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Why This Inspiring ’12th Fail’ Has a Million Followers on Instagram

Dhiraj Takri, a 21-year-old content creator from rural Odisha, has become an internet sensation for teaching people on Instagram how to speak English like an American by incorporating snippets from web series and TV shows.

Why This Inspiring ’12th Fail’ Has a Million Followers on Instagram

From a small village called Chitrakote in Nabarangpur district in Odisha, a 21-year-old content creator has taken the internet by storm with just his smartphone by making reels about how to speak in English like an American. Despite a lack of formal education and failing his Class 12 examinations, Dhiraj Takri’s reels on Instagram have made him a beloved teacher of conversational English online.

His unique approach involves incorporating snippets from web series and TV shows to make learning engaging and fun. Overcoming some initial trolling, Dhiraj’s follower count rose from 160 on 7 December 2023 to 1 million on 20 January 2024—barely 44 days—on Instagram.   

With over 1 million followers today, Dhiraj has risen out of obscurity through his creativity, passion and desire to improve his communication skills by teaching others how to talk like a native English speaker despite lacking the resources that most content creators possess. 

The Better India spoke to Dhiraj to dig a little deeper into his magical journey on the internet. 

Lockdown opportunity 

After studying at a local village school till matriculation (Class 10), Dhiraj went to a nearby town to complete his intermediate (high school) but failed his Class 12 examinations. 

Speaking to The Better India, he says, “Things at home weren’t easy because our financial situation was unstable. My father used to repair bicycles while my mother travelled from one village to another selling bangles and other kinds of jewellery. After taking my Class 12 exams, I went to Kerala for a year where I lived and studied at a Christian theological training institute in Thiruvalla, Kerala. The only requirement to study there was a matriculation certificate.” 

Presently, his parents are unemployed but his elder brother runs a local Jan Seva Kendra (common services centre). These centres assist residents access essential services online such as Aadahaar and PAN card services, payment of household bills, etc. 

Although it was a two-year course, he only studied there for a year because of the national lockdown imposed following COVID-19. It was at this institute where he started learning English. 

“But we weren’t allowed regular access to our mobile phones. Every Saturday, they would allow us to use our phones for three hours. Back then, I didn’t even have a smartphone. I had a Jio phone with basic features. During one such session, I saw a video [on YouTube] where I found someone teaching how to connect words and shorten them in spoken English conversation. That captivated me and I was interested to learn that kind of English,” he recalls. 

Once Dhiraj left Kerala, he began learning the [American] accent that he currently employs in his reels by watching a plethora of videos online. Also, by the time he came back home to his village, he had a basic Panasonic P91 smartphone with a 4G internet connection. 

His motivation to learn how to speak English in that manner came from a desire to communicate faster. As he recalls, “At the time, I used to speak English very slowly. Learning how to speak in an [Western] accent was more about learning to speak the language faster.”

“Also, at the time, I had an interest in singing English songs like those in the West do. If I wanted to sing in their accent, I had to learn to speak in their accent too. At the institute in Kerala, I developed a strong interest in learning the English language, and the desire to speak it faster and in a Western accent. But since our access to mobile phones was limited, I couldn’t learn much. When I came back home during the lockdown with all the free time in the world, that’s when I started learning and practising the accent you hear in my reels today,” he adds.  

Also, during the lockdown, Dhiraj learnt how to edit photos and videos not out of a desire to make reels but just for fun. “When I started learning how to edit photos and videos and watch the work of other content makers online, my village had 4G connectivity. With a smartphone, I could watch videos and pick up these skills too,” he says.  

Dhiraj Takri went viral on Instagram
Dhiraj Takri (Images courtesy Facebook/Dhiraj Takri and Instagram/garimabudhani_)

Learning how to speak English like Americans

As stated earlier, Dhiraj Takri watched a plethora of videos online to learn how to speak English like a native. He would watch and follow a lot of content creators on YouTube. 

“There was a channel I found called RealLife English. They were teaching viewers conversational English using movie clips. I really like that format and that’s how I wanted to learn spoken English as well. Initially, I had no wish to make reels on Instagram or anything but as I kept learning how to speak, I gathered more confidence,” he explains. 

“Since I’ve been learning how to speak English in a Western accent for nearly four years now, I also wanted to teach others like me. Also, I believe those who teach a skill are better at it than those who just learn. I wanted to keep improving myself by teaching others. This way I can also help others while also improving myself. As I stated earlier, I also liked the format of using movie clips to teach conversational English and began to explore them further online,” he adds.

