Sejal Kumar on working with Michelle Obama, monetising content, women’s issues, more
Viral content creator Sejal Kumar is now going beyond YouTube and focusing on causes close to her heart. She is also making her own music and is the lead of the Netflix hit show Engineering Girls.
In 2014, Sejal Kumar started a YouTube channel at the age of 19. Today, she is one of the most popular content creators in India, with 2 million-plus followers.
In 2020, she became one of the eight creators across the world to join YouTube Creators for Change programme with Michelle Obama.
But Sejal’s work goes beyond her content and influence. She has worked closely with UNICEF on its child protection campaign and the Gates Foundation on its vaccination drive in India.
Her own female empowerment movement, Aisi Hun (I am who I am), part of YouTube Creators for Change, launched on International Womens' Day, was supported by UNICEF.
She has also co-founded Maitri, a female health platform that has 550k subscriptions with her mother, who is a gynaecologist, to help the growth of credible information about women’s health across the country.
That’s not all. Sejal recent forayed into other entertainment media with a music video Destiny, a Spotify podcast Shut up Sejal, and by bagging the lead in Netflix’s Engineering Girls.
In a conversation with HerStory, Sejal takes us through her journey from being a shy child, to entering the YouTube bandwagon in 2014 working towards women’s health and more…
HerStory (HS): Tell us about your early years.
Sejal Kumar (SK): My mum is a gynaecologist and my dad was in the army, so I grew up in a very hard-working environment.
I was a shy kid but I was creative and loved exploring that side of me when no one was at home. There’s lots of music in my family; my mum is a fabulous singer, and my brother plays multiple instruments. So, I grew up singing and dancing, playing around with Photoshop and our camcorder.
HS: When did you decide to start your own channel on YouTube? Take us through the initial stages.
SK: I started in September 2014. I always wanted to be an actress and become a huge star. I wanted to sing, act, dance, pursue art and fashion; I wanted to do it all.
I attended a lot of auditions in Delhi when I was 14-19 — whatever I could find on Facebook through my own ways (I had no contacts) and then, I found YouTube.
I felt it was such a nice way to do something creative and show my talents without giving up the reins of my creativity to someone else. But, my growth was pretty slow; it took me years to reach where I am today.
HS: How did you grab the audience’s attention?
SK: I think being consistent, trying to better each video, and also genuinely enjoying it translated more than anything else.
I also always heard from my audience that my content was of great quality, which kept me going.
HS: What are the topics you are most passionate about?
SK: Telling stories through my content — now, it’s through my music — through sound, music videos, short films; it’s a whole experience and I love weaving a visual storyline around it. It is fun and I’m glad my audience is getting into it. I keep reading their comments and messages. They can be harsh sometimes but also quite insightful.
HS: You were one of the eight creators worldwide for YouTube Creators for Change with Michelle Obama. Tell us more.
SK: It was a wonderful opportunity that came about very randomly. I was happy to support and create content for the movement of ‘Girls Education’ by Michelle Obama. My interpretation was that girls’ education begins at home and I showed that through my first song Aisi Hun and the short film/music video we had shown the story of a simple Indian girl finding her way to being the fearless girl she always deserved to be.
The impact was so far-reaching and deep. People shared their personal stories of their lives at home with me and messaged me how this song and video made them stronger and wanted to take charge of their lives — the video hit one million views soon after the release, which was a great milestone too.
HS: You are also vocal about female health with Maitri. How important is it to disseminate the right information on women’s health, especially to women in Tier II and Tier III towns?
SK: I am the co-founder of Maitri, a woman's health platform spearheaded by my mother Dr Anjali Kumar, who has more than 30 years of practising surgical experience. Our aim is to spread credible female health information; we wanted to create something to have that knowledge reach more people.
HS: You also speak widely on mental health. Has the need to be consistently creative taken a toll on you at any time. If yes, how did you cope?
SK: I have struggled with anxiety and depression for many years perhaps due to the nature of this profession. My audience has seen how it has impacted me as they see me every day and how I’ve tried so hard on so many days to keep a smile on my face when I’m breaking down.
Therapy and counselling have improved my life significantly and I feel much better now, and sharing that journey is nice with my audience as it’s something I feel strongly about and something that has changed me as a person.
HS: How easy or difficult is to monetise content creation?
SK: I’ve been fortunate in this aspect. I got my first brand deal with Lifestyle after I hit a thousand subscriptions; the growth has been steady and I’ve been very happy with it.
Now, the market is such that there are many lucrative opportunities out there and I feel lucky to have started when I did and to have had the business acumen to pitch myself correctly to the brands I worked with.
HS: Tell us about your Netflix show. How did it come about?
SK: Engineering Girls is a TVF production, which came out with a simple 20-minute audition. I received a call the next day that I got it. I think it was just meant to be.
My first acting gig of that scale was a great learning experience and so much fun. It was later acquired by Netflix and then Zee5 for their streaming platforms, which also brought so much more visibility to the show.
HS: What are your future plans?
SK: Lots of music. My debut EP releases soon, and more of acting. And season 2 of my Spotify Exclusive Podcast Shutup Sejal.
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta