Work-life balance: A myth in life of an actor? Prajakta Koli, Adarsh Gourav, Taaruk Raina open up about pressures of hustle culture; burnout in 20s

In a conversation with Khaleej Times, the cast talks about their coming-of-age audio series Desi Down Under, the need to experiment with new digital formats and creating content that live up to Gen-Z expectations

(from left to right) Taaruk Raina, Prajakta Koli, Adarsh Gourav on a poster for their recent audio series 'Desi Down Under' streaming on Audible
(from left to right) Taaruk Raina, Prajakta Koli, Adarsh Gourav on a poster for their recent audio series 'Desi Down Under' streaming on Audible

Somya Mehta

Published: Tue 16 May 2023, 12:49 PM

Last updated: Tue 16 May 2023, 12:52 PM

A new audio series, now live on Audible, frames the coming-of-age story of three, hopeful 20-somethings chasing their dreams. So, when we caught up with the young and talented cast of the series, which includes fan-favourite YouTube star Prajakta Koli and actors Adarsh Gourav and Taaruk Raina, we instantly felt the show’s energy come to life.

Written by Indian-Aussie screenwriter Mithila Gupta and directed by Mantra Mugdh, one of India’s leading audio fiction producer, Desi Down Under revolves around Deven (Adarsh), Meenu (Prajakta), and Rahul (Taaruk), who jetset all the way to Coogee Beach in Australia, to complete their Bronze Medallion qualification for surf lifesaving.

“The show is about these three youngsters, who go to Australia for a shared purpose and discover themselves through the process. Coming out of a serious project, I was looking for something relaxed and fun, and this was exactly it," says Adarsh, who's latest work includes a dystopian sci-fi, Extrapolations, alongside Meryl Streep and Kit Harington.

Adarsh Gourav during a reading for the audio series.  Photo: Audible
Adarsh Gourav during a reading for the audio series. Photo: Audible

The 20-something conundrum

The young actors have already created waves on digital platforms, whether it’s Adarsh's unforgettable performance as Balram Halwai in The White Tiger, Prajakta’s endearing portrayal of a girl-next-door, Dimple, in Netflix’s Mismatched or Taaruk’s soulful chartbuster Kho Gaye, which conquered the world of Insta reels. “I’m not 20-something anymore,” Prajakta jumps in. “I will be turning 30 next month,” she adds, with a sigh of relief. Contrary to the popular notion of ‘30s’, Prajakta says she’s 'thrilled' to be turning over a new leaf. “I'm really looking forward to the 30s because I was quite a mess in my 20s.”

Photo: Audible
Photo: Audible

“This past decade has involved a lot of falling down, getting back up and then falling again. Trying new things, making mistakes, but no, definitely not the dark side for me. I'm okay with the fact that I’m turning 30,” says Prajakta, popularly known by her social media handle @mostlysane. “I don't know what ‘mess’ she's referring to. She's the most hardworking person I’ve seen in my life. The commitment to her work is on another level,” says Raina, who’s worked with Prajakta in two seasons of Mismatched. “It's almost inhuman how she does everything because there are only so many hours in the day," he adds.

Hustle culture and burnout

This idea of getting an insurmountable number of tasks done within one day, and the hunger to always do more, is commonly associated with the ideology of hustle culture, increasingly witnessed amongst the youth. More than economic motivations, the key desire people feel is to consistently be a ‘go-getter’ and outperform themselves. The flip-side to this ideology? It can put youngsters at the risk of early burnout if they’re unable to keep up with the mental pressures demanded by the ‘go-getter’ mentality.

