Indian ‘granfluencers’ take Instagram by storm with sex education, knitting lessons
- On TikTok, they don’t stop, and on Instagram, a ‘dancing dadi’ posts reels of herself joyfully swaying to classical Indian music wearing elegant saris
- Many senior influencers make an income from their accounts, engaging in live-stream product sales and embedding ads into their videos
Entering the multibillion, youth-obsessed influencer marketing industry is a dark horse: senior citizens.
The rise of these Indian ‘granfluencers’ mirror elderly personalities taking social media by storm in other Asian societies including China and Japan.
Dinesh Mohan, 63, from Delhi, became a model and actor at 55, and inspires his 305,000 Instagram followers with his posts. With his tattoos, ripped jeans and a toned physique, he is also a perfect model for a plethora of lifestyle brands queuing up to sign him up – though it wasn’t always so for him.
“Almost a decade ago, I weighed over 100kg and needed assistance even to stand up,” Mohan said. “But I decided to turn my life around by getting fitter and healthier. My transformation has brought me many opportunities to model and even act in films. I’m also a successful motivational speaker. Life’s never been better.”
Meanwhile, Ravi Bala Sharma, 63, the “dancing dadi” (grandmother in Hindi) who believes that “age is just a number”, dances to Indian classical songs in elegant saris for a following of 187,000. Though her late husband had encouraged her to pursue her passion for dancing, Sharma never found time until 2020 when, egged on by family, she finally launched her Instagram account.
“I had the choice of wallowing in self-pity after my husband died of cancer in 2016, or channel all my grief into my love for dancing. I chose the latter, and not only did it pull me out of my trauma but also gave me a creative outlet.”
In the northern Indian state of Haryana, Yashpal Verma and his wife Shanta, at 82 and 76, have become an internet sensation, gaining about 58,000 followers who follow their entertaining stories about their fun daily lives. Assisted by their granddaughter Jonita, the couple had started posting videos of their dancing and dressing up sessions, which soon found a rapt audience.
Inasmuch as they entertain others, they gain much joy from the process too.
Shanta admits that because she wasn’t internet savvy, “it was a bit awkward in the beginning to record our life, but now I enjoy posting about our lifestyle tremendously.”
More seniors becoming digitally savvy
For many, the influencer market has proven lucrative, too. Sheela Bajaj, a 78-year-old from Delhi, said she rediscovered her passion for crochet during the lockdown and soon turned it into a business through Instagram.
“I’ve been knitting crochet jumpers for my family for over five decades. So when my granddaughter suggested that I start a business showcasing my skills on the internet, I was up for the challenge,” Bajaj said, adding the venture was launched in November 2020, with demand for her products now far outstripping supply.
Many also use their presence to inform and educate the public about social topics.
At 61, Seema Anand breaks the stereotypes around physical intimacy through her Instagram account, which has 695,000 followers. Dressed elegantly, the sexual health educator shares insights on topics related to sex, virginity and pleasure, which are traditionally regarded as taboo subjects in India.
Experts say much of this activity is dictated by changing market dynamics in the world’s second most populous nation, and accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“A growing tribe of seniors are driving the silver economy creating interest in social media,” explained Pramod Bisht, marketing head of an online shopping portal.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has further pushed the elderly deeper online, scouting for shopping and entertainment. They are also opting for online venues to learn singing, dancing or exercising through live-streaming channels. This explains the popularity of senior citizen influencers as well.”
India currently hosts 138 million elderly persons, a demographic expected to grow by around 56 million by 2031, according to the Report of the Technical Group on Population Projections for India and States 2011-2036. A 2020 study by The Lancet found India gained 10 years in life expectancy over the past three decades – from 59.6 years in 1990 to 70.8 years in 2019.
This growth signals novel challenges as well as opportunities for the country, say economists, with many Indian companies launching special services and products for the group. These range from spiffy homes to apparel, make-up and skincare for senior citizens.
In November 2019, broadcast satellite service provider Tata Sky launched a specially curated television channel “Tata Sky Seniors” with shows to enlighten the elderly in subjects such as financial planning, health and wellness, digital education and relationship management.
In Japan, where 28 per cent of the population is aged 65 or older, elderly influencers are making waves on TikTok – which is banned in India.
One such group is of men in their 50s and 60s – who call themselves ojikyun or “old men” in Japanese, and kyun, meaning “heartthrob”.
Showing off their spontaneous dance moves in shirts, ties and brightly coloured belly warmers, the elderly gents have become Japan’s latest TikTok sensation.
Since their first post in February this year, their videos – filmed across playgrounds, shrines and municipal buildings – have been viewed more than 16 million times, according to an AFP report.