The YouTuber, content creator, social media influencer, vlogger, actor, UNDP youth climate champion and global changemaker opens up to Aza about conquering everything from the digital space to outer space, one insanity at a time!
Photographs by Ajay Kadam; Styled by Sukriti Grover; Styling team Vani Gupta, Vasudha Gupta; Makeup by Sahithya Shetty; Hairstyling by Rupali Dhumal; Artist's Publicity DNH Media; Artist's Management One Digital Entertainment; Words by Sreemita Bhattacharya
Achha suno - please share this Aza Cover Story featuring Prajakta Koli after you're done reading, and follow @azafashions on Instagram for all the fun shoot footage!
If Prajakta were a character in a comic book, her avatar would be surrounded by emanata - like an exclamation mark, a question mark, little hearts, sun rays, circling birds, @ signs, a tornado scribble and a light bulb. That's the range of facial expressions she can emote in a matter of seconds. Having followed MostlySane closely on social media for years, I know the kind of fan following she has built. In case you live under a rock, that's 6.62 million YouTube subscribers, 4.9 million Instagrammers, 406.1K Twitterati, and more than half a million Facebook followers, to be precise. These numbers multiply daily. The arsenal of prestigious accolades Prajakta has amassed over the years includes a Daytime Emmy Award, the highly coveted Forbes 30 under 30 list, Entrepreneur India's 35 under 35, BW Businessworld's Most Influential Women list, and Outlook's Women of Worth list, amongst many others. An active campaigner for socially relevant issues, she has worked with everyone from Michelle Obama to Kareena Kapoor Khan. So naturally, I expect the globally renowned content creator to have a certain degree of air about her. After all, she's YouTube royalty.
At the crack of dawn, we gather sleepily at Madh Island, setting up racks of immaculate couture garments and breathtaking jewels for the shoot. As I sip my morning cuppa, I notice that not a single crew member is even a minute late despite the ungodly hour. I’m impressed. The air feels buzzy, and there’s suddenly an insane level of excitement when MostlySane arrives. She steps out of a white SUV, a picture of casual elegance in an olive green full-sleeved crop-top and black shorts, accessorized with a Gucci belt, sneakers and an ABCDior Book tote. My first impression is: she’s real, relatable and downright lovable. She smiles. She greets. And after apologizes profusely for arriving a few minutes behind schedule, she conquers. (Cue yet-controlled fangirling!)
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Designer, Mahima Mahajan;Earrings, Aquamarine Jewellery;Rings, Kohar by Kanika & House of Shikha;Bangles, Soni Sapphire
Act 1: Prajakta Joins Our Girl Tribe
Prajakta is a dream to work with. Having completed all outfit trials the day before our shoot, she's completely fuss-free. Not one to waste time, she rushes to the changing room to get dressed for the first look of Aza's Bridesmaid Edit. In my mind, I'm holding a fan near her face à la Mithila Palkar in Someone Likes Montu when she emerges looking gorgeous in a blue Astha Narang floral lehenga set and literally trips into our hearts. Yes, Prajakta in high heels (and a lehenga) walking around a lawn with grass block pavers is as unsteady as us, sisters! (Cue Anna-Elsa hugging GIF)
After carefully traversing onto greener paths, she matter-of-factly informs our lensman in Marathi, “Listen, I'm extremely nervous about this shoot! Please give me directions - how and where do you want me to stand?” And so commences a day sprinkled with warm sunrays, peppy music, steaming cups of ginger tea (black sugarless coffee for MostlySane) and unrestrained laughter.
Everything I create content around comes from experience - from conversations, meetings, acquaintances - and I think that's what makes it relatable.
Act 2: The Insane Life of MostlySane
The first chance I get, I ask Prajakta about the method to her insanity - her process for content creation. Prajakta, who dreamed of becoming a radio jockey growing up, chuckles as she says, “Honestly, MostlySane's life is quite insane, but it's also a lot of fun. Everything I create content around comes from experience - from conversations, meetings, acquaintances - and I think that's what makes it relatable. As soon as I have an idea, I sit down with the team, we jam about it and plan how to shoot it. Right now, we are kind of mixing things up with the way we package and tell stories. I've been uploading sketches and short form videos (like 3-to-10-minute videos) for about seven years now, so I want to try long form content. I want to narrate stories a little differently.”
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Designer, Ritika Mirchandani;Maangtika, House of Shikha;Bracelets, earrings & rings, Mozaati
But how easy or difficult is it to ideate new, relevant and relatable topics for videos? Also, how do you deal with the pressures of being a global influencer, I enquire. “Well, I've kind of found my groove. I've also made my peace with the fact that not every idea is going to get fantastic reception. But I don't judge an idea because I cannot predict what will work and what won't, and I'm okay with that. About the pressures of being an influencer, honestly, I feel responsible and accountable, but I wouldn't call it pressure,” she shares candidly.
