TVF’s Nidhi Bisht is breaking stereotypes and making it viral
By donning multiple hats at TVF, Nidhi Bisht has come to be one of the most popular faces in the burgeoning digital content industry
Nidhi Bisht vividly remembers the first time she stepped on stage. It was a fancy-dress competition in school and Bisht, who was in kindergarten, was dressed up as the Rani of Jhansi. She got on stage and roared “Main apni Jhansi kisi ko nahi doongi, Jai Hind”, vigorously waving her thermocol-sword, only to see it break in half. She began crying, and was escorted off stage by her teacher. Surprisingly, the chief guest (then commissioner of police, Delhi) picked Bisht as his favourite performance of the evening. Bisht was called back on stage, asked to re-enact her part – which she perfectly executed – and was given a Rs.20 note by the chief guest as a token of appreciation. That was when Bisht realised how much she loved acting, the limelight and the appreciation.
This little Rani of Jhansi has today created a niche for herself in the entertainment industry through memorable characters.
“I was drawn towards movies and acting, and am thankful to my school teachers, who encouraged me to be a part of plays in every annual day,” says Bisht. Today, she’s the creative director at The Viral Fever (TVF), a digital content company in Mumbai. Dressed in an asymmetrical printed dress with long jhumkas and hair tied loosely into a half-bun, Bisht exudes confidence like no other.
From television czarina Ekta Kapoor and BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi, to Doordarshan anchor Snehlata Thapa, Bisht has played a diverse set of characters in TVF’s YouTube videos. She is also a script writer for Girliyapa videos, Chai Sutta Chronicles and Bisht Please, and director of PA Gals. As a freelancer first and then as a full-time employee, Bisht has been part of most of TVF’s ‘viral’ content since 2012. Ever since, success has been her constant companion.
Landing in Law
While Bisht is popular in the content circuit, few know that she holds a degree in law from Jamia Milia University in Delhi. “My dad was an IPS officer and mom was a teacher, and they wanted me to be a doctor. But a month into college, I realised that I do not have the aptitude for science,” says Bisht. She shifted to commerce and later to humanities, which finally held her interest.
The next obvious step was to take up law, and she got an admission for Jamia. “I chose Jamia as it is known for Mass Communication and I could work with their theatre wing, Indian People Theatre Association Jamia (IPTAJ),” says Bisht gleefully. During the five years of graduation, she spent most of her time working with IPTAJ, writing and staging plays.
After graduating in 2008, she told her parents she wanted to pursue film direction from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). When she reached the institute for the interview, she saw everyone with their portfolios. “During the interview, they said you don’t have anything, and I said that’s exactly why I want to do this course – to learn. But I got rejected,” she says nonchalantly. Since she couldn’t get into the course, she put her law degree to use, and began working as an associate at Singh and Singh Associates – a leading intellectual property rights law firm in Asia. “I figured I am a good lawyer. I enjoyed the research part of it, the pleas and litigation. Anything that can keep me busy and intrigued, I love it,” says Bisht.
The acting bug, however, refused to leave her. Interestingly, she says Rock On, a Bollywood film from 2008, inspired her to pursue her passion. The film shows four friends getting back together and reviving their college band after a long hiatus, and tasting success.
Similarly, Bisht reunited with her theatre friends. “A friend, Tarun Singhal, informed me that he is producing a play called ‘Shit Happens’, and I was given an opportunity to open the play,” says Bisht. She would reach office by 9 am, go for court hearings and get done with work by 9 pm. She would then head to IIT Delhi to rehearse and come back home by 3am. After months of practice, the play was finally staged in April 2009. “We received a lot of praise from the audience, including my boss who seemed to have a great time,” says Bisht. However, the next day, her boss questioned her for neglecting work and gave her five to six projects with unrealistic deadlines. “That was the first time I came out and cried. I told dad I am going to quit and he was supportive of my decision,” she says.
