Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. Meet Malini Agarwal, the flesh and blood embodiment of this maxim. Not just that, journeying from a personal, hobby blog in early 2000s to running an entertainment network today, she also flawlessly represents her catchphrase #ToTheMoon. Dancer, Radio Jockey, Columnist, Digital Content Creator, and now a professional blogger, aka the lady behind the MissMalini empire, Agarwal has not only crafted an upward graph, but in a field that she helped found in India. As this force to reckon with authors her first book, To the Moon: How I Blogged My Way to Bollywood, we get talking and bring to you MissMalini, from behind the screen in this #DSSCSecretConversations.
When not hustling to head the country’s first celebrity blog with husband Nowshad Rizwanullah, the ever-social Malini indulges in game nights or dance evenings with friends. If not in the occasional won’t-leave-the-house-sit-on-the-sofa-in-PJs mode, she packs a mean punch that’ll defeat you in a match of pool as well as badminton. We catch the ever-buzzing whiz in a candid mood where she throws light on the past, present, and future of MissMalini’s digital dominance.
What brought about the genesis of MissMalini?
Looking back, the genesis began right from my foray into the entertainment industry as a backup dancer for Sukhbir (musician), almost two decades ago. Since then, I’ve done everything from creating digital content at MTV India and Channel V to hosting radio shows on WIN 94.6, Go 92.5, and Radio One for nine years, and writing a gossip column in the Midday alongside – which could be considered a “rudimentary” form of the blog back in 2005.
Every job taught me something that led to the genesis of my blog – and now entertainment network. But when I began the blog it was a personal passion project, somewhere to document all the incredible experiences I was having in Bombay. An online journal of sorts. I could never have imagined it would evolve into something of this magnitude, for which I am very grateful to the universe and all my readers!
What was your vision for your blog when you started out?
I learnt something very important while I was a radio host, that connecting with your audience requires a huge personal investment. You have to do it almost one listener at a time. The same applies to the internet, especially blogs. People are coming for an intimate experience, to listen to your voice and be heard. My vision was to maintain that connection with anyone who took the time to visit my blog. I had no idea it would grow and scale so quickly, but it proved to me that having a unique individual voice is the secret sauce to digital domination! Also, I always wanted the blog to be uplifting and positive and that is how it remains to this day.
The blog initially focussed on Bollywood, and has now expanded to fashion, lifestyle & beauty. How did that unfold?
I grew up all over the world, exposed to pop culture and entertainment, but at my core I was always a fan of Bollywood and all its magic. I have always maintained that Bollywood is a kind of dream world, an escape from reality for so many of us. Which is why we love our movie stars so dearly and what they wear, who they date, where they go is all an extension of that dream.
So when my parents retired from the foreign service and I moved to Bombay in 2000, I was looking for somewhere that documented all my favourite things in one place, but just couldn’t find one. Hence I decided to create one myself! I love Bollywood, fashion, beauty, travel, music, and reading, and my blog became a collection of all the things that make me tick. It all happened very organically, I wrote what I knew and what I loved.
The brand has witnessed astronomical success in the last 3 years. Does it ever bother you that your decade long hardwork of laying the foundation goes unrecognised?
No, it’s never bothered me. I’ve always been really grateful for the love and attention I’ve been given. People have been incredibly generous with their praise and it makes all the blood, sweat, and tears worth it. The only time it irked me was when years ago, and for some time, people thought all I did was attend parties and the blog just wrote itself! But I told myself that it’s OK, if people don’t know how much effort it takes, that just makes it harder for them to replicate!
You run the MissMalini empire with your husband, Nowshad Rizwanullah (CEO). How does your equation translate into the workspace?
We have a great divide and conquer strategy and align ourselves with roles that play to our strengths. We make all major decisions together, and of course sometimes that requires some debate and discussion. I find that it’s okay to agree to disagree sometimes but still move forward for the greater good.
That’s not to say that we never bring homework from the office, it’s inevitable, right? The lucky thing is that it’s in such a fun industry that we spend a lot of time doing creative and interesting things together, which takes the edge off our stressful days!
N.B.: The husband-wife duo have Mike Melli (Co-Founder & CRO) as the third pillar of MissMalini.
‘#ToTheMoon’ is not only your book, but your life slogan. What prompted you to begin using this phrase?
I don’t know when I started saying ‘to the moon’ all the time, but I think I picked it up from the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Catch Me If You Can. It also appeared in songs like Fly Me To The Moon and phrases like ‘love you to the moon and back’. Every Bollywood movie has a chaand reference in it! I also find that looking up at the moon and stars reminds us of what a magical place we exist in – a galaxy of countless stars in a universe beyond our comprehension. For me #ToTheMoon means striving for more than what you think is possible. Believing in yourself and firing up your rocket ship with passion and intent.
How would you say working in diverse professional fields impacted your journey, professionally and personally?
I have always been lucky enough to follow my passion when it came to any of my careers. My family was open-minded and the opportunities presented themselves. The tools and training I acquired from each profession, and especially the insight into how brand loyalty and audience connections are made have been invaluable to me.
On a personal level, the journey has been absolutely incredible. I have met the most fascinating people and had the most wonderful adventures. Which is why I can safely say I’m living the dream!
From blogger to entrepreneur to author – How was the experience of penning your first book?
I still can’t believe I wrote a whole book. I always thought I had a story to tell but it has been an extraordinary experience pouring my heart out into mine. The book is divided into four parts, ‘Mumbai, I Love you’, ‘My Radio Days’, ‘0 to Bombay, and ‘How to Build A Brand – in an effort to share my journey and perhaps help guide those who have a (digital) dream of their own. I hope my story inspires someone to follow their passion, because I promise you that if you believe and put your heart behind it, the whole universe will conspire to make it happen.
What’s next on Malini’s ‘to-conquer’ list?
So many things! I want to have a talk show someday, Vh1 Inside Access Season 2 on Vh1 launching very soon, but there’s so much left to do! Like I say in my book, I’ve only reached the intermission – Aage aage dekho hota hai kya!
As we wait for the spirited lady to bring more magic to our screens, we go live with the signature DSSC Rapid Fire as our parting thought.
One pro-tip for budding bloggers?
Be you, don’t be a ‘me-too’, and ALWAYS check your spelling.
According to you, what’s the next big trend for the digital content space?
Video is already huge, virtual reality can’t be far behind!
It’s the last day on earth – what will you blog about?
10 amazing things that happened before the world ended.
One perk of the job you love?
No two days are ever alike!
And the worst pitfall of the job?
I really can’t think of a single one!
One blog that you’re currently following?
I still read JustJared.com and PerezHilton.com. Also, this hilarious spoof blog called Suri’s Burn Book.
One (or more) bloggers who never cease to inspire you?
Not necessarily bloggers, but iiSuperwomanii Lilly Singh is a huge inspiration, so is Perez Hilton. They carved the way for so many to be inspired – they definitely made me sit up and think it’s time to seize the day. Carpe Diem!
This conversation is a part of the DSSC Secret Conversation Series, where we get candid with the ace industry disruptors who map its course one masterstroke at a time.
Image courtesy: Rohan Shreshtha
Make-up courtesy: Elton Fernandez