mid-day turns 41: Lucknow's Agarwal is desi Hugh Hefner!

Updated: Jul 13, 2020, 08:49 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

How desi 'erotica' helped beat lockdown blues, making an entrepreneur from Uttar Pradesh go full-on global!


Vibhu Agarwal
Founder, Ullu, web-streaming app

With a mix of "A- and B-grade erotica", the entrepreneur increased his customer base by 250 per cent in the first two months of lockdown

Lockdown streamed in unexpected luck for Lucknow man, Vibhu Agarwal. In the two months of what the entrepreneur calls a "severe" phase, his customer-base "boomed" at 250 per cent, before reaching "normal course", that is 60 per cent, day-on-day growth!

His company is simultaneously holding talks for tie-ups with collaborating firms in 18 countries; shifting base, from Uttar Pradesh to Australia, as you read this. This, only a year-and-half since he rolled out his first product.

Virgin Boys were two of 13 shows launched by the streaming app during the lockdown
Virgin Boys were two of 13 shows launched by the streaming app during the lockdown

What commodity does Agarwal manufacture, seemingly so essential to times of COVID-19? To be consumed at R36 for five days, or R198 a year (with 20 to 25 per cent cash-back on offer)? No, it's not soap (on TV, or otherwise). Although he looks furthest from it, Agarwal is close to India's Hugh Hefner in the making — building an empire of sorts over content that's "erotic".

"I'm just an Agarwal with business in my blood," says the founder of streaming app, Ullu — as in the bird owl, commonly known for staying up all night. Meaning, in this case, men bingeing on Ullu's original content. Agarwal clarifies, "It's not only erotic; we mix and match. Even when you open erotic [shows/films], it's not just erotic, erotic, erotic — the erotic is inside the content!"

Vibhu Agarwal
Vibhu Agarwal

Agarwal, in his mid-40s, who outsources production against a fee, also holds clear demarcation between "A-grade" stuff on his app (series such as Bull of Dalal Street, Kasak), and "B-grade" (likes of Mona Home Delivery, Khul Ja Sim Sim); besides censored and uncensored content.
In 2013, he made a failed attempt as producer with a Bollywood film, Baat Ban Gayi, starring Ali Fazal (best known on web as Guddu bhaiya from Mirzapur): "I was like Abhimanyu from Mahabharat, entering the Chakravyuh, without any idea of exit." He lost money, chiefly diverted from his steel business; returned to Lucknow, but determined to strike back.

"We watched TV as kids," he says. "Everybody from a small town, like me [thereafter] wants to be neta [politician] or abhineta [actor]. The arrival of [low-cost] Internet changed everything in 2016."

Ullu, with estimated 5 million active users, has over 100 original titles on its shelf — having achieved programming levels of two releases a week, before lockdown. It made up for it by deferred releases on the OTT app MX Player that has a self-reported 175 million active user-base. Seven out of 10 most-watched shows on MX are Ullu originals.

As for the most watched over-all, Agarwal names, "Charmsukh [pleasure of skin]. Kavita Bhabhi [self-explanatory]. A British publication, seeking an interview, mailed to say Kavita Bhabhi has had 200 million [pirated] downloads on Torrent!" Place them on the watch-list, we wonder. Oh you've already watched, don't lie.

Ullu, which has an estimated 5 million users, is currently in talks for tie-ups with collaborating firms in 18 countries, including Australia

Log on to https://ullu.app/#/home

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