Why my daughter Eshna Kutty’s video went viral!

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on September 30, 2020 Published on September 30, 2020

Eshna. Screenshot from Instagram

Chitra Narayanan recounts how her daughter's video going viral gobsmacked her

“Your daughter is an ‘Overnight’ internet sensation!”

“She has become a social media star…”

Ping ping ping...

So went the messages all of last Friday. It continued through the weekend with requests pouring in from media houses to interview her.

We were gobsmacked as to why this particular video of Eshna Kutty hoop dancing to the Genda phool number went viral. After all, it was not shot well (according to my filmmaker husband), and she and I had disagreed on the saree she chose as she rifled through my cupboard, and hooping skills wise she herself rated it just 4/10. Even Puma India whose sneakers she endorses, and which she has worn in the video, was initially lukewarm.

But there you are! Over 1.5 million views and counting. Here is a link to her video.

Despite having read two excellent books (Videocracy on the Youtube phenomenon, and No Filter on Instagram) which do give some insights on what makes some posts viral,  and despite having had long conversations with social media marketers in the past on creating viral videos, my first reaction was astonishment.


Two days later, I saw a post on LinkedIn by a marketer Laalit Lobo that tried to analyse why the video went viral.

His view:  “If she weren't wearing a sari with sneakers and doing hula hoop would this have gone viral? With due respect to the artiste, I doubt it. Highlights a very important hack in effective storytelling. The power of contrast. Going against the grain. Capturing the unexpected."

Certainly, a valid point. But after thinking over it for a couple of day and distilling stuff I have read on what makes things viral, here are some more thoughts:

1)  True Passion and Commitment: There is nothing called an “overnight” internet sensation. There has been a body of unbelievable hard work that Eshna has put in - and it has been going on for nearly a decade. It began in her teens when we would be out at work, and Eshna would spend hours learning from YouTube how to hoop, and practicing with great dedication. She is self taught. Then to hone her craft, she went out of the way to learn juggling, slack-lining, acroyoga, dance forms like hip hop, dancehall, locking etc, the martial arts of Capoeira. All of this she incorporates in her hoop practice and routine, which is now uniquely her own style.  Plus she worked on her musical skills. And, above all, there is some serious work in the shape of movement therapy. She is a psychology honours student, who studied movement therapy at TISS and the goal is also to help people gain confidence, go through a process of catharsis etc. 

 2)  Emotion Wins – A glimpse of vulnerability, goofiness, joie de vivre, uninhibitedness - all these are visible. A rehearsed video would not have had the same emotional quality that this “practice video” has. In Videocracy, an example given is how a man spotted a double rainbow and posted the video and it’s his reactions that made the post go viral, not the rainbow itself. Genuine emotion wins.

3)  Community Love and Network Effect – Over the years, Eshna has built an amazing community of friends, mentors, students, followers. It may be small, but it is an extremely sold network. There have been students who have driven from Pune to Mumbai where she lived last year just to take a one hour class with her. And when she started online classes she insisted she would only take small batches of students and only four or five sessions but invested hours of private chat with each student. That love has been rewarded as her student community guided her to take quick action on the twitter post.

4)  A story behind it - Even though adding a desi touch to her flow posts was on her mind for months, because as she interacted with a global community of hoop artistes, she felt she had to add a distinct Indian identity to her art form, it had not yet taken expression. The trigger came when Eshna’s friend got heckled and harassed in a Bangalore park for wearing a sports bra. So this post was in solidarity with her and at the same time she wanted to be vocal about local in her own way.  

5)  Sneakers, saree, song combo – Yes, as Laalit Lobo argues it is the unexpected combination and being au courant with a trend that have contributed to the virality. Agreed. But if that was so, anybody can wear unexpected stuff, do unexpected things and pull it out. It’s one of the factors, certainly and the choice of song, yes, that too, but it’s a combination of many many things working together.

6)   Raw Talent – Saree flow may have been the hashtag that pulled people in to view her profile, but when they clicked through older posts and saw the talent and commitment, they stayed on and spread the word.

7) A bright spot in an unhappy year – Finally, the consumer viewpoint. Many of the messages that have poured in have said that in a year where they have been hit by the blues, this was one video that made them feel happy, and give them hope.  This, perhaps, is the single biggest reason. Interestingly, most of these messages are from an older population group, Gen Xers – and not millennials, who have significantly shared the video more.  A point to ponder.

Of course, one can still only conjecture. But would love your thoughts!

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Published on September 30, 2020
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