Meet the comedienne with the largest YouTube fan-base in India: The “MostlySane” Prajakta Koli
Prajakta Koli’s lifelong dream shattered early but, with hardwork and a sense of humour, she chased another to the cyberspace skies
A petite woman, dressed in a mustard yellow floral top, hops on to her ‘YouTube throne’, a wooden-frame chair with the video platform’s logo on it, perfectly set into a corner of One Digital Entertainment’s Mumbai office. She laughs and greets everyone, without airs about her new-found success and no hint of tiredness from her busy month-long work-travel schedule. In 2017, she was invited to meet the former US President Barack Obama at an event organised by the Obama Foundation in New Delhi and received the ‘Viral Queen of the Year’ award in 2018 at the IWM Digital Awards. Last year, she became an Indian ambassador for Youtube’s ‘Creators for Change’ initiative — one among 50 YouTubers selected from across the world. In March 2018, she was chosen as the face of H&M’s online store.
At 25, the chirpy girl-next-door from Mumbai, Prajakta Koli, is living a ‘fairy tale’. “I have never been happier. I am yet to soak in all that’s happening around me,” says the comic and YouTuber who has over 3.3 million subscribers, making her channel MostlySane, the biggest Indian female-run comedy channel. Trailing in her wake are all-women comedy groups such as Girliyapa with 3.1 million subscribers and individual channels such as Niharika Nm with 320,000 subscribers, Aditi Mittal with 260,000 subscribers and Rickshawali with 1.8 million subscribers as of February-end. A few years ago, all this was beyond her wildest imagination — her first show as a radio jockey, a dream she had harboured all her life, had failed miserably in 2014-15.
As a child, Koli loved visiting her grandparents in Mulund. They had a clunky, old-fashioned transistor on which they heard FM channels all day long. While her parents and grandparents waited for the songs, Koli couldn’t wait for it to end. “I used to love listening to radio jockeys, they spoke so effortlessly, connecting with so many at once, sitting somewhere in a cool office,” she says with a smile.
Although an average student at school, she never missed an opportunity to participate in debates and elocutions. Her teachers at Vasant Vihar High School in Thane picked her to read news and lead the pledge at morning assemblies. Eventually, she was made a school prefect.
By the age of 11, she had chalked out her entire career plan, to become a radio jockey. She went on to pursue Bachelor of Mass Media from V G Vaze College of Arts, Science and Commerce in Mulund, where she got involved in theatre and anchoring.
A week after her third-year final exams, she joined Fever 104 as an intern. She always believed in having a plan and sticking to it, but little did she know that life had other ideas. Her rose-tinted vision about radio stations soon was shattered as she found herself working 14-hour shifts, helping around the production team. The biggest shock for her was finding out that most shows were in fact pre-recorded and radio jockeys weren’t going live. The place suddenly felt oppressive and excessive workload caused her to shed 11 kg. “Waking up every morning and going to work felt like a struggle. But I was too arrogant to have a plan B,” she says.
After a year-long internship, she got her first show, Call Centre, a 12 am to 2 am show, in which she was expected to speak in a breathy voice. “Even before the ratings came in, I knew it wasn’t working,” she recounts. The show flopped, Koli decided to quit and her self-confidence took a beating.
During her internship, she met many celebrities including Hrithik Roshan, Jackie Shroff and Ayushmann Khurrana. The meeting with Roshan turned out to be a turning point in her life. She was spotted by Sudeep Lahiri who accompanied the actor and later joined One Digital as vice-president content and strategies. Impressed by her bubbling energy, he asked Koli to give YouTube a shot. To discuss this he invited her to his office — which Koli initially thought was a job interview. She was undecided but Lahiri persisted for six months, and she finally gave in.
Whole new world
Koli didn’t know much about fashion or make-up — subjects most female YouTubers handled back in 2015 — and Lahiri suggested that she would be a better fit for comedy. “Now I had to inform my parents about this entirely new career path and I was scared,” she says. But, her parents told her not worry about anything and chase her dreams, even if it took two years to yield results. Her mother is a phonetics and language teacher while her father is a real-estate businessman turned restaurateur. “More than anything else, I have really lucked out in the people department of my life,” says Koli.
Her channel went live in February 2015 with new videos coming out every Thursday. While finding the right content was challenging initially, she made it a point to never miss a deadline, even if the content was bad. “Over time, I have learnt that the worst thing to do when facing writer’s block is to take a break from writing.” In June 2015, she had posted a video on hilarious words Delhi people use. It went viral getting her 30,000 new subscribers by August from just 2,000 in June.
YouTube too hasn’t been a cakewalk for Koli. Her initial videos were subject to a lot of hate comments, often being criticised for her accent or being called a ‘wannabe superwoman’, referring to the popular Indian-Canadian YouTuber Lilly Singh. Not just her videos, she faced flak for her body too. “Once someone commented on a picture writing: You have a tummy miss and we can see it. I replied, ‘Good, mehnat ki kamai hai’ (Good, I have earned it through hard work).” On World Mental Health Day in 2016, she started the #IPledgeToBeMe campaign and wrote a rap song, Shameless, for the video. It featured other popular celebrities such as Mithila Palkar, RJ Malishka, Gaurav Gera, Raftaar, Raghav Juyal and Sahil Khattar.
Recently, she featured in WhatsApp India’s first ever commercial on fighting fake news. She went on to collaborate with various channels and personalities such as Girliyapa, FilterCopy, Bhuvan Bam, Ashish Chanchlani, Kajol and Khurrana. The video with Khurrana is her favourite till date. “He himself got involved in the script, suggested ideas and helped in improvising it further,” she says.
Radio now feels like a different world. On YouTube, the viewers’ verdicts start coming in the moment she posts a video, unlike radio which takes almost a week. “It was sad to quit radio but, once in a while, I look into the mirror and say, ‘Prajakta, you are too visually appealing to be on radio’,” she says with a laugh. She is grateful for her experience in radio since it taught her a lot of skills such as voice modulation, sound engineering, scripting and even photo editing, which now come in handy.
In 2018, as an Indian representative for YouTube ‘Creators for Change’, Koli found herself sitting in a huge hall in the UN watching her video, No Offence being played on an equally big screen. The echo of the words ‘no offence’ sent chills down her spine. The video song, written and enacted by Koli, dealt with subjects such as hate, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism — in tune with the theme of the event.
Not many know that Koli idolises comedian Ellen DeGeneres. “I went to her show last year while I was vacationing in LA. I touched her stage and bought Ellen underwear which I wore on my birthday,” she laughs. In fact, Ellen’s videos are what help Koli tide over the bad days. “Trust me, there are days when I am sitting in the office idle and having thoughts of shutting down the channel. But then suddenly an amazing idea strikes and that thought takes a backseat.” Koli’s story is that of luck, hard work, and determination. She abides by her parents’ teaching: “You can be below average and definitely above average, but never ever settle for being average.”