Learning how to make reels     

After spending 2020 under lockdown in his village, Dhiraj Takri went to Lucknow to study and work at a church in the following year. Till October 2023, he was residing in Lucknow where he made a couple of reels. While making these videos, his phone broke down and the camera inside was damaged. But he continued making these reels using his broken-down phone. 

“In August 2023, I began learning how to make reels. See, I’m an introverted person and growing up, I didn’t speak much to people. Making these reels was a way for me to further my self-confidence. In my village, there was no one that I could speak to in English, particularly with that accent. There were some [Indian] people I studied with whom I only spoke in Hindi because it didn’t feel normal speaking to them in English,” recalls Dhiraj.

“Starting out, I would listen to native speakers of English and then record that in my voice. I would record myself speaking like a native English speaker every single day. I would then compare my recordings with how native English speakers spoke online. Initially, it felt very strange. However, over time, I could notice improvements in the way I spoke English. After doing this for six months consistently, I could see real improvements and started to make reels. Seeing this improvement motivated me further to continue making reels,” he adds. 

From August to October 2023, Dhiraj barely made four reels. From mid-October onwards, he began posting more regularly on Instagram. In the following month, he began making and posting one reel per day. All the growth we see in his follower count on Instagram today began in December 2023. 

“From August to around 7 December, I uploaded about 65 reels and had barely 160 followers. In barely 44 days, my follower count went up to 1 million,” he says. 

The first reel which went viral was posted on 7 December 2023. In this video, Dhiraj explains to his followers that the letter ‘d’ is silent when you say certain words like ‘handsome’, ‘Wednesday’, ‘adjective’ and ‘adjust’ in a native English accent. 

“In my previous reels, I only spoke in English but for this one, I used a little bit of Hindi to explain my point. I think speaking in Hindi may have helped me increase my reach and a lot of people liked this reel. I uploaded this reel on 7 December but it only went viral about two or three days later. Once this reel went viral, the rest followed suit,” he explains. 

The next one to go viral was the one posted on 11 December where he explains how the letter ‘g’ is silent when you say words like ‘talking’, ‘something’ and ‘calling’ in an American accent. 

“Once I gained about 10,000 followers, my brother ordered a phone and camera for me. By the time the phone and camera were delivered home, my follower count had risen to about 300,000. I still haven’t learnt how to operate a camera. I use my phone to make all my videos (reels). It takes a little time for me to learn how to operate a camera,” he says. 

“Most of the reels I’ve posted on IG have been shot in my village and on my Motorola Moto G40 smartphone. However, in making these reels, I’ve broken the screen but decided to not change or replace it since I can’t afford it. I will buy a new phone once I have the money for it,” he adds.  

Dealing with negativity & fame

Initially, when Dhiraj Takri started making reels, he wasn’t even getting a single comment. However, when the first video went viral, he received many hateful and tasteless comments, etc.

“But this also went on for only a week or two. Once my other videos started to go viral, even the negative comments trickled down. Even those who called me all sorts of things under the sun were now telling me ‘Why are you looking for negative comments’,” Dhiraj says with a smile.       

When it comes to his family or fellow residents in Chitrakote, it’s safe to suggest that no one expected his sudden rise in popularity on the internet.  

“I didn’t expect to grow at this rate and I’m thankful to all my supporters who like and share my reels and follow me on Instagram,” he says. 

“Also, my home is about one kilometre away from the village. About six or seven years back, our home was inside the village. To make it easier for my mother to travel and sell her wares in different villages, we set up our home a little away from the village. Since we lived a little away from the village, people didn’t quite know what was going on with me online. My friends knew that I make videos and that they have gone viral. Only when local TV news channels started featuring me, people in my village began to learn more about my work,” he adds.  

Popularity on Instagram, however, hasn’t quite translated into any serious material benefits. 

“All the money on Instagram comes through partnerships with brands. Since my channel skyrocketed in just two or three weeks, I haven’t done a lot of brand promotions and earned much. But brands have begun approaching me to make promotional videos. Things haven’t changed much for me [materially speaking], but I feel this is going to change soon,” he says.  

Of course, earning good money through his work online would be beneficial but the reason Dhiraj makes these reels is because he wants to develop his communication skills. 

“And as I said earlier, one of the ways to do that is by teaching it [conversational English] to people. Through this, you are not only helping people grow but also growing yourself,” he says. 

“Initially, I wanted to make longer videos but since people these days watch a lot of shorts, I thought making these reels was a way to earn a greater following. Since my content has gone viral, people have been asking me to make longer videos on how to speak English. So, we are trying to develop a course for people which will probably start in a few months,” he adds.

(You can watch more of Dhiraj Takri’s content on Instagram.)

(Edited by Padmashree Pande; Images courtesy Dhiraj Takri)

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