You have to play the game of leverage, says actor-content creator Rahul Rai

Rahul Rai is more than just a guy on the Internet who churns out videos to make us all laugh. The content creator talks about why being savvy with business and the Internet is a must-have skill

Hearing about Rahul Rai’s childhood days can cause envy. His parents are from Mangaluru so during his annual vacations to India, he would spend time at his grandparents’ home in what he calls “the middle of nowhere.” Back in the 90s, these estates had power cuts and rarely had television and Internet access.

“Some of the best memories are when the power would go out,” he recalls over a video call with MetroPlus from his home in Los Angeles. “It becomes part of the daily routine, to sit with torchlights in the common area, tell stories and be one with Nature.” He reminisces about eating delicious food off banana leaves, listening to his aunt and uncle speak Tulu in a certain witty way, watching the farmers carry heavy loads during the workday and how all this activity inspired a lot of excitement in him.

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This love of storytelling on experiences from his early years would carry forward into the 32-year-old’s career as an actor and content creator whose videos each amass an average of 2,50,000 views. While most South Asian content creators thrive on cultural stereotypes through comedy, Rai actively steers clear of that. “I didn’t grow up in an environment where the parents have a certain dynamic with the kids, so I don’t relate to it,” he states. However, he does attribute relatability depending upon how specific a situation is, for example, given he knows Tulu, he finds certain witticisms in the language far funnier than in English.

To the screens

  • In 2011, when Rai was 18, his first acting experience was in a feature film When Harry Tries To Marry which follows a cynical Indian-American man who asks his matchmaking uncle to help him find a partner. Looking back on the experience ten years ago, Rai — who believes in embracing the failures too — admits, “There was certainly a lack of experience, self-knowledge, awareness and industry; as far as I know, I was just trying to remember my lines. But it gave me clarity in knowing what I wanted to do.”
  • Rai also has a growing YouTube channel for long-form videos, such as ‘Dating Advice with my Nieces’, ‘Roommate Chronicles’ and ‘Introverts at a Party’. He is also making the most of YouTube’s Shorts, launched in September 2020, which is the platform’s 60-second video facility for a more mobile-driven experience.

Rai is known for his depictions of a couple — one of whom has a towel on their head — and their daily interactions, be it accidentally swearing in front of their kid or undertaking daily chores. “I find behaviour funny or little things in relationships, such as when a guy puts his laundry inside a hamper as opposed to tossing it aside. I do a lot of people-watching both in the real world and on the app too. I observe a lot of body language and other things, and being an actor, you want to recreate that more consciously, but also not over-analyse,” he pauses and then continues with a laugh, “To be honest with you, I’m making this up as I go, there’s no master plan.”

Most of the social media platforms Rai uses (TikTok and Instagram, the latter having 2,45,000 followers) have a 30 or 60 second time limit for a joke to land. He is grateful for the constraints, adding, “it’s good to have some boundaries that you have to play within, because that’s where creativity thrives. No boundaries can work against you.” He admits that most videos are improvised on the spot and there is only one version. He tacks on, “I am so lazy, (laughs) I will not reshoot. They’re not all winners but you put it out there and see what happens, and you move on.”

Many would be taken aback by Rai’s self-evaluation: “I don’t even think I have a sense of humour, I think I’m just weird. A lot of my mom’s side of the family is very witty; the area wasn’t highly modernised so everyone was very close; they often dealt with the stress of circumstance with some level of humour.”

Business of creation

Being a believer in growth and the game of leverage, Rai talks about the value of being entrepreneurial as an actor and a content creator. Nowadays, content creators leverage their platforms as an audition space. He draws a parallel between businesspeople and content creators, “You have to play as a startup founder. Really good leaders take responsibility for when something doesn’t work, and they exercise a tremendous amount of humility when they step out of their comfort zone to make something work. I’m generalising, but 99% of actors interviewed don’t like a business. But there are skills such as financial literacy, marketing and tech literacy where if you combine them with the arts — where they seem like oil and water —, you have a competitive advantage of being adaptable. You can have a conversations with both the money people and the writers. The best investment I made into my life is gaining financial literacy, as well as tech literacy.”

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The Internet is saturated with competition too, where the most valued currency is attention. Rai elaborates on how the machine of content creation works, “Because of the Internet, you can get attention at infinite scale at zero-cost to entry and zero marginal cost to create. With social media, you can create your own community and audience, and you can leverage attention and monetise it because you’re financially literate and you know to market and sell. And when you are able to able to make money, you can buy back time (which we always want more of) to do exactly what you want to do which is creating content again.”

That said, Rai does look at social media with a grain of salt, though his Instagram and TikTok feeds serve content where people can gauge his writing, acting, producing and directing. He believes this is how content can be more conscious of what projects they are a part of and not compromise on ideals.

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