[HS Conversations] How content creator Prajakta Koli is going global by speaking up on social issues

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The 2020 Creators For Change YouTube Original Documentary featuring Michelle Obama, in conversation with Prajakta Koli, Liza Koshy and Thembe Mahlaba, has been nominated under the category of Outstanding Daytime Non-Fiction Special for the 48th annual Daytime Emmy Awards.
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YouTuber, content creator, actor and changemaker – Prajakta Koli is a woman of many epithets. With over 6.22 million subscribers on YouTube, and 3.8 million on Instagram, she of Mostly Sane fame is now all set for global recognition.

The 2020 Creators for Change YouTube Original Documentary which focusses on Michelle Obama, in conversation with Prajakta, Liza Koshy and Theme Mahlaba has been nominated under the category of Outstanding Daytime Non-Fiction Special for the 48th annual Daytime Emmy Awards to be aired on streaming services on June 25.

The series tracked the experiences of adolescent girls in Vietnam, India, and Namibia overcoming adversities to pursue their education. Prior to her meeting with Michelle Obama, Prajakta had travelled to Lucknow and interacted with the students of Prerna Foundation to get a better perspective on the challenges of education in smaller districts and towns of India.

Impactful initiative

“It’s been crazy, I have not processed it at all,” says the content creator in a conversation with HerStory a couple of weeks prior to the event. “It is a beautiful amalgamation of stories, lessons and visions that we as creators have for girls’ education, and I’m proud to be part of something so impactful.”

The meeting with Michelle Obama has surely left a lasting impression on Prajakta.

“I felt so nervous before the shoot in February 2020. But it’s Michelle Obama, and how do you ever prepare to meet someone like her. She walked in and hugged us and immediately, there was no more nervous energy in the room anymore. It was just a bunch of girls sitting down to talk about the things they were passionate about.”

Aside from this honour, Prajakta’s maiden short film Khayali Pulao was screened at the New York Indian Film Festival in June. It revolves around a 17-year-old small town girl’s attempt to get into the local handball team, her struggles, and her triumphs.

She says of the experience,” It’s a simple story of a girl from Haryana whose idea of freedom is sometimes so simple, that we almost never see it. I was sceptical about how I would play a Haryanvi girl, but the director Tarun Dudeja had a lot of faith in me and the story. I love Asha, the character that’s so broken down, with no layers. It shows us how life is different for different people.”

Be the change

Prajakta believes that a creator’s role is not just to create content. The young YouTuber has been vocal about several topics right from mental health, body shaming, homophobia to trolling. How important is it to be the change?

“In 2015, on World Health Day, I spoke about mental health on my channel for the first time. I gave an email id, where people could write in, or vent whatever they wanted, and we received thousands of emails following which I started paying more attention to my comments, statistics and demographics on YouTube which pointed me to the age and gender of people who were following me,” she says.

Prajakta and her team came up with a movement against body shaming and moved on to other issues like hate speech, internet trolling, transphobia, homophobia, and others.

Over the years, she has been an active campaigner for social issues and tackled subjects such as body image and online bullying with Shameless. As a global ambassador for YouTube’s Creators for Change, she spoke extensively on trolling, female subjugation, and homophobia through No Offence, which was showcased on International Tolerance Day at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

In 2018, Prajakta was seen in WhatsApp’s first ever TVC which addressed the importance of not spreading fake news. Later, in the same year, she partnered with YouTube for Social Impact Girl’s Education campaign, with Instagram on their Safer Internet Week campaign and One.org for their Girl Education campaign.

In 2019, she was invited by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for their annual Goalkeepers Summit. She was also part of Unite, a 24-hour live streamathon organised by Call to Unite and Room To Read to promote education amongst children during this pandemic, which included global personalities like George Bush, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Garner and many more.

“I feel very proud to say it’s just not me, but there are so many wonderful creators online who fearlessly talk about things that were considered taboo for a long time. This I believe is the yin and the yang of the internet – you have the trolling on one hand, and these conversations with my followers that are my ray of sunshine,” she adds.

Playing it by the ear

However, there is no process she follows for content, she just likes to “play it by the ear because life as a creator changes every day and there’s no way I can even plan three months into the future because you don’t know what’s going to happen”.

Prajakta has also come into her own as an actor with both Khayali Pulao and Mismatch, a series on Netflix. But she says she has always enjoyed acting – doing theatre in college and travelling all over the word.

“When I did Mismatched in 2019 – when I was on set and tasted blood, I remembered how much I loved performing” she says.

But she is sure she will never completely transition to only being an actor, “because I am very aware of the fact that everything I have today stems very strongly from our audience online. And I'm very grateful for that.”

For a girl who planned everything she wanted to do as a child and one who knew exactly what she was going to do, Prajakta has stopped chalking out everything to a T.

“Ever since I became a creator on YouTube, I told myself - let me not be that person. It has worked wonderfully because when I started six years ago, I never thought I'd be here talking to you about an Emmy nomination or Michelle Obama. I don't want to make any hard and fast plans. I'm just going to take each day as it comes.”

Edited by Anju Narayanan

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