This is Between You and Meme, a series where we talk to people whose most awkward, embarrassing or weird moments made them go viral, and try to understand the impact of internet fame.
Memes may reflect the mood of a particular moment in time. But many of these quirky images plastered with text, like the distracted boyfriend, grumpy cat and scenes from SpongeBob, become timeless due to their ability to adapt and proliferate.
Then, every once in a while, there comes along a viral meme that seems completely absurd and incomprehensible at first, but somehow evolves into globally relatable shitpost material over time. The “Pooja, what is this behaviour?” viral video is one of them.
This short clip lifted from a 2011 episode of reality TV show Bigg Boss (the Indian version of Big Brother) depicts a fight between Indian models Shonali Nagrani and Pooja Misra, where the former berates Misra for kicking a dustbin and then saying she “kicked it by mistake”. Misra responds to her opponent the same way any rebellious teenager would if they disagreed with their parents on literally anything—“You do not tell me what to do”. Finally, Misra accuses her of asking to be hit before screaming “get off my back” and storming out like the glorious whirlwind she is.
This scene, as trivial as it sounds, has a separate fan base, developing a massive following over the past decade. While it's tough to trace what platform first made the “Pooja, what is this behaviour?” meme go viral, the earliest online existence of this clip dates back to two years ago on YouTube. It’s plausible that this short video was once the subject of ridicule on phones with Bluetooth sharing options (the OG WhatsApp). But ultimately, its real street cred as a viral meme came after users on TikTok (the short video-making app that, just like reality television stars, everyone loves to hate) began using Misra’s angry outburst as background noise for their lip-sync videos. Since then, it’s shown up on meme pages and websites around the world, from a Ugandan channel called UrbanTV to Syrian artist and political activist’s Instagram page @sainthoax. Almost overnight, Misra’s on-screen breakdown was enshrined as a hard relate for our lockdown feels.
If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from Misra, it’s that you don’t always need to pretend to be a self-made billionaire, sit on your ass and ugly cry to achieve internet fame. Sometimes, even your least-proud moment can make you one of the most relatable memes. But if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to suddenly see yourself become the poster child for bad behaviour, and how to embrace the humour when you are the meme people are posting, there are few people better than Misra to go to. So, we decided to ask her: Pooja, what is this behaviour?
VICE: So, how did you react when you first realised you’d become a meme?
Pooja Misra: Well, initially I was quite startled and it bothered me that I was all over the internet because of this clip. I found out about it some eight months ago, when people from the UK and US saw the meme and began DMing me on Instagram. They would also send me videos of them impersonating me. I realised I had two options: I could either let it keep bothering me and get affected by it or keep a neutral perspective and look at it as the joke it was. They do say imitation is the finest form of flattery, so I realised it's a good thing that people are trying to imitate me.
How do you manage to not get fazed by all the trolling?
It’s all about perspective. I realised that even though some people were trolling, most people were sharing the meme because they found it funny and relatable. So I thought: If others can laugh at my expense, I may as well laugh at myself with them. So I decided to embrace it and own the joke. I even made a Spotify podcast out of it. It’s my way of karmically completing the chain reaction.
Why did you kick the dustbin? Was it really a mistake?
I was locked up in that Bigg Boss mansion with all these girls who refused to let me cook, so I got angry. Living in that house was worse than living in lockdown because I didn’t have access to my phone, internet, friends or family. I was feeling the pressure and that’s what led to my reaction.
Did becoming a viral meme change your life?
Yes, it’s a completely new and different feeling to become a meme. I think in a way it helped me achieve fame faster than I normally would’ve been able to. I have fans from all over the world DMing me their versions with my voice and even asking for my autographs and photos if they spot me in a public place. It feels good to feel appreciated and make people laugh.
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