Act 3: OhEmGee, Is That Me
As a global youth icon and changemaker - someone who has won a Daytime Emmy Award (Outstanding Daytime Non-Fiction Special category) for Creators For Change, her YouTube Original documentary featuring Michelle Obama - the last thing we expect Prajakta to exclaim is, “Oh my!” when she examines her shots on the laptop, entirely awestruck. She's quick to hail celebrity photographer Ajay Kadam “a magician,” following it up with, “I was NOT looking like this when I came to this shoot!”
As a trailblazer in the content creation space, what was it like when she initially started, I wonder aloud – most people hardly understood the social media universe at the time. Prajakta nods as she divulges that there was a point when her parents had to open her YouTube channel to explain to people what she did for a living. “It happened many years ago, when I had just started. Fact is, my parents weren’t really struggling to explain my job – the struggle was everybody else jinko samajh nahi aata tha! Thankfully, we have a lot more content creators and consumers now, so people kind of get it,” she affirms before – bless her heart – stumbling again on the paver blocks and laughing it off.
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Designer, Ridhi Mehra;Necklace & ring, Anāash;Bangles, Soni Sapphire & House of Shikha;Hand harness, Anayah Jewellery
MostlySane's reel family? The parents are exactly how my parents are. In fact, sometimes I feel I'm underplaying my parents in my sketches - that's how animated and hilarious my parents are in real life!
Act 4: The Sane-sational Reel Family
Between look changes, I find myself giggling away to MostlySane's slice-of-life short and long-form videos featuring the poster child of lazy sibling, Montu (someone who spits in his palms and wipes it off surreptitiously before stating his hands are clean), the overworked mother (sings Sukhkarta Dukhharta in her mind, wields the chappal if you lose Tupperware) and the agonised father (“Waah, kya sanskar diye hai maine. Father of the year!”). When Prajakta appears for the next shot in a pink Ritika Mirchandani kurta and sharara set, I catch up with her to understand how she conceived the distinct personality traits and dressing styles of her reel avatars. “MostlySane's reel family?” she snickers. “The parents are exactly how my parents are. In fact, sometimes I feel I'm underplaying my parents in my sketches - that's how animated and hilarious they are in real life! They are extremely funny people with a great sense of humour, which helps me make those characters so distinctive. Montu, however, is a product of me talking to my friends, seeing how they are with their siblings and kind of shaping that into a character. He is, by far, my favourite one!” Unequivocally, Montu - in his trademark oversized collared tee and shorts (the attire he also wears on dates) - is our soul brother, too.
I'm trying to use the reach and the impact of the UNDP and my platform to accelerate and amplify conversations that other climate champions have been voicing.
Act 5: Prajakta, the Climate Crusader
In another milestone, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently named Prajakta their first UNDP India Youth Climate Champion “for her long-standing contribution towards mental health, women's rights and girl child education through various global social campaigns”. She’s super-thrilled as she confides, “There's a lot planned! I have started my work with the UNDP with plastic/waste management. I'm trying to use the reach and the impact of the UNDP and my platform to accelerate and amplify conversations that other climate champions have been voicing. I am still new at this, but I'm learning.”
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Designer, Torani;Choker, House of Shikha;Maangtika, Soni Sapphire;Headband & rings, Anayah Jewellery;Bangles, Apala by Sumit
Act 6: Pause & Affect
Did you know, Prajakta is the first YouTuber in the world to have an exclusive video chat with the platform's Global CEO, Susan Wojcicki. Speaking about her collaborations with global corporate giants like YouTube, Instagram, One.org, WhatsApp and Google, Prajakta explains, “The beauty of the Internet is that anything you upload can reach anyone. But when you work with a YouTube, an Instagram or Google, it quickens that whole process of creating awareness because it's immediate, organic reach. It's great for conversations that could be helpful.” In No Offence, one of her most viewed campaigns (14 million+ views), Prajakta addresses hate speech and trolls as part of YouTube's Creators for Change Program. The song follows Shameless, which addresses body shaming and online bullying as part of her #iPledgeToBeMe initiative on World Mental Health Day.
Many people came to my meet-and-greet in 2018 to give me a hug and tell me how Shameless helped them get over their body image issues.
