At just 31, Santu Misra is an influencer on more platforms than one can count. With over 12 years of experience, the creative content director has helped build some of your favourite creators – Kusha Kapila and Dolly Singh, among them – into household names.
In 2021, as the world was reeling from the second wave of COVID-19, he and Aishwarya Subramanyam started hosting The Dark Room on Clubhouse as a coping mechanism, and gained a fiercely loyal following. Most recently, he was on the judging panel of the third season of Myntra Fashion Superstar on Voot.
Misra’s contribution to the zeitgeist cannot be overstated, whether that is in catchphrases such as ‘Gorom Lagche’ or in video series such as South Delhi Aunties. After years of building people up, he is finally focussing on building himself up in the new year. Excerpts from a chat:
What are your learnings from 2021 to take on 2022?
That life is really unpredictable. At the beginning of 2021, even with Clubhouse, I feel like we all started using it as a coping mechanism. I never thought that I would use it to build an audience or host rooms or do a popular show for Tinder. We just used it as a coping mechanism during the second wave.
2021 really made me think about how life is so short and so unpredictable. We stress about so many things that don’t actually matter in the larger scheme of things. I’m 31 and, all through my 20s, we were always trained to chase numbers. Trained to fret about small issues and being on top of the game. But my biggest learning is that nothing is more important than life. There’s nothing more important than mental health. It’s okay to take pause, it’s okay to step away. I was one of those people who would be like, “No, you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to do it when the time is right or you’re going to be irrelevant.” For two years we all sat at home. So, irrelevance is just a state of mind. And if you were to become irrelevant, you would become irrelevant irrespective of being in the thick of things.
Another thing is that, after years of building other people and years of doing things for other people and working behind the scenes, I was finally passionate about being in front of the camera. I don’t enjoy being in videos. It doesn’t excite me. I see my peers thrive in them, but I don’t necessarily thrive. But over the last couple of years, I realised that maybe I have this gift and it’s time to finally channelise it and do something with it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. And what do I have to lose? If people are going to laugh at me then they’re going to laugh at me, and say, “Oh, that was stupid.” But then we've done so many things in the past which have been stupid. You do things in your 20s and then realise, “Crap, this was stupid.” Those were the days without the internet or we wouldn’t have survived. So, after years of being the person who was discovering talent, I finally realised that… wait a minute! I have talent.
What next? What should we be looking forward to from you?
I’m going to build The Dark Room on Instagram. I’m going to be putting more of myself out there, doing more talks. I will do a video-based podcast. I was a big planner before all this happened. But all that has gone out of the window. Now, I don’t plan. Now, I’m like, let’s see what happens. Let’s see what comes. So, along with everything I do — growing talent, building people, working for Fetch India — I’m going to build this property out because I’m really passionate about this podcast/video platform.
Because I am not interested in making videos for the TikTok people. Everybody is doing stuff for TikTok, everybody is doing stuff for reels. Everybody is only talking about things from just one perspective. Who’s going to talk about stuff from our perspective? The kids don’t speak our language and we will never speak their language, which is absolutely fine. We just want a way and a space for people who speak with nuance. And we’re not expecting that we’ll have millions and billions of people tuning in. I feel like even if it’s a small space with a strong community… because we’ve realised that our strength is the quality of people in the community. It’s a strong community of women, men, non-binary people that are very vocal, that consume culture, that consume entertainment and that want to dissect it and have fun with it.
What are your goals for 2022? How do you plan to achieve them?
Fitness. I’ve been discovering it since the last lockdown. I’m working really hard, so definitely fitness. And I’m definitely going to try and be more video-first. Basically, just adopt the agenda that I push to all brands and all clients, which is to be video-first and just try and build that version of me. Take a stab at that and see if it can result in something.
What is that one new thing that you wish to incorporate in your life in the new year?
Last year, I started doing something with members of the LGBTQ community. I take free sessions and give them whatever knowledge I have gathered over the years – about marketing, digital media, and content. It really brings me joy. I did a session with the trans community where I spoke to them about content. So, I definitely want to take more sessions.
What does success mean to you?
Success, for me, has changed over time. I peaked when I was 21, then I peaked when I was 25. So, with all those peaks, the definition of success has changed for me. Because now I don’t see it as, 'Oh, how much money?' Obviously, having money is great. I wanted to buy a house for my parents in Guwahati so I bought that and that made me very happy. But then, I was like, now that’s done. What now? So, to me, true success is to be able to sustain, because I’ve seen a lot of people come and go and not be able to do that.
The media landscape has changed. The platforms have changed. So, I don't care if I can build another ‘South Delhi Girls’, I don't care if I can build the next big creator. Right now, what I care about is if I can sustain what I'm doing because I like what I'm doing. I can do it over the next couple of years until there is another platform change, where there's another shift in the media landscape. But success to me, right now as a 31-year-old person, is about sustaining and just being happy.
Share one positive thought that keeps you going.
The idea that you have to just constantly push and strive to do better. And you have to constantly strive to do the best of your abilities while keeping yourself afloat and maintaining your sanity and good mental health. I think that is what keeps me going right now.
Also, little pockets of joy that we try to find. Sometimes, just doing a workout will change my entire week. These pockets of joy that nobody else will understand, that are only reserved for you in the small part of your brain where you operate from, and you are like, "You know what? This is what will push me through this week.” I feel like that's important to me now.
One change you want to see in your industry in 2022.
Definitely more body-positive boys. The other day, some client of mine was asking me, ‘Can you give us names of body-positive boys that are on the platform?’ I said, ‘There is absolutely no one.’ Whenever I post something, I get so many questions from boys. They will not ask openly, they will DM, ‘Where can we get clothes made? We don’t get pants our size.’ That’s such a big miss. Have you seen any chubby boys in shows? I haven’t. I also want to see more non-binary creators.
What is the biggest trend or movement you predict in your industry for 2022?
We will see a new wave of creators. The younger creators are definitely going to go all out. They’re going to be very, very strong. For the next five years, Gen Z is going to define what our industry is going to look like.