There’s no one better than our cover star this month to personify the idiom, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. In Prajakta Koli’s case, it was a dream internship at Fever 104 FM radio station in Mumbai, which set in motion her YouTube journey, culminating in her extremely popular channel, Mostly Sane. She landed on the idea after six months of being pursued by the now One Digital Entertainment Vice-President, Sudeep Lahiri. What started with a full stop on her radio jockeying career, ended up shaping the social media sensation we know today.
What worked for her chiefly, was the fact that her content was relatable. Be it the hilarious fights with a fictitious brother, arguments with parents most Indians are bound to find familiar, or sketches written around her alter ego, Sonya, Koli helped add comic relief to situations common in Indian homes. And soon enough, she was carving her way to the top, amassing an army of ‘Dumdums,’ a word she uses to connect with and refer to her fans. Within a few years, Koli was sipping on a strong lemonade, concocted from fame, recognition and widespread fandom.
From championing mental health through campaigns like #iPledgeToBeMe, to becoming the Indian ambassador for YouTube’s ‘Creators for Change’ initiative, meeting Michelle Obama and getting listed on Forbes’ ’30 under 30′ — she was doing it all.
And then came her Bollywood breakthrough. Mismatched arrived on Netflix in 2020, giving Koli a wider reach. It’s what would eventually put her on the map and help her land the role of Ginny in this year’s big release, Jug Jugg Jeeyo. For someone, who’s better known as Mostly Sane, it’s an exceptionally insane journey. Here’s looking back at it, along with what the future holds.
Edited excerpts from an interview.
You cracked social media at a time when it wasn’t as big. There’s a lot more scrutiny today. Has that impacted what you post?
Not really. I think, even though it took me some time, it was good that I started when I did. There weren’t as many filters. At the same time, we had space for trial and error. The audience is extremely honest online, so that kind of helped us navigate it. But I don’t think the scrutiny affected my process. It’s what I have learned, the new things I’ve tried, and the lessons I got that are a part of my process.
Do you think that the rise of Instagram and short-form content could have adverse effects on long-form videos that are more common, say, on YouTube?
I hope not. I really hope not. But that is the good thing about the Internet. Why does it have to be an either-or situation? Why does one have to choose to watch only one kind of content? There is an audience for everything. The same set of people can have different wants, depending on what time they are watching or what they are doing when they are watching it. If they have little time, they may want snackable content. If they’re chilling or spending time with friends and family, then they might prefer long form. So, it is very situational. YouTube is still the king of long-form content, and you cannot lose value there. In short-form, Instagram is killing it, but I like YouTube more. And I don’t think it is becoming redundant.
Your OTT debut was with Netflix’s Mismatched, and it was a hit. How did that affect your next move?
I wish I knew, but what Netflix, Mismatched, Akarsh [Khurana] and Nipun [Dharmadhikari] gave me was my first ever showcase. I was doing content before, I had characters I was playing, but I hadn’t ever written a character, or been on a mainstream show. I hadn’t been on OTT, or headlined for a platform like Netflix. So, that made a huge difference and it got me a lot of reach, impressions and an audience that helped me pick things that were coming up ahead.
Your career trajectory is different, in the sense that most people graduate to movies from television. But in your case, it was social media. Do you think the digital boom has helped foster more acceptance?
Right now is a great time to be a content creator or to be creating, not only on social media, but OTT and other such platforms. Because our audience loves it. It is phenomenal how a piece of content could be uploaded on any platform — be it a theatrical or OTT release, short film, YouTube short, or on Instagram — and if it works, the audience will consume it. It is nice to be a part of this. I don’t believe in putting any labels because even with whatever little experience I have of being on set, I have seen that every time, it is exactly the same. Nobody cares about where it is releasing or how it is releasing, it is just a bunch of people coming together and creating.
Cringe content and hate watching are social media trends, literally. What is your take on why this works?
It is just the consumers. Content comes secondary to the audience. They are the kings and queens, and at this point, whatever is being consumed is trendy. Having said that, the good part is that it is different for everyone. There is nothing that we can all unanimously call out as cringe. Things I don’t like might seem cringy to me, but you might like them. And vice versa. Who really makes these rules? The fact that we have such a mixed bag of audience across our country is enough for us to know that you are not going to like everything you watch online. But that does not mean nobody will. So, I think I am not in the position to say what makes cringe content work because I don’t know what cringe content is.
Radio Jockeying used to be your dream job and you’re doing something completely different now. Tell me more.
This was not according to the plan at all but now that I think of it, eventually, I would have come to writing and acting for sure.
If you could go back and revive one character, which one would that be?
I would revive Sonya and keep her there because I absolutely love writing and shooting as her.
Being on a film set can be a different experience. Were you apprehensive about anything when on sets?
It was different. When I used to shoot for my channel, it started with me doing everything in my room. I was so obsessed with the whole process. Eventually, the team grew and I got to let go of a few things I used to do. But on a film set, all you have to do is reach, get ready, rehearse and do your scenes. That’s all the involvement you have. I wasn’t apprehensive, but nervous.
Now that you’re a Bollywood actor, who would you like to work with next? Any directors and actors on your list?
I honestly think that I am open to whatever opportunities come my way. I am still very new, so doing a Dharma film with Karan [Johar] was a massive dream. I loved Good Newwz, so I loved working with Raj [Mehta], too. I have been blessed with the best directors and have worked with some fantastic people. I just want to work with as many people as I can. I would never want to make a list.
What was your parents’ reaction to the film? Did they have any career advice for you?
They loved it. They have always been my biggest support system. Everything that I have wanted to do or try, they have been supportive of it. Their advice has always been: go for it or, how else will you know how it feels? It is a very important source of strength for me.
When not working, what does Prajakta do?
I eat and take naps. That is all I do.
Okay, we cannot move forward without talking about Michelle Obama. We know that happened a long time ago. But what’s that one thing you still hold on to?
Just the fact that she is so normal! To an extent that she does not know she is Michelle Obama. I remember when she walked into the room, she was able to break each and every preconceived notion people had about her. She’s a breath of fresh air and I will always remember the feeling of not just meeting her but also, getting to see the kind of person that she is.
Between Movies and YouTube, how are you going to navigate work?
I am going to take life as it comes. And I will never choose between movies or YouTube because YT, writing and shooting videos is my first love; I can never stop doing that. I will have to see how me and my team work our way through it. They are brilliant with sorting my life out and optimising my time in a way such that I am productive but also get to rest, spend time with my family and unwind.
Your reels are amazing. Can you share any tips for making our reels look good too?
What are you saying? Your reels are amazing. We shot some really cool stuff and it was so quick and efficient. I really don’t think you need tips from me.