Sharing a few heart-warming anecdotes, she says, “Meet-and-greets are one of my favourite things to do, but due to the pandemic I've not been able to organize them for quite some time. The last one happened in 2018 and we had a turnout of over 8000 people. You know, many of them only came there to give me a hug and tell me how Shameless helped them get over their body image issues. During one such meet-and-greet in Delhi, a cute girl had approached meet me. She was wearing a skirt and she was like, 'Look Prajakta, my legs look so heavy!' I was like, 'And?' She was like 'I've always been insecure about wearing a skirt. Waxing or shaving gives me burns or rashes. But, it's so hot in Delhi that I love wearing skirts. After watching Shameless, I wore a skirt, got on the Delhi Metro and travelled all the way to meet you here. Not for once did I feel insecure about my body or body hair.' Moments like these are very empowering for me.” Well respected among her contemporaries, in the last few years, Prajakta has also worked with Bhuvan Bam, Mithila Palkar, Ashish Chanchlani, Be YouNick and other popular content creators on funny reels as well as social campaigns.
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Designer, Ariyana Couture;Choker & maangtika, Curio Cottage;Ring, Apala by Sumit
Act 7: Reel to Cinema
Another lehenga, another stumble, and another giggle later, Prajakta mutters, “I keep going into the ground! I'm really empathizing with runway models who trip but take it all in stride, not even breaking their facial expressions.” Sometime later, she's humming along to Badshah's Tareefan when I ask her about her Bollywood debut, Jug Jugg Jeeyo - how did that come about? There's a smile in her voice as she shares, “Panchami who had cast me for Mismatched on Netflix called me one day and said, 'Hey, I'm casting for a film starring Anil Kapoor, Kiara Advani, Neetu Singh and Varun Dhawan. Raj Mehta is directing it. It's a Dharma (Productions) movie. Raj had reached out to me saying he wants you to audition for it.' I was like, 'Oh, okay.' She sent me a scene that I recorded and sent. Then, I sent them another scene and before I knew it, they had selected me! Now that the shoot is over and we are waiting for it to release on June 24, I feel I couldn't have asked for a better first film.”
With more women narrating stories of women in cinema, the portrayal of both men, women and other genders has become more real. I'm glad that I get to be an actor at a time when things are changing for the better.
Act 8: Full-time actor? Bring it on!
As someone who has gone on record in one of her #SawaalSaturdays saying there are more days than she can count when she's not feeling confident, was she nervous on her first day on the sets of Jug Jugg Jeeyo? “Oh boy! I was like this ball of nerves, and the first shot I gave was with everybody, like the whole family! I was more nervous because (giggles) I didn't have lines in that scene! It's easier to perform when you have lines because you know exactly what your character is thinking. But everybody was warm and welcoming. And at the end of the day, I realized they are just normal people who love their jobs. Given how much I love singing and dancing, I am definitely down for becoming a full-time actor.” Between sips of black coffee, she continues, “With more women narrating stories of women in cinema, the portrayal of both men, women and other genders has become more real. We have some fabulous writers making female characters seem fresher, more relatable and believable. So, I'm glad I get to be an actor at a time when things are changing for the better.”
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Designer, Astha Narang;Necklace & rings, Kohar by Kanika;Bangles, Aquamarine Jewellery
Act 9: A Match Made in Netflix Heaven
We are on the last leg of the shoot when I approach her with the most optimistic face in my arsenal, pleading her to share one spoiler from Mismatched Season 2 (because the last season left us with a cliff-hanger!) Cue sound of crickets before she laughs out loud (read: destroys my hopes), saying, “Spoilers toh I can’t give you because I'll get into trouble! All I can say is there's a lot of drama happening. Not just with Dimple, Rishi and Harsh, but everybody on the show. It's a jampacked season full of high emotions!” For some reason, her words remind me of the Vampire Diaries love triangle and the fact that she's Team Stelena (she completed the entire series in exactly 5 days!).
We'll be shooting Space Hero in Florida and Philadelphia and I can't keep calm! Like going into space - how is that even happening?
The Final Act: How to Catch a Star
Prajakta is blowing kisses into the camera at the end of the shoot when I nudge her to fill us in on the excitement of being chosen to train as a Citizen Astronaut by Space Hero - the upcoming NASA-supported reality TV contest that plans to send a winner to the International Space Station. She's ecstatic as she shares, “We'll be shooting this in Florida and Philadelphia and I can't keep calm! Honestly, I'm as excited and a little bit clueless as you are because it's such a massive thing, right? Like going into space - how is that even happening? I am very confused but I am very, very excited. I shall fill you in once I'm back,” she assures me before teetering on her high heels again. A crow caws in the distance, a car door slams shut as the talents leave from the location, and right before Prajakta ambles into the changing room, we hear: “Where are my sneakers?!”