Prajakta Koli.  Photo: Audible
Prajakta Koli. Photo: Audible

To this, Prajakta adds, “When I talk about the mistakes I've made in my 20s, a lot of it was to do with burnouts and creative blocks. I was 21 when I started my journey in content creation and I was so clueless about everything. The fact that I've done this for over eight years now has gotten me to a rhythm where I can handle these things better, which has obviously taken a lot of trial and error. I’m now in a place where I get to do the hustle but I also see the signs of burnout much earlier and can deal with it more effectively than when I was younger.” According to The White Tiger actor, “It’s very natural and common for people to feel like that, especially in such a creative field. There's so much information you’re consuming constantly.”

"For me, what really works is that whenever I feel like I'm treading those lines, I start consciously paying attention to my body. Whether it's doing some physical activity or anything that's related to just being in my body, it gives me the ability to kickstart and launch myself again," says Adarsh.

Work:life balance: A myth in the life of an actor?

“I think it's very subjective," says Prajakta. "Work:life balance is not a blanket concept, it differs from person to person. I get to live this life where I am a creator, a writer and an actor. What I've learned over the past few years is that because you're so passionate about all these aspects, it can start to completely take over who you are as a person. There's a very fine line between these two aspects, but there is a line and you need to draw it for yourself,” she adds.

Adarsh Gourav. Photo: Supplied
Adarsh Gourav. Photo: Supplied

To this, Adarsh adds, “It's interesting because till even two years ago, my opinion about acting was just like main kurbaan kardunga apne aap ko (I’ll sacrifice myself for my craft). But over the last one or two years, I've started to value my family, my partner and the little things in life so much more. And a lot of that has to do with growing older. It's a beautiful realisation when it happens because the contentment you get from your work also becomes so much more rewarding,” says the actor.

Gen-Z and new-age formats

The three artistes have also been experimenting with new digital platforms, which seem to be more on the pulse of how today’s youth consumes content. However, when asked if they've figured what Gen-Z wants, the actors replied with a unanimous ‘no’. “Nobody has figured out what type of content the younger generations want to consume,” says Taaruk. “But that's also the beauty of it. We constantly get to experiment with platforms and new ways of telling stories,” he continues.

“There is no way you can map it," says Prajakta, who also creates a lot of social media content across YouTube and Instagram, which allows creators to leverage data-led insights. ‘At the end of the day, it's all a gamble. You do it with all your heart and then you leave it out to the world to react to it.”

“I don't think anybody has a definitive idea of what works because if you really look around, the way movies and series are performing, there are names that we think are a sure-shot ticket to success but they tank. And then there are names you've never heard of before, and they skyrocket," adds Prajakta.

"It's easier to just make content for yourselves. As an actor, what I'm chasing is what makes me happy and what inspires me. I need to love it first, in order for others to appreciate it," says Adarsh.

Acting for sound

Desi Down Under is an immersive 9-episode Audible Original series with 3D sound, set on the shores of Sydney. The process of acting for audio-only “is completely different from acting for the visual mediums," says Prajakta. “It’s not even the same as dubbing because it's a lot to do with what you see while you're recording the sound and how well you can see it, so your listener can see it too. All of us just lucked out when it comes to Mantra and Mithila because it's written so beautifully with such great detail, that it makes our job easier."

“It’s also different because you don't have the armour of getting into costume and the entire facade around you," says Taaruk. “You end up drawing a lot from the Foley and the ambience that is created. For instance, if we're on the beach, you put on your headphones and start listening to the seagulls and the waves crashing on the shore, and people shouting or playing cricket. It's so immersive that it immediately affects your voice and your breath," explains Adarsh, who's returned to the audio series format after The Sandman in 2020.

Photo: Audible
Photo: Audible

Audio format — the next big thing?

“The good thing about being in the content business right now is that nothing is competing against each other. The digital economy is expanding so rapidly with consumers and creators that we've now reached a point where everything has an audience,” says Prajakta, who’s venturing into acting for the first time with this project. “There's a huge pool of content and the audience gets to decide what they want to consume and how they want to consume it,” says Taaruk. To this, Prajakta adds, “I don't think the audio and visual platforms are competing against each other. It's a great time to be a creative because it's all about the content.”

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