Beyond Nazma Aapi and Kangana Runout: Why we love satirist Saloni Gaur’s voice of cool

Growing up on a diet of newspapers and Premchand, here’s why mimicry artist, comedian, satirist and actor Saloni Gaur believes in not getting gripped by the viral fever, as she takes us into the minds of her popular characters, only at YourStory’s Creators Inc conference 2022.
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In real life, satire queen, mimicry artist and digital content creator, Saloni Gaur likes to keep it “chill”, cool and calm. Growing up in Uttar Pradesh, when her parents, much like any other Indian parents, imposed curfew timings of not stepping outside home after 6 pm, she took it with a pinch of her laidback humour, waiting to grow up. 

Her character Priyanka in Campus Diaries, which marks her debut in acting, though, is a rebellious girl who must raise her voice — agar kuch bhi galat ho raha hain, toh usko sabse pehle awaaz uthana hain (if there’s any issue, she would be the first one to raise her voice). Saloni, who missed out on the real and raw deal of fighting college elections as they would be conducted via Google Forms, got to live her dreams through her character in the MX Player show.   

Saloni was speaking at YourStory’s Creators Inc conference 2022, an initiative to spotlight 100 top creators from the Indian creator space who are redefining norms of creator-preneurship in the fast-growing creator economy. 

Chances are anyone with access to a smartphone and social media would be familiar with the incredibly funny characters of Nazma Aapi and Kangana Runout courtesy Saloni. That’s not all, there are Kusum Behenji, Padoswali Aunty, Pinky Dogra and Adarsh Bahu, and the recently created Nanu in the repertoire. The social media influencer now has her own OTT show Uncommon Sense with Saloni on SonyLiv

In the closing quarter of last year, Saloni landed a show with SonyLiv, touching 535,000 followers on Instagram and worked on her first television commercial (TVC) with Paytm. 

Walking on the edgy slope of satire

The comedy artist is a force to reckon with as she highlights everyday problems concerning the middle-class, plugging in social commentary, sometimes on political issues, thereby capturing the zeitgeist of our digital era and appealing to her woke audiences as well. 

But why would Saloni pick up the relatively complicated space of satire not without its own sexist biases? 

“It always intrigued me as a child, I mean, I used to read newspapers a lot when I was a kid. Hamare ghar mein hamesha se ek mahol rehta tha (there was always this environment at our home), my father used to read newspapers a lot,” recalls Saloni, adding, that not just her father but her grandfather and brother would also read newspapers turn-wise prompting her to believe that is something everybody should be doing. So, that’s how I developed a habit, as I started reading newspapers and consuming political content as well. I particularly like the tiny cartoon column, I liked the artwork, the satire,” shares Saloni. 

There’s an anecdote from her school days as well. The librarian would not allow the students to read novels, for instance Chetan Bhagat novels, objecting to the nature of the content in some chapters. So, Saloni veered towards the doyens of Hindi literature such as Premchand and Hari Shankar Parsai, and soon she realised that she really enjoyed reading these authors. 

Initially, Saloni started with the regular, relatable comedy content, only to pick up the threads of parody and satire later. “Muhje laga ki yaar at least ladkiyon mein koi nahi kar raha hain (girls are hardly there in this space), at least somebody should, so why not me,” shares Saloni hinting at the underrepresentation of women creators in this space.  

Saloni says she is aware of the cultural legacy of comedy greats such as Jaspal Bhatti and Shekhar Suman, and references of their shows keep coming up in conversations around her, although the young creator is quick to point out that she was not around at that time. 

“Fortunately, hamari generation, hum phone ke saath hi bade huye hain, toh haan hamari transition aise hi hui hain (we, our generation has grown up on mobiles, and this has been our pattern of transition). We start from here and we go to OTT. The transition has been amazing because nobody imagines getting your own show at the very beginning of your journey. I’ve been creating content for three years. Accha lagta hain ki aaj ek content creator bhi uthke wahan tak pahuch sakta hain (it feels nice to know that even a content creator can achieve something so big),” highlights Saloni.

Talking about her transition from short-format digital content to foraying into the high-production OTT space, she says “everyone has a YouTube channel, even Kartik Aryan has one. So, everybody is coming into this space”.  

  

How to not offend the ‘public’ and lessons in troll mechanism 

The only rule that the digital content star swears by is to never indulge in name calling. She trusts the intellect of her audience to decipher whom or what she is talking about without having to name. 

The second rule is try and not offend people. However, there’s no set parameter to judge whether the content is potentially offensive as the audience can get offended by anything. 

It helps that Saloni belongs to the same Gen-Z generation, which is her primary audience base. She knows their pulse. 

