The Good, The Bad, and The Bizarre – 7 Women Who Broke the Internet in the Last Decade

Sutrishna Ghosh
·7-min read

Remember how the internet erupted collectively, when soccer star Alex Morgan made a gesture of ‘sipping the tea’ after her winning goal against England against during the Women’s World Cup? Or when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi clapped back at President Trump? And closer home, when that silly ‘chai pi lo’ clip turned Somvati Mahawar into an overnight wonder, grabbing millions of eyeballs on the Indian Twitter?

If there is anything that we have learnt from the billion viral moments over the past decade, it’s that the internet could be a bizarre place. For better or for worse, nothing that makes its way online can ever go unnoticed.

On the brink of stepping into a new year – and a brand new decade – MAKERSIndia recalls some of these viral moments and online sensations. This is an ode to all the women who made news and broke the internet in the last decade.

Priya Prakash Varrier aka the wink girl

Who would have thought that just a ‘wink’ would be enough to make millions of people online bat their eyes?

Sending the internet into a meltdown, a short clip of the music-video of the song Manikya Malaraya Poovi, from the Malayalam movie called Our Adaar Love, went viral in 2018. While there was nothing out of the ordinary about the video-teaser, what unfailingly grabbed attention of the netizens – irrespective of their allegiance to regional language-movies – was a brief feature of debutant actor Priya Prakash Varrier.

The Thrissur-based undergraduate student, who was just 18 at the time, gained more than 600,000 followers on Instagram overnight and the title of ‘Wink girl’ online. With more than 7.4 million Instagram followers and two Bollywood films under her belt so far, Priya herself attributes her popularity to social media.

Speak of fame before the debut!

Gurmehar Kaur – the ‘not afraid’ campaign

In March this year, an old clip of Gurmehar Kaur, a student of Delhi University’s Lady Shri Ram college, went viral, creating a divide on the internet; even drawing ‘anti-national’ labels for her. The bone of contention? A video from 2017, where the young student – who is the daughter of Indian army martyr, Captain Mandeep Singh – is seen holding a placard that reads, ‘Pakistan did not kill my dad. War killed him’.

Ironically enough, the context of the old video was completely ignored in the light of the newer controversy – Gurmehar’s “not afraid” post on Facebook, a campaign she had started in response to the reported attacks on the students and teachers at Ramjas College, in DU, by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).

But then such is the internet – on one hand it brings to light important, relevant issues but on the other hand it could also lead to an altered version of the reality. Regardless, Gurmehar’s campaign remains wildly popular among the woke netizens.

Harnidh Kaur and her support of #MeToo

With Hollywood and western media taking a stand against harassment with the now-famous #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, it was only a matter of time before the phenomenon made its way to India. And that’s exactly what happened at the onset of 2018.

Multiple allegations were levied against prominent personalities as several anonymous accounts of sexual harassment unfolded on the internet. One such allegation was made against writer-comedian Varun Grover, and the one who brought the incident to the limelight was author-poet Harnidh Kaur. Citing screenshots of her conversation with the anonymous woman, who levelled the charges against Grover, Harnidh had shared a detailed tweet back in October, 2018.

Needless to say that both the tweet and Harnidh went viral, stirring a whole new debate on the subject.

Harnidh was already a popular poet online due to her poetry immersed in feminism that connected with younger women. At 20, she published her first book of poems called The Inability of Words (2016), and The Ease of Forgetting the next year.

Ranu Mondal – an overnight singing sensation

Singer Ranu Mondal, who became an online sensation after a video of her singing at a railway station in West Bengal went viral, takes part in a promotional event for the upcoming romantic Hindi comedy film 'Happy Hardy and Heer', in which she has a song featured, in Mumbai, on September 11, 2019. (Photo by SUJIT JAISWAL/AFP via Getty Images)
Singer Ranu Mondal, who became an online sensation after a video of her singing at a railway station in West Bengal went viral, takes part in a promotional event for the upcoming romantic Hindi comedy film 'Happy Hardy and Heer', in which she has a song featured, in Mumbai, on September 11, 2019. (Photo by SUJIT JAISWAL/AFP via Getty Images)

Admit it. We are all suckers for these larger-than-life, rags-to-riches stories. Perhaps that’s the reason, the internet couldn’t help but gush over Ranu Mondal’s unmatched singing skills, propelling her to instant stardom.

The 59-year-old woman from West Bengal’s Ranaghat district became a household name earlier this year after a clip of hers, featuring her rendition of Lata Mangeshkar’s hit romantic number Ek Pyar Ka Nagma Hai, made its way online. Touched by her rather humble background and gifted abilities, on one hand, emotional netizens sang her praises, and on the other hand, opportunities started pouring in for the newly-discovered talent. Music director and singer Himesh Reshammiya even offered her a chance to sing playback for one of his songs.

After all, who doesn’t like those rare times when the internet wins!

Mahua Moitra & that rousing motion of thanks

TMC MP Mahua Moitra clicked at the Parliament House during the Budget Session in New Delhi. (Photo by Pankaj Nangia/India Today Group/Getty Images)
TMC MP Mahua Moitra clicked at the Parliament House during the Budget Session in New Delhi. (Photo by Pankaj Nangia/India Today Group/Getty Images)

For the woke millennial users, who consume their daily dose of news on Twitter, Mahua Moitra is a symbol of courage.

In a stirring motion of thanks delivered in the Indian Parliament, the Trinamool Congress MP questioned the ruling party’s ideologies and what she called its ‘xenophobic’ policies. Her speech brought to light some of the burning issues of the times, starting from the reports on mob lynching to the measures taken in the name of national security. The 44-year-old, who was earlier an investment banker and quit as VP of JPMorgan Chase in London in 2009 to join Indian politics, also took a stand against the lack of dissent and the singular image portrayed by the media.

It suffices to say, that post her rousing motion, both Mohua and her speech – which she called the ‘7 early signs of fascism’ – have gained a permanent place in the memory of the Indian Twitterati.

Deepika Ghose aka the #RCBgirl

There are two sides to instant popularity. On one hand, it could mean a great deal of recognition and rapid increase in social media following; but on the other, things become too public too soon. The story of Deepika Ghose aka the #RCBgirl is around these lines. After a panning camera caught her, decked in a striking red top and waving the RCB flag during an IPL match between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad, for a few seconds, Ghose rose to instant stardom a few months ago.

The internet was gaga over her charming looks. So much so that within a few hours, online users had launched themselves into a frenzied search for the ‘RCB girl.’ One thing led to another, and the next thing we knew, Ghose had become a sudden viral sensation, attracting both fans and trolls alike. Her Instagram profile has more than 247,000 followers now.

Hanan Hamid and her ‘Viral’ van

Little did Hanan Hamid, the woman from Kerala who sold fish to support her education, know that pictures of her in action would cause such a stir online. The images, showing the young student selling fish in Kochi's Thammanam market, had hit the internet back in 2018. As happens with any such content capable of rousing interest, it was shared and re-shared wildly until Hamid became a popular social media figure.

Unfortunately for the spirited entrepreneur, along with fame the images also drew a barrage of trolls and vile comments that she was a publicity monger. But this didn’t break her spirits; Hamid went on record stating that she has to provide for her unwell mother and will continue to work while continuing her under graduate course. Hamid is back in the business with a Tata Ace van in tow. And as a cheeky nod to the naysayers, she has named the van, ‘Viral.’