About a year ago, Sangita Gaikwad’s teenage daughter Mona introduced her to TikTok. Like many first-time users of the quirky video-sharing app, Gaikwad, a homemaker in a farming village in western India, was baffled.
What would she want with an infinite stream of 15-second clips showing strangers dancing, lip-syncing and reenacting memes on their phones?
But when Mona insisted, Gaikwad, a wise-cracking 35-year-old who once dreamed of becoming a TV actress, started uploading her own short videos. One day she posted a lighthearted clip of herself as she was heading to the market to buy mutton.
Gaikwad didn’t understand it, but she was on her way to becoming another unlikely star in the huge, highly addicting and often mystifying universe of TikTok, the Chinese-made app whose popularity has skyrocketed worldwide.
Nowhere is this truer than in India, TikTok’s biggest international market, where its 200 million users include many villagers, LGBTQ Indians and others from marginalized backgrounds for whom the app was a source of joy, self-respect, income — and even a measure of fame.