The many shades of Shilu PokhrelWhile the show ‘Blind Date’ might have springboarded Shilu to fame and glory, she thinks she is just getting started.
“What drink would you recommend? Could you please get me the customers’ favourite?” Shilu Pokhrel addresses the wait-staff with a mild smirk on her face.
Awaiting her partner, Kiran Khati, popularly known as Goldie, to order his own drink, she observes the warmly lit room of a restaurant teeming with customers. The pair are seated next to each other; they seem delighted, appreciating the secluded meeting room of the restaurant.
“So how should I start?” she says, grinning, “Do we talk about ‘Blind Date’ or myself first?”
If you are an avid YouTube user, or were merely just online, there was one show in early 2021 that either left you cackling, cringing to your bones or perhaps thoroughly entertained. Memes, screen recordings, sound bites from the show rapidly gained online traffic, and the episodes uploaded on YouTube amassed over a million views on average. This was what accompanied the internet sensation: ‘Blind Date’—a reality show produced by SuperHit Cinema Nepal, an audio-visual production company.
And whether you watched it religiously or solely to understand the hype, there was one character from the show who was hard to ignore: Shilu Pokhrel.
Hailing originally from Arghakhanchi and raised in the district of Kapilvastu, Shilu Pokhrel’s road to fame has become somewhat of an anomaly. You may judge her seemingly grandiose demeanour or absolutely admire her for that very reason.
“I guess you could call me an eccentric character,” she says, letting out a chuckle. “That’s what caught everyone off-guard, maybe”.
Although Shilu tied the knot with Goldie through the show, they first met years ago in Kapilvastu. “It could certainly be ironic for our spectators that we knew each other before the show. Many even speculated that the entire concept was scripted,” she said, looking over at Goldie with a smirk.
“We met through the same tutor during high school and continued to be friends from that point on,” says Goldie. “Before the show, we started a clothing business together, but it eventually didn’t attain the results we had hoped for,” he says, peeping at Shilu.
Before appearing on ‘Blind Date’, the duo had even starred in a music video, which has now been taken down from YouTube. This led many to doubt that the pair was already a couple before the show.
“Although we knew each other and had been doing business, we auditioned for the show without each other’s notice,” she says, letting out an awkward laugh. “When I saw his name on the audition list, it did take me aback.”
After finishing her grade 10 from Kapilvastu, Shilu came to Kathmandu to pursue her higher studies; her journey in the city, thus far, has been rife with a range of unconventional experiences. From her initial plan to focusing solely on her academics—graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences—to plunging into the entertainment field, her narrative is truly one for the books. Having lived mostly alone in the city for the past decade, she credits that independence, solo hustle, and a diverse set of adventures for moulding the character people see today.
“The minute I came to Kathmandu, I wanted to prioritise my academics as much as possible. Even after doing poorly in grade 10, I was able to ace my undergraduate exams,” she says. One can immediately pick up on that subtle sense of contentment as she describes her educational background since her only highlight has been that outwardly flippant persona.
“But of course,” Shilu adds, “you have to survive in a city like Kathmandu, so I too hopped on that hustle culture after college—moving from one stint to the next.”
Her eldest brother, Raj Pokharel, says that Shilu’s tenacity was apparent from the get-go. Among her four sisters, Shilu being the youngest, she has always been somewhat of a rebel, says Raj. “But we honestly never expected that she would get this far. I still see her as the same old Shilu we know at home, but when it hits me that she has become this popular figure, I feel overjoyed and proud. What can I say? It’s a huge thing for the family.”
Although Shilu is credited for single-handedly making ‘Blind Date’ a success, this hasn’t changed her a bit, says her friend of 11 years Anamika.
“She has always been this cordial, easygoing, and honest person, and she is still the same despite all the fame,” says Anamika. “She hasn’t let her success go to her head.”
The kind of mileage that ‘Blind Date’ gained, for its unorthodox show format, also bred several online vitriol and ridicule. Several audience members took to their social media to mock and patronise the participants’ use of language—especially pertaining to the broken English that encompassed the show. Shilu paid no heed to such mockery, but the contempt she received from women, mainly towards how she portrayed herself on the show, was what left her unsettled.
“Most of our audience took ‘Blind Date’ as a form of entertainment, and my outlandishly aggressive personality was somewhat digested by them—to my own surprise. But what truly disappointed me were some of the messages I received from women.” Becoming more solemn, she adds, “Many sent me hateful messages, condemning the kind of spunk I displayed on the show.” With a rather surly look on her face, she adds, “I intended to experiment, through the show, what a woman in Nepali society could be like if she were allowed to explore herself, whilst subtly taking a jab at the double standard that is embedded in our communities.”
Although Shilu’s general temperament comes off as brash and loud, the pensive undertones in her voice are noticeable, especially when she reflects upon Nepali women’s position in society. That internalised sexism in Nepali society, she believes, could have been the catalyst to the online hostility she received.
“Women haven’t been given enough space to explore themselves in ways that are blatantly unrestrained and explosive. So when I didn’t tailor myself to fit that mould of what womanhood presumably entails, I guess it threw many people off,” she says.
Shilu first ventured into the entertainment field by participating in some local beauty pageants in her early years. She then steadily branched herself out into exploring her creative pursuits. Before ‘Blind Date’, she tapped into the Nepali rap industry, debuting with ‘K hola maya’ and later releasing an array of hip hop songs.
Shilu’s blunt image on the reality show went parallelly with her song lyrics; a flood of unabashed and unrestrained vocabulary that drew ridicule but simultaneously, adoration. Her adept use of words, sarcasm, and the right amount of ‘Shilu’ is savvy and strategic, as Wangden Phintso Sherpa, a viewer, puts it. “She’s one of the few Nepali public figures who I feel deserves that exposure,” says Sherpa. “She knows how to get viral soundbites, which is evident the way they have echoed throughout TikTok.”
When she converses, her flashy persona is palpable, since it is what helped ‘Blind Date’ amass such a massive viewership. Although rough around the edges, the show still managed to cater to the Nepali society—as it’s evident through the million-plus views the episodes have garnered. Shilu, in hindsight, gives credit to the show producers’ knack for professionalism.
“We are grateful to the ‘Blind Date’ team for taking us this far,” adds Goldie, as he glances at Shilu. She reciprocates with a flirtatious look and calls for the wait-staff. “Could you please get me the bill?”
Perusing her wallet, she says: “Should we head out now?”
After one last sip of her drink, she grabs her mask and beanie—looks at her pocket mirror, and turns to Goldie yet again: “Let’s go.”