Storytelling for Gen Z: How Yuvaa is centering conversations, content on identity and mental health

Anu Prabhakar

Feb 06, 2019 09:55:42 IST

In a video clip that was shared online this week, a 23-year-old college student recalls the time he hitch-hiked a ride from near his campus. He was in the middle of a rather mundane conversation with the driver of a van, when the ride took a horrific turn. “He asked me, ‘How big is your penis?’ I was shocked. His hand was on my thigh,” remembers the student, identified as Chinmaya in the video. By the time he was dropped off, Chinmaya recalled, he felt dirty, and ashamed. “I have many female friends and in the past, I’ve told them many times that if you are in a tricky situation, you should say no,” he says, with regret.

The nearly five-minute long video was shot and released early this week by Yuvaa, a one-month-old Mumbai-based story telling platform as a part of its maiden project — a pan-India roadshow which was flagged off this week. The project will take the team to more than 75 colleges in 30 cities, to actively engage with more than three lakh students through a series of storytelling workshops and inter-college open mics.

Co-founders Amritpal Bindra, Anand Tiwari and Nikhil Taneja (also the CEO) explain that they hope to gain a first-hand understanding of how young India thinks, by encouraging them to share their stories and challenge existing narratives. Secondly, the trio (with their strong background in digital storytelling) will create content like documentaries, docudramas, web series and movies around this and other future projects – for instance, the ongoing roadshow will culminate in a documentary titled I am 18, which is partly funded by Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator Award (awarded by the Gates Foundation, among others, to organisations promoting the UN Global Goals) and other business partners.

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“The idea is to empower kids by getting them to speak up about identity and mental health-related issues, because they are always encouraged not to. We are trying to build a community that will give them a sense of togetherness, so that they know that they are not alone in this,” says Taneja, who has been vocal about his struggles with anxiety in the past.

A storytelling platform for Gen Z

Since mid 2018, the team – predominantly millennials – has been spending their time studying the generation that was born after 1995, also nicknamed Gen Z. For some concrete data to get their project off the ground, they collaborated with a youth and marketing firm, which surveyed around 3000 college students across 25 colleges in tier-two cities, says Taneja. The survey, where students were asked to rate their biggest worries, struggles, aspirations and dreams, threw up some unexpected results. “Surprisingly, kids are quite family-centric and love spending time with their families, while I don’t recall wanting to do so at 17 and 18,” says Tiwari, with a laugh.

Data about their topmost concerns, however, are far more revelatory – after their careers, which is their number one concern, Gen Z is most troubled by issues like mental health, body image and self expression. Ironic, points out Taneja, considering the sheer number of online platforms available today. “The problem,” he says, “is that we still think, ‘Log kya kahenge? Kids are aware about the hundreds of options that are available to them – in terms of career, education, whom to marry or love – but they often don’t have the liberty to exercise their choice due to parents who were born in conservative India.”

Bindra adds, “This generation is extremely different from ours and have inherited the issue of information overload. So we aim to cover a broad spectrum of topics, like mental health, gender equality, self care and identity through our projects.” The idea, says Tiwari, is also to strike a fine balance between the platform’s robust offline and online activities.

A safe space to share stories

So far, the team has visited college campuses in Pune and Ahmedabad, and interacted with nearly 1000 students in all. Taneja usually opens the workshop by sharing his life story and battle with anxiety, with the student audience. “I then encourage them to open up,” he says.

The students’ stories alternate between heartbreaking and heartwarming. In Pune, students like Chinmaya volunteered to share their stories. “Three students, including two boys, shared stories of sexual harassment. Another student, without divulging too many details, spoke about how she lost her way as a young adult and her parents’ love helped her to face life’s challenges. Yet another student spoke about how important it is to love yourself first, in order to love others,” says Taneja, whose next stop is Indore.

But the most powerful moment came during his interaction with a class of engineering students at a college in Ahmedabad. “I had just finished my two-hour session with the class, when one of the boys started crying,” he recalls. “He explained that when he was seven years old, he was molested by someone known to him. Ever since then, he has been a bully, even to his best friend, as a defense mechanism and that he was desperate to change by confiding in his parents. And just like that, he got up, picked up his jacket, and said that he was going to tell his parents right away. Much later in the day, at around 11:30 pm, I received a long text message from him about how he spoke to his parents and how supportive they were,” he says with a smile.

Updated Date: Feb 07, 2019 15:58:53 IST