“Part of me was also upset that how dare they replace the Parle-G girl with this idiot,” laughs content creator Zervaan Bunshah, speaking over the phone. The “idiot” he’s referring to is himself. On 24 December 2023, Bunshah posted one of his usual funny reels. This one was about how he would address the owner of beloved biscuit brand Parle-G if he ever met him. “Do you call him Parle Sir, Mr Parle or Parle G?” reads the reel’s caption. In no time, the video—that has now amassed over a million plays—grabbed the attention of the social media team over at Parle Products, and they quickly put up a post with Bunshah’s face on the iconic wrapper.
“It was surreal, man,” he adds. “Imagine you wake up one day and you’re part of a brand that evokes so much nostalgia. It’s the same brand whose biscuits they give you after you donate blood!”
Bunshah’s rise as a social media influencer began in 2021, when he was making Instagram reels poking fun at the South Bombay crowd’s tenuous grasp over Hindi, and the artsy North Mumbai aunties who frequent establishments like Prithvi Theatre. A theatre actor and voice artist, Bunshah shifted his focus to Instagram for two reasons—keeping himself busy during the lockdown, and helping his acting career by tapping into a larger audience. Comedy, he figured, was the best way to build that following.
“People are constantly trying to escape from something, which is why comedy will always be relevant,” he says. “Right now they’re escaping from the absolute brutality of the reality around us. People are constantly seeking out ways of forgetting what’s going on around them.”
Over the next two years, the 29-year-old Mumbai-based creator became known for his relatable takes on relationships and Bollywood pop culture, and hilarious rants about all the things that grind his gears.
One such rant came when Lay’s India revamped their iconic Magic Masala flavour. Bunshah was not taking any of that. “What have you done to my Magic Masala? The magic is no longer there!” he’s seen yelling in the clip, which was uploaded last year on 30 October and has now racked up over seven million views. Bunshah rallied his troops and made their distaste for the new flavour—which the brand said was a limited edition pack—known to all. Lay’s India capitalised on the video’s virality and put out a slew of reels in collaboration with Bunshah, before making amends and reverting to their original recipe.
People are constantly trying to escape from something, which is why comedy will always be relevant.
“I was just at the right place at the right time for this one,” says Bunshah. “People love to see others passionately yell and get angry about something on the internet and luckily I was the first person to talk about it. They seemed to be very receptive of the criticism I sent their way and fixed their mistake.”
Bunshah suspects that Parle-G had taken heed of the Lay’s India videos before acknowledging his reel with their rebranding. “Maybe Parle was just bouncing off the Lay’s thing,” he said. “They must have thought he’s somewhat relevant currently so maybe we can banter with him.”
Bunshah believes that it’s necessary for brands to be a part of the larger conversation on social media in this manner. He says it’s a much more organic way of interacting with their consumers as opposed to putting up paid partnerships on Instagram pages with a loyal following. But Bunshah errs on the side of caution when putting up branded content. He’s aware that his audience is not going to stick around for an out-and-out advert. They’re on his page to see him get angry and do his thing and that’s what he likes to pitch to brands.
“My followers are not going to interact with a straight up promotional post because that’s not what they follow me for,” he said. “The executives might know how the corporate aspects of business work better but I know exactly how my page and followers respond to certain content. If you pay me a lot of money, I have to deliver as well. And in the process, my reputation increases. That’s why I feel like brands need to give a little more creative freedom to the influencers. Following any kind of trends is the death of ads.”
He’s a big social media star now, but acting remains Bunshah’s first love. Next month, on 25 February, he’ll take the stage at NCPA, Mumbai as the lead actor opposite Anu Menon in Raell Padamsee’s Hidden Agendas.
“I was always an attention seeker growing up,” he laughs. “It was just that my parents told me to channel it by performing. So after all these years, now I love it when I get attention for my craft. When a Parle-G or Lay’s takes notice, I really like it. It’s like the artist’s hubris.”
In addition to this return to the stage, Bunshah is also set to enter the YouTube space this year with some gaming content. He’s looking to add a new spin to the interview format and chat with content creators and comedians in a more relaxed manner as part of a new show. “I don’t want to talk to them about their lives and inspirations,” he says. “It gets so boring, yaar. I want to create a space where they come, game and talk about some random facts or anecdotes or what they think about gardening. Anything under the sun.”
We’ll have to wait to see what he has in store for us because currently he’s neck-deep in the new Prince of Persia game.