business partners—Melli and Noushad. They changed my trajectory.
—An RJ audition: I was two-minded about leaving my day job at MTV to become an RJ when programming director Aditya Patwardhan convinced me to choose the latter. He said, “you are so talented and you are making a huge mistake!” So I quit, and thank him all the time.
—Prahlad Kakkar: When I moved to Bombay, I wanted to be a VJ. So a friend of mine got me to meet him. I told him I want to be a VJ and he said no! and asked me what else I see myself as. He shattered my dream all at once. I said I like to write and he set me off, made some calls and set me off to be a copywriter. It all began from there…
—26/11: Got to witness the kindness of Mumbai. Was stuck in a cafe for hours during the time and had people help me in all sorts of ways. It was heartwarming.
—Sushmita Sen: During an interview, we were speaking about adoption and I asked Sushmita, why do people always say that adoption is not the same as having a biological child. Tumhara khoon nahi hai (It's not your blood). The actress said next time someone says that, ask them how they fell in love with a complete stranger, who is not their bloodline, and decided to marry him. People come, dance and celebrate the alliance of two strangers, then why can’t they do the same for children?
Message to 21st century women
You are doing amazing and living in 2022, when you can be anything! Do it! There are now enough people who will listen to you. Use social media wisely and not be affected by toxicity or trolls. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You are amazing…
Here's another fun fact about Malini. Did you know she was the backup dancer for Spice Girls and Peter Andre during their music tour in India back in her college days?
Catch YourStory's Creators Inc conference here.
For more on other key initiatives as part of the conference, visit our Creators Inc. website here.
Recognising the burgeoning creator ecosystem and the new wave of entrepreneurship that comes with it, YourStory is celebrating the works of both established and emerging influencers in an initiative aimed at identifying, celebrating and accelerating the journey of digital creators who make extraordinary, unique and engaging content. We've partnered with Trell to bring you the Top 100 Creators challenge, which you can apply for here.