Meet my four-year-old daughter Disha’s dear friend Sweta, the creator of Kitaab Ka Khel. Inspired by a show she watched while growing up called Reading Rainbow, Sweta is bringing books to every child’s house in the form of peppy, colourful, video readings. But its not just a video of books being read! Kitaab Ka Khel is much more that that, as you will find out by reading along.
Sweta is a social entrepreneur living in Bangalore for the past four years. Qyuki, a startup online video broadcasting network, which is also an artists’ collective, got in touch with her last year for any ideas she may have had for the social space. Sweta had the idea of Kitaab Ka Khel for a few years, but it had not materialized into anything concrete. When she pitched Qyuki this idea, they liked it and the ball was set rolling.
As a child, Sweta really enjoyed watching and listening to the stories on Reading Rainbow. An American children’s TV series, it was started in 1983 to encourage children to read. What she really liked about the show was the creative ways in which the books came alive. She described to me a story she never can forget, titled “Gregory the Terrible Eater”. It is the story of a billy goat who is a very picky eater. He wants to eat food that people ate and not goat food, which in this story was trash. So his parents take him to the billy goat doctor, who suggests that he can mix “people-food” with the “goat -food”, resulting in his parents offer making him meatballs with shoe laces, which he enjoys eating! After the story in the episode pans to a zoo, where children are showed what billy goats really eat- grass and grains.
In Kitaab Ka Khel, Sweta finds it very important to bring out the real life connection to the books she reads. She hopes that just as Reading Rainbow made her love books, she can spread that love to more children though her show. She recollects that after watching every episode, she would dash to the library to find the book and read it. Sometimes over and over again. She says that the books sparked her imagination and became part of who she was. Through Kitaab Ka Khel, she cherishes the hope that children will first, just learn to love stories and books and maybe then, want to touch the books, read the story themselves.
The books featured in Kitaab Ka Khel are by Indian authors and Indian illustrators. Sweta feels it is important to encourage our local talent and wants to use the amazing stories, drawing and art forms in India. She has a collection of books from Indian publishing houses like Pratham Books and Tulika. Right now the books she has read in Kitaab Ka Khel are in English and Hindi. Going forward, she would love to have guest story tellers on her show, reading books for the multitude of Indian languages that are there. She hopes that children will enjoy the diversity and feel curious to know more about stories in their own languages, communities and culture.
So what does it take to make an episode? What goes behind the scenes? As with any creative production, a lot of hard work for sure. But when you enjoy doing what you do, it is so much more meaningful too. Sweta’s excitement and enthusiasm is quite infectious as she describes the making of Kitaab Ka Khel. Sweta takes the lead in curating content, which means selecting the books, figuring out the real-life connection, writing dialogue, and sometimes shooting the real life scenes as well.
At the studio in Mumbai, she works with Qyuki’s creative team to do the voice- overs. The team helps give her direction and they do the reading until she gets the right expressions and tone. With the camera team she does the anchoring – front of the camera shots, on location camera shots. Qyuki’s content and editing team puts the sound and pictures together so what you see is a seamless story. Sweta tells me that it is a new territory for both her and the Qyuki team. There is something to take away from each episode and there is always room for improvement. She is working on making her anchoring better, while reading the story, ensuring the right pace to match the visuals. Sweta stresses on the importance of having the words on the screen and the book’s actual illustrations portrayed. While conceptualizing the show, she was quite clear that she did not want the books to be animated in any manner. For her maintaining the book’s originality is paramount to encouraging youngsters to read.
Sweta says that Kitaab Ka Khel is in some ways, a social venture that is made available to all children through YouTube. When I asked her about her thoughts on YouTube generating its revenue by showing advertisements, she said that it is double edged. YouTube is accessible to anyone with an internet connection, and a very popular online streaming site, so having Kitaab Ka Khel on YouTube means open access. On the other hand, when everything is moving into the digital world, ads have caught up too. It would be ideal not to have ads, but given the pros of reaching audiences through YouTube, Sweta thinks it is the best set up one can have right now.
As of now you can watch “The coolest way to get a haircut“, “Fun ways to count” and “Karimuga – The Pleasant Little Rakshasa!” on Kitaab Ka Khel. There are more stories lined up and Sweta has promised to have one ready for every month. In fact, Disha, her friends, and I got to be on a couple of them. All the kids from the neighborhood featured in the Karimuga episode. The story is about a rakshasa who shared his beautiful features with all his friends to make them all happy, and in turn ended up being happy and unique himself. The children took turns answering what made them unique and beautiful for the camera. It was so much fun! They wanted to do more than answer questions on camera – they sang songs and danced. For another story, we made banana halwa from bananas and jaggery, which I am eagerly waiting to see.
We have enjoyed watching and being a part of Kitaab Ka Khel. Do send your thoughts to Sweta at firstname.lastname@example.org.