Prajakta Koli aka MostlySane has been unstoppable of late. Along with creating regular content on social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram, she has successfully branched out to become the lead of Netflix's popular series, Mismatched. Currently shooting for Season 2 in Jodhpur, Prajakta, in an exclusive session on FC Front Row, talks about balancing her career as a content creator and actor, never compromising with her mothership on YouTube, and what made her realize the kind of impact her content could make.
Suchin Mehrotra (SM): It really feels that you have condensed a 10-year acting career into a year and a half. You started with your short film, Khayali Pulao, then you starred in the Netflix web series Mismatched. Season 2 is currently being shot, and also there is a big Dharma film due, Jug Jugg Jeeyo. It must be a very exciting time.
Prajakta Koli (PK): It has been really exciting. I think my journey as a content creator has been a very strong foundation for these opportunities to have come my way. I am very well aware that everything stems from the fact that YouTube and Instagram gave me a platform to perform, to be visible, to put up content. Everything that comes above and beyond the kind of content that I make, is such a happy bonus. I've always loved watching content, I've loved the movies, I've grown up a very filmy kid. Now, I get to live a life where I come to the set every day and work with the most amazing people: co-actors, directors and the best production houses; I get to do these characters I'm so in love with. I'm living my best life and I have the best job.
SM: How much does being a content creator prepare you for life as an actor? Even with YouTube, you're essentially writing characters and acting them. Do you think it really readies you for a life as an actor?
PK: I started performing very early in my life. I think I was 5 or 6 when I went to the stage for the first time. I remember going on stage, feeling invincible: like this is where I wanted to be, this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. When you are standing right before you go on stage or when you are standing right before action, when you are standing on your mark, I feel that rush that you get is extremely addictive – and that's when I knew. I used to perform a lot as a dancer. In college, I started hosting a lot on stage and started doing theatre for the first time. That was my first encounter with being an actor. Because, as I said, I have grown up such a filmy kid. I always used to imitate scenes in the mirror when I was a child. So, I always thought it was great till I did theatre and realized that there was a whole process. It is very different from what you think it could or would be. I feel like the theatre I did for three years in college was very basic, nothing really extraordinary. But I think it taught me a lot about what I do right now. I had a year in radio because I wanted to be a radio jockey; that taught me a lot to be a performer. I think YouTube gave me the liberty to use everything I thought I could use to be a performer. I believe it has been a really long process in the making.
SM: Does YouTube take a backseat? Are you going to do a direct switchover, or are you trying to keep both worlds alive? How do you balance the two?
This is a lesson I learnt while shooting Mismatched: Season 1. I remember when we were shooting for Season 1, I was constantly shuffling between two cities because I had to go back and shoot content for YouTube and travel back again. I realized that it becomes extremely exhausting. This time, I knew that I would be away for 50 days. So, we built a set and booked a place for 5 days where I shot close to 24 videos. Right before I flew for Jodhpur [to film Season 2], I banked content till the end of November. I knew I was going to shoot the film right after this was done, and life was going to be very hectic.
I don't want my YouTube content to get compromised because I know that is the mothership, that is where these opportunities are stemming from. So I want to make sure that it is always my first priority.
SM: When it comes to acting, the script you now work on is somebody else's, so is the editing. You're just there for that character. Was it tough to go from being a one-woman army to being a part of a bigger project?
PK: Although Khayali Pulao came out first, Mismatched was my first official set. I shot Mismatched before Khayali Pulao. Dimple was the first time I was on set and I remember feeling jitters because she was the first character I was playing that I didn't write. That was really nerve-wracking for me because I was like, "How do I know how she's feeling? How's she doing? What is her thought process like?" But I think that lasted a day, because when I met my directors, when we jammed with the writers, I realized that the writing team and the direction team had done such a wonderful job in sketching this wonderful character out and it was served to me on a platter. I knew who she was, I knew where she came from, and that just made life extremely simple. It's also very liberating as a shift because then suddenly, I don't have to worry. I also remember during the first season, every time I gave a shot, because I was so used to that while shooting for YouTube, I would go to the monitor and be like, "May I see it?" and I realized that it was going to get hectic after every take that I give. I learnt so much on the first season and now I just love the fact that I just have to reach, get into hair and makeup, know my lines and go and perform.
SM: Is YouTube sustainable for someone who is a top content creator? After you hit a certain level of popularity, you tend to branch out – go into acting, filmmaking, singing, TV, etc. Is that because YouTube is not sustainable in the long run for someone who's already made it, or they just get excited by the thing? What do you think about it?
PK: I think the Internet, not just YouTube, opens up all these exciting avenues that you would just be stupid not to explore them. It's not like every day for the past 6 years, I have woken up saying, "I am going to do this so that I can sign a film in the future, or so that I have a Netflix show to do." I have woken up, and every opportunity that came my way through the work that I was already putting out anyway organically. I think that platforms now are merging into each other. We have a pool of content. It's not like if it's a Bollywood film, it'll only go in the theatres. No, it's on Netflix, it's on Amazon Prime, it's on Hotstar: everything is merging. Right now content is content, because people are consuming it on their phones and on their laptops. I think it's a major shift that has happened digitally, especially for our country, and I think that is why all that branching happens. I know creators who have done this for 10 years, who have done this ever since YouTube started and it has done very well for them.
None of us saw YouTube, or the Internet, or digital platforms overall, becoming such a massive thing three years ago. None of us saw this boom happening where we'll reach to places we can't even point out on the map. For me, it has not been a conscious decision at all Because I didn't see this coming. If you ask me right now where I see myself in the next two years, I will have no clue.
SM: You have such a massive following. And you've always used your voice to campaign. You have talked about education, you have talked about body image and things like that. But is there any specific moment or a specific video that made you realize that the things you create really have an impact on people? Was there ever a turning point for you that made you realize that you actually have an impact on your audience?
PK: October 2016, there were conversations around mental health all over the internet. It was Mental Health month and I wanted to make a video on the topic. I remember making a video called "I Pledge To Be Me." I did a call out to my audience saying, "Hey, here's an email ID, and if you feel like you want to just vent, you can write and send your emails." I was thought I was going to get a few emails here and there. The following week, we got close to 8,000 emails. I was blown away. A lot of them were stringed together around body image issues being connected to depression issues or anxiety, and I had very young girls who had mailed me. An 11-year-old girl told me that she was suicidal because her parents say she's fat and she's dark skinned, so nobody's ever going to marry her. I just remember feeling that around that time, conversations around this were very one-sided. I was like, "I don't know if I'm in a position to give advice because honestly I've not lived the lives that so many people who are writing to me, lived. How do I make a conversation around this without making it preachy or without me telling them what to do?"
Growing up, I hated the fact that I was very skinny. I used to hate everything on me. I grew up having borderline body issues. I remember sitting down with my team and saying, "I want to do a rap song, and it's going to be called 'Shameless', because we are going to take the shame out of the people who shame us," and the team was like, "That's amazing! Write it!" I wrote it, I put it up. So I think that the first call to action that I did, which sort of told me that it's not just me talking into my camera, it's people speaking back at me. And that means it has more to it than I have estimated for so long.
I think it empowered me to make more conversations. The videos had such a domino effect on my entire life as a creator and I'm still seeing the effects of that. The fact that I get to be a part of a documentary with Michelle Obama for girls' education, comes from that. The fact that I get to take my work and present it at the United Nations, comes from that. The fact that I get to speak at all these massive platforms internationally, comes from the fact that the conversation started 4 years ago.