Why do things go viral? Millions of content creators across the world try to answer this question every day – on the endless pursuit for that golden formula, the magical ingredient that turns interesting content into global phenomena.
But for all of the buzzwords, gimmicks and dramatic titles that content creators use to try and hit that viral sweet spot, often things explode from the most unlikely of places. Take the Village Food Factory, a fascinating foodie YouTube channel that couldn’t be any less polished.
At the end of 2016 an amateur Indian filmmaker from Tamul Nadu named Arumugam uploaded a short video onto his new channel. There was no clickbait title, no pleas to ‘like and subscribe’ and no fancy visual effects; just a simple homespun video, titled “KING of CHICKEN LEGS/Using 100 Chicken Legs/Prepared by my Daddy.” This video has now been viewed more than seventeen million times.
Seventeen million is a lot for a homemade video about chicken wings. That’s seventeen times the population of the Theni district, the agricultural region of India where Arumugam and his father hail from. So what is it about the Village Food Factory’s content that the world finds so compelling?
The channel’s initial chicken wing vid couldn’t be simpler, and the title pretty much sums it up. Arumugam’s father, Jaymukh, starts the video holding up his 100 raw chicken legs proudly, kneeling in the distinctive red soil of his village. Then the video takes a few simple cuts as we see him marinate the chicken with a colourful array of spices, before cooking up a storm in a single pan over a naked flame (the family only ever use firewood to maintain the traditional flavour of the dishes).
In the sanitised world of social media and digital content, there’s something so visceral, earthy and appealing about Arumugam’s videos. They often start with a simple shot of the surrounding village, with goats ambling up rocky paths. Then you watch Jaymukh begin to prepare his cooking space – chopping wood, setting up blocks of concrete and starting a fire with a single match. It’s a far cry from the glistening, endlessly replenished kitchens we’re used to seeing on cooking channels, and it’s a huge part of the channel’s homely appeal. Throughout the videos the most prominent sounds are the wind tearing through the village and sizzling spices, roaring flames and clinking tools.
And, most importantly, despite the low production values, rudimentary cooking utensils and ingredients all drawn from the local area, the finished food always looks fantastic. Like with a lot of Indian cuisine, the vibrant flavours are visibly delicious.
What is also apparent from these videos, which isn’t the case with many other youtube celebrities, is just how much Arumugam and his family deserve their success. Jaymukh, the 62 year old master chef, was a door to door fabric salesman; the family used to struggle to get seven dollars together to open a bank account. Their storming viral success has changed their lives completely, allowing them to buy a house and a car. In an interview with The New Yorker – a sign of the prestige that the channel has amassed – Arumugam stated that ‘Our life has gone from black and white to colour.’
They haven’t lost what makes the videos so charming, though. They still cook in the village, for the village people, and their videos – from making homemade coconut oil out of 100 coconuts, to preparing tender mutton chops, washing the meat in the local waterfall and shooting everything simply from a single camera – retain their homespun qualities. In one memorable video they prepare 100kg of watermelon juice and drive on a moped to distribute it to local homeless children.
A recent vid where ‘KFC’ chicken is cooked up for the village shows a slightly savvier awareness of the channel’s audience, but ultimately the enduring appeal of The Village Food Factory is something we don’t see enough of online in 2018: simple, unashamed authenticity.