Hindi Language Blog

Superwoman Has Arrived Posted by on Apr 3, 2019 in Hindi Language

सुपरवुमन पहुँच गई है ।

Anyone who watches YouTube is probably familiar with the name Lilly Singh. Recently, NBC announced that Singh, whom Forbes declared as one of the highest-earning (सबसे ज़्यादा कमाने वाली/sabse zyaada kamaane vaali. In this sentence: सबसे ज़्यादा कमाने वालों में से एक है) YouTube stars in 2017, will be hosting her own talk show called “A Little Late with Lilly Singh” that will replace Carson Daly’s “Last Call.” This is exciting news as not only is an extraordinarily talented (हुनरमंद/hunarmand) and successful (सफ़ल/safal) YouTube star making the transition from the online platform to television, but a female host is going to take her place in an arena – that of late-night TV – that has long been occupied almost solely by male hosts. In this blog, we’ll be learning a little more about this influential (असरदार/asardaar) Indo-Canadian and the types of issues (मुद्दे/mudde, sing: मुद्दा=mudda) she tackles in her  videos.

Lilly Singh. Image by Gage Skidmore on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Born in 1988 in Scarborough, Ontario to Punjabi parents, Singh would often use her experiences (अनुभव/anubhav) as a second-generation (दूसरी पीढ़ी/doosri peerdhee) Indo-Canadian in her videos. In fact, one of her most popular (लोकप्रिय/lokpriya) series features hilarious (मज़ेदार/mazedaar, हास्यक/haasyak) videos that star her fictitious parents (both of whom are played by Singh) and function as light-hearted commentary on how Indian and Canadian culture occasionally collide. During her visits to India, Singh felt progressively more connected to Punjabi culture, which inspired further comedic videos about Indian and Canadian culture clashes, misunderstandings (ग़लतफ़हमियाँ=galatfehmiyaan, sing: ग़लतफ़हमी) and popular misconceptions about India and Indian culture. Although she graduated with a degree in Psychology from York University, Singh began experimenting with YouTube videos early on as a way to deal with her depression. Gradually, she became highly successful and garnered numerous followers around the world, numbering over 14 million today, who know her by the moniker “Superwoman,” which plays on a childhood notion that she was capable of anything she set her mind to.

Singh is known not only for her hilarious videos and multi-talented persona (she acts – playing multiple characters in the same video oftentimes – dances and raps), but for her dedication to her fans. As Singh has become more and more successful and amassed greater wealth (धन/dhan, दौलत/daulat), she has given back to fans (प्रशंसक/prashansak) by asking them directly about their personal struggles (परेशानी/pareshaani, दिक्कत/dikkat) and offering them financial support. An article on BBC Hindi recounts her many generous (उदार/udaar, दानी/daani) efforts to help her fans in times of hardship. When asked to share some of the personal struggles they are currently facing, one of her fans, 18-year-old Uma, related how Lilly offered her money to take her sick (बीमार/beemaar) mother out for a nice dinner. Uma was speechless (अवाक/avaak) with gratitude at this offer, but she is not alone as a recipient of Lilly’s now-famous generosity.

Another fan, after telling Lilly that her mother had recently been arrested and she was left to take care of her young brother, received money for food from the YouTube star. Yet another fan shared that she wanted to get a better job (नौकरी/naukri) at Facebook but, in order to do so, she had to take an exam in the subject matter and couldn’t afford it. To this, Lilly replied that she would pay for the exam. This fan reported that this was a dream (सपना/sapnaa) come true for her and, without Lilly, it would not have been possible (असंभव/asambhav=impossible) to advance in her career. Uma, the fan who previously asked for Lilly’s help, had this to say about the star: “आम तौर पर मैं अपनी भावनाओं को क़ाबू में रखती हूं, लेकिन मैंने उनसे (लिली) से कहा कि कैसे मेरी मां लंबे समय से बीमार चल रही हैं. मैं उनसे कुछ भी उम्मीद नहीं कर रही थी, बस उनसे अपनी परेशानी साझा कर रही थी और तभी मेरा फ़ोन बजा…मुझे बताइए कोई ऐसा सेलेब्रिटी होगा, जो अपने प्रशंसकों के लिए ये सब करेगा” (“Usually I keep my emotions in check, but I told Lilly how my mother had been ill for a long time. I was not expecting anything of her, I was just sharing my troubles with her and then my phone rang…tell me what other celebrity would do all of this for one of their fans”).

Lilly Singh at VidCon 2014; image by Gage Skidmore on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

In addition to her philanthropy, Singh is also known for tackling important issues in her videos, such as the more recent, “If Bollywood Songs Were Rap,” which is a series of versions of popular songs in which she raps about topical societal concerns. In the first part of the video, she performs a satirical (व्यंगपूर्ण/vyangpoorn, व्यंग्य/vyangya=satire) parody of the popular song “चोली के पीछे क्या है,” (“What Lies Beneath the Blouse”) which was originally performed as an item number by Madhuri Dixit. In this version, however, Singh portrays the original message (संदेश/sandesh) of the song with a twist – in this case, what lies underneath a woman’s blouse? लड़की की सहमति (Her consent). In this video, Singh raps about feminism (नारीवाद/naarivaad) and women’s struggles to be recognized as full human beings in the face of dehumanization.

In the second part of the video, Singh performs a version of “All is Well,” the popular song from Three Idiots, where she raps about the importance of seeking help (मदद माँगना/madad maangnaa) if you are struggling with mental health issues (मानसिक स्वास्थ्य/maansik svaasthya=mental health). As someone who has struggled with depression herself, Singh seeks to remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues and encourages her viewers, in a fun and upbeat way, to realize that they should reach out to others when “All” does not seem “Well.” In the third part of the video, Singh performs (अभिनय करना/abhinay karnaa=to act/perform) a lighthearted rap version of the popular Bollywood song, “Aankh Mare” (आँख मारे), where she builds on her recent announcement concerning her sexuality.

By making such lighthearted and clever videos that play on popular culture and the issues foremost in people’s minds, Singh brings awareness (जागरूकता/jaagrookta) to problems that are otherwise ignored (नज़रअंदाज़ करना=nazarandaaz karnaa=to ignore) and/or stigmatized. As many of Singh’s fans would say, she inspires her viewers with her frank (ईमानदार/imandaar) and open discussions about traditionally taboo topics (विषय/vishay) and, in light of her groundbreaking work on YouTube, viewers are eagerly awaiting her debut on late-night TV.

Lilly Singh at the 2017 American Music Awards; image by Disney | ABC Television Group on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

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About the Author: Rachael

नमस्ते, मेरा नाम रेचल है/السلام علیکم، میرا نام ریچل ہے۔ Hello, my name is Rachael, but I also on occasion go by Richa––an interesting story for another time :) My two great loves are Hindi and Urdu. I first traveled to India (Jaipur, Rajasthan) in college on a Hindi study abroad program. A little over a year later, I returned to the same city to study Hindi in a yearlong program. I've also spent a summer in Kolkata, West Bengal learning Bengali, and I studied Urdu at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was a graduate student in South Asian Studies. I hope to share with you the fascinating world of Hindi and Urdu literature, society, culture and film through my blogs!