When Saloni had decided to venture into the space of comedy content creation, she had done a mental preparation that there would be trolling and negativity. “Sabke paas free internet hain, matlab sasti internet hain, ab aap kisike haath se phone toh nahi cheen sakte ho, ki nahi tum aise kaise likh rahe ho. Main agar paanch jokes acche maar leti hoon ki ek acchi script likh leti hoon, toh main khush ho jaati hoon (everyone has free, low-cost internet, now you can’t take away someone’s phone and ask him to stop posting comments. For me, my day’s job is done if I am able to crack five jokes or write one good script),” shares Saloni, refusing to give it much credence.  

Writing characters

This brings us to the heart of her characters, all drawn from life as she has known and lived barring Kangana Runout. A character that mimics Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut, also known for headline-grabbing and controversial share of comments, the act demands Saloni to observe the actor keenly, from her mannerisms to hand movements, even her style of sitting, and of course, her voice and accent. 

It helps that since childhood Saloni had a knack of observing people, as she says, she was more into listening and watching rather than speaking.

All of her other original characters are drawn from real life, especially from the small-town, middle-class fabric infused with delectable charm and realism. 

When she created Nazma Aapi, she drew the essence of the character from her father’s friends who would visit their home regularly. The dialect that she has invested the character with is a bit of this, and a bit of that, a multicultural mix. Some think of her as Hyderabadi, some as Bhopali, some consider her to be rooted in purani (old) Dilli (Delhi). Saloni drew it from snatches she heard in Western UP while growing up.

Likewise, Padoswali Aunty is drawn from a familiar neighbourhood aunty character, who even after putting in strenuous domestic labour would still find the time to gossip, and especially indulge in ‘judging’ girls and women in her colony. Saloni was at the receiving end of the jibes that the aunty gang of her moholla (locality) would take at her clothes. For her, any such thing is “content”. 

The very recent addition is the character of Nanu, a kid who would deliberately not wear slippers and so on to seek attention. 

Inside the ‘viral’ vortex 

In 2019, Saloni had already entered the viral universe with two-three of her videos. 

But what’s the golden rule to sustain virality, especially since a lot who plunged into this space during the successive lockdowns earned viral fame early on?

“During lockdown, creators had more time to create content and the audience had more time to consume content. Who would have imagined anybody learning how to make Dalgona coffee from Instagram? It became such a huge trend. When their businesses were shut, so many people discovered their hidden talent in comedy or other areas, and they started making content which was picked up by viewers. And that audience connection is still on,” explains Saloni.  

Here’s what Saloni advises aspiring content creators:

  • Do not get stuck with that one viral video. Anything can go viral today, even an aesthetically pleasing Instagram reel where you have just shown a tree swaying can go viral because of the song that you use. Aapke friends share karenge ki arrey yeh gaana tune suna? Iss liye nahi ki unko aapka woh jhumta huya ped accha lag raha hain, maybe woh song ke liye share karenge (Your friends would share it with you, asking if you have heard the song. The video can go viral not necessarily because they like the swaying tree but the song).   
  • But this should not make one think that there is a sureshot route to virality. It may not work the next time. 
  • Self-discovery is key, says Saloni. Discover what you are good at, even a sad quote can become viral as people might connect to it saying, yaar kal toh mera bhi dil toota tha (hey, even I had a heartbreak yesterday).
  • You should be under the pressure that if one video has gone viral, every subsequent video has to match that. Nor do you have to post something everyday. 
  • You should not take your audience for granted. Aap unko ghatiya content doge toh they will leave (if you give them substandard content, they will leave, they don’t owe you anything).
  • Try to be consistent but also focus on quality. There is no dearth of content creators, if you go, another will fill in the space.        
  • Try to differentiate yourself from others. Aap pehle bheed mein chamko toh sahi, khud ko alag toh banao, uske baad brands khud aayenge aapke paas (first you should focus on shining amid the vast sea of creators, build your own identity, and then brands would themselves reach you). 

Balancing brand collaborations with authentic voice

Saloni fetched her first brand collaboration with the Nazma Aapi character despite the subtle political undertone. The brand was a fit, they were into the space of online safety. 

Obviously, brands have their own parameters, they want to align with a certain type of content as anything controversial can elicit outrage and spiral into the brand being boycotted. 

For sponsored content, creators need to take into account what the brand wants. If in a week, you are working on one branded collaboration, do as they want, of course, in a synergistic manner as much as possible. You have the rest of the week to do your own, Saloni leaves us with a pragmatic vision. 

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.

Edited by Ramarko Sengupta

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