Little Miss Muffet earns a pat on the back for facing her fears, Humpty Dumpty learns from his fall, and the wall is cordoned off to prevent future mishaps, and undeterred by their first experience, Jack and Jill resume their trek up that hill with their heads held high because “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” These are the altered plots of just some of the animated nursery rhyme videos that have made four-year-old YouTube channel ChuChu TV something of a worldwide sensation.
“All videos put together, we have close to 13 billion views and around 17 million subscribers from 75 countries, including the USA, Philippines, Vietnam and the United Kingdom,” says its founder Vinoth Chandar who holds a degree in Computer Applications from the University of Madras. The qualification helped, of course, but it was his experience as a father that led to the birth of the channel, Chandar tells us.
For the princess’ smile
“It all started when I wanted to create a video to amuse my daughter Harshitha,” Chandar says. “We call her ChuChu at home.” The videos open with an audio logo — the name of the channel is shouted out — “Those voices belong to my cousins Gayathri and Mirra,” Chandar reveals in an email to us. “And, at the end of each video, it’s ChuChu’s voice calling for subscriptions.”
While Chandar and his wife Durga also have a four-year-old son, the sevenyear-old who inspired the success story “has a lot of feedback for us,” says her doting father. The first rhyme he put up was Chubby Cheeks, “as it starred a small girl quite like my daughter. It got around 300,000 views within a few weeks.”
“Our second video, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, also became a huge hit,” says Chandar. “We had 5,000 subscribers for our channel with just the first two.”
The colour of love
The reception indicated that there was a big demand for videos that turned Mother Goose’s best into a celebration of diversity — “eyes are blue” was changed to “eyes are cute” in Chubby Cheeks. And, in another video, Baa Baa Black Sheep (plus brown and white colleagues) widens the wool distribution network to include girls and seniors, not just masters, dames, and boys who live down the lane.
Too harsh to handle?
In reimagining the rhymes, the team doesn’t mind losing the secret, often political, messages that, some believe, were embedded into these poems — Jack and Jill’s fall, for instance, which some believe, was about the French monarch Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, who were found guilty of treason and beheaded. Of course those messages are lost on most adults now leave alone children, and so their erasure will hardly be mourned. But is it wise to shield children from things that they may experience in real life, like an injury that won’t heal or an incurable illness, for instance (Humpty Dumpty)? Chandar tells us, that BM Krishnan, a father of two boys, who is the creative head, “feels that nature teaches reality to humans in the cycle of birth and death; nursery rhymes need not. With so many negative things happening in this world, we feel there is a greater need to instil positivity and confidence, to get our little ones ready to face this tough world.”
The ‘we’ he refers to is the core team, “five of us who have known each other for over 30 years — Subbiramanian TS, Ajith Togo, Suresh Bhoopathy, and Krishnan, who writes all our lyrics and also comes up with content ideas.”
Seven years before they uploaded the nursery rhyme animations, Chandar, Krishnan and team had uploaded a devotional song that was also created by Krishnan. “I’ve also always had a leaning towards music and creativity,” Chandar shares, and it explains the emphasis on the musical scores. In Ten Little Monkeys, a group of cherubic babies beat out a catchy rhythm on their djembes, and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes also opens with a toe-tapping percussion section. “My father, Chandrabose was a leading composer and music director in the Tamil film industry in the 1980s,” says Chandar.
Besides the music, the team focuses on colours as, “we found this makes a big difference to how loved the videos are,” says Chandar. “There are lots of other technical considerations too,” he adds, listing the many properties that now fall under the umbrella of ChuChuTV. “There’s the main YouTube channel and there is Surprise Eggs Toys, Funzone, and Storytime, which has bedtime stories and cartoon shows. A year ago we also launched two international language channels.”
Over 200 artists and animators now work out of the company’s Chennai office, and its popularity continues to soar. “Surprise Eggs got 672 million views, Finger Family 520 million views, Rain Rain Go Away 470 million views and our Phonics Song got 440 million views. But Johny Johny Yes Papa has been our most popular video with close to 1.2 billion views in around two years. It is YouTube’s 44th most watched video ever in the world, across categories.”
“Now, we’re even building specialised content like the Learning English is Fun series. We’re also excited about the launch of our licensed merchandise, which will allow our audience to engage with our characters not just on screen but in real life too. We have partnered with a premier brand for this and will have our India and global launch in 2018,” Chandar says.