Her resignation stumped her boss, who asked if Bisht already had acting offers. When Bisht responded in the negative, she scorned at her and said “I hope you meet SRK someday”, to which Bisht said, “I will make sure I work with him!” [Shahrukh Khan appeared on TVF’s show Barely Speaking with Arnub in 2014 and engaged in a Facebook Live chat moderated by Bisht and Jitendra Kumar].
The Mumbai Chapter
Bisht moved to Mumbai to pursue her acting dream in 2009. She got a job in Pangea3 (a legal outsourcing services provider) as a senior research associate, and rented a one-bedroom flat in Versova with seven other girls. She spent her spare time either giving, or searching for auditions.
“I was super confident because there was no benchmark. But I got a lot of rejections. People told me I have a round face, fit for roles of older women like chachi and mausi. A lot of people who called me for auditions ended up asking me to simply review their contract,” she quips.
But Bisht remained undeterred by the criticism. “I was never willing to conform to norms. I would tell myself it’s okay if they can’t give me work, maybe I can give them work in some time!”
She simultaneously began looking for work in theatre, and ended up directing her own play, Who Let the Dogs Out, in 2011. “I broke my fixed deposit and decided to direct the play under the banner New Brain Theatre Volks. That is how I met all these fabulous people, who are now popular TVF faces such as Nidhi Singh, Maanvi Gagroo, Amol Parashar and Akanksha Thakur,” she says. By then, she had quit her job at Pangea3 and did odd jobs, including writing for Comedy Circus and teaching drama at schools, to earn a living.
Meanwhile, Arunabh Kumar (Founder, TVF), who she met in 2009 through her cousin, contacted her. They were working on a show for MTV, and he offered Bisht one of the five lead characters. The show did not materialise, but it introduced Bisht to many artists who wanted to create something unique. The group, comprising Amit Golani, Jitendra Kumar, Biswapati Sarkar, Anandeshwar Dwivedi and Naveen Kasturia would meet, brainstorm, and work on content ideas. Bisht slowly became an integral part of this circle.
Joining TVF was undoubtedly the tipping point of her career. “The one thing which appealed to me the most about TVF was that they are open to suggestions. I never felt like an outsider,” says Bisht. Be it Rowdies, Gangs of Social Media, Jha.2, (spoofs of Roadies, Gangs of Wasseypur and Ra.1 respectively), TVF began creating content that did phenomenally well on YouTube. In 2013, Bisht formally joined TVF.
Harbinger of Change
After joining TVF, Bisht wrote and starred in several shows, and also donned the role of casting director. Having personally faced rejections due to stereotypes based on looks, she steered away from making the same mistakes while casting. For Girliyapa, which celebrates relatable, real and funny aspects of womanhood, Bisht cast actors including Srishti Shrivastava, Mallika Dua, Nidhi Singh, Ronjini Chakraborty, Khushbu Baid and Akanksha Thakur. “All of them have fabulous energy, beauty and talent. But once, someone asked me ‘Do you have a problem with pretty girls, because in Girliyapa you always cast average looking girls?’. That really got me angry and made me realise that breaking the stereotypes of how an actor should look is a long battle that has just begun,” she says.
One of the biggest challenges Bisht faced was in 2017, when an anonymous blog post on Medium accused Kumar of sexual harassment. The blog was followed by testimonies of several women, who alleged similar experiences with Kumar. Bisht first dismissed the accusations and then, in a lengthy Facebook post, assured that there would be a proper enquiry at TVF on this. “My biggest contention was you cannot treat it as a TVF culture. TVF was known for its content first. Each creator worked day in and out on stories that needed to be told. And we came back with a bang,” says Bisht.
TVF navigated successfully through troubled waters by producing quality content. Subsequent video releases such as Bachelors, Truth or Dare, and Yeh Meri Family, were viral hits, and consolidated TVF’s position as a solid content creator in a highly competitive market.
Bisht is now ready for the next phase of her career. She was a part of films like Phillauri and Umrika, and currently working on Dream Girl. She has finished shooting fresh content for Girliyapa and Mr and Mrs, and is working on several independent shows, supervising and directing, and of course, acting. Her plate is full, but Bisht isn’t complaining. Nor are we!