Sai Sethu, hailing from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, pursued journalism as a career and completed his Mechanical Engineering at Vellore Institute of Technology in Tamil Nadu. He believes that you can convey a story in 99 seconds.
People will say, “it’s just a 99-second video; I can watch it” he played around with this idea and started exploring various states, cities, and a union territory. The journalist started making 99-second videos for the project name ‘On the ground with Sai’
ICY Tales is in conversation with Sai Sethu.
Q) You left your career as an engineer and fell in love with journalism. What made you do that?
Sai Sethu – During my college, I was introduced to many disciplines, like cultures, which introduced me to my creative side, and I wanted to branch out in the same field. After completing my four years of engineering, I chose journalism.
Knowledge of people and their mindsets has always been a passion of mine. People always captivate me, and their psychology fascinates me and their social milieu. I thought journalism would be something that would be around the school of thought.
I completed my journalism studies at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai. There, I took a one-year course in radio and television broadcasting journalism. Then I landed a job as an assistant producer on national television’s INDIA TODAY.
I was in charge of current events and politics. I quit my job cause I found the news stories killed my passion; it was mostly all about the entertainment and politicians. I quit my job and started “On the ground with Sai.” where I can capture all the exciting and incredible stories about people and their customs.
Q) When did you first decide that you wanted to create content and how did you start?
Sai Sethu – I began ‘On the ground’ because I wanted to produce something that would have a lasting influence; I wanted to showcase people, communities, towns and ideas that could transform the way we live. And it’s the way we see the world that inspires me.
My inspiration can be an ordinary man you may meet on the street or at your store or someone you might encounter. As a result, our country and its people and our culture serve as inspiration.
Q) What inspired you toward storytelling?
Sai Sethu – Well, I am not sure it’s the storytelling that inspired me or the stories; in my opinion, it’s the latter more than the former. I am more inclined toward the incredible stories of people. These people, these villages, the cultures, these traditions, and customs are fascinating to me. Storytelling is just a platform or a method of conveying what I like and what is find profound to the world. I like stories a lot; that is the route of it.
Q) As we know, you are a one-person army. What were the challenges you faced when you started ‘On the ground with Sai’?
Sai Sethu – The challenges are plenty. The initial challenges are – finding unique stories. We don’t come across unique stories in the regular mainstream day, and it’s hard for these people; that’s number one. Finding stories themselves is hard because they are unique.
The next challenge was human life, and resources were limited. One has to come across various ways to handle physical and mental exhaustion; there is so much mental and physical exhaustion when travelling, researching, filming, and editing the reels.
The third challenge is uncertainty when you know that you will be hitting the following when you will build the community you want when you have the desired reached. The uncertainty will always be there no matter how good you are doing with your work or how successful you are.
Lastly, internet or finding good connectivity is also a challenge. When I travel, there are some rural places where the net connection isn’t good; uploading videos take a lot of time. India is a developing country in terms of its digital landscape, it’s not 100% digitalised, and not many areas have swift, fast pace internet.
Now finding stories has become much better, as I have travelled to 12 states and created a strong network of like-minded people and journalists. There is an unsaid thing in media that “when someone reaches out for a story, you give it to them, even though you know the person or not.”
Q) Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
Sai Sethu – My memories are attached to the stories; I am going there, filming the stories, witnessing the regional language. A lot of memories are attached to the people I meet.
One memory I would like to tell about a doctor in Karnataka who cures millions of people for free. There are memories of Meghalaya across many villages, and one is the whistling village in Meghalaya, where everybody’s name is a village, and they can address each other through whistles. The other memory from Madhya Pradesh a village is a sket boarding village, where sket boarding is a culture. There are times when my friends have also visited some states with me, and there is also a memory attached to them.
Q) Sometimes, the stories people tell can get a little overwhelming. How do you cope with the same?
Sai Sethu – The only thing you can do is separate yourself from the situation. Listen to the story to compose it. Don’t let yourself be soaked in a way that will overwhelm you. Learn to see yourself as a storyteller rather than as a person. The job is not you entirely. You have to separate yourself from the job. In a situation where your emotional intelligence is tested, it will be easy for you to get consumed. I separate myself very quickly. I listen to the stories for just 2 hours, and some have a lasting impact for a few more hours.
Q) How do you keep the audience engaged throughout a story?
Sai Sethu – I focus on giving a flow to the story, and the story should flow like a river. I don’t adhere to a specific format to keep my audience engaged. I called it ‘The Four I’s.’ The short stories are grouped into these four capsules. To the highest degree of my ability, I try to make the stories informative, inspiring, impactful, and entertaining.
Q) Who is your favourite creator, and why?
Sai Sethu – My favourite creator, the inspiration behind this is this guy called Nosair Kahane from Israel, popularly known as mass media and the biggest creator in the world. The thing I’m doing in India is what he’s done across the whole world.
I saw the unprecedented unparalleled positive impact he’s had on the entire world through his storytelling, and so he is the inspiration behind what I do. That’s how I started on the ground as well.
Sai Sethu has shown the paradise of India through his inspirational storytelling videos. The journey of ‘On the ground’ taught him and the audience the importance of being curious and learning. How people perceive the world has been changing. With Sai Sethu, people are more aware now.
Watch the conversation on the IcyTales Youtube channel with Sai Sethu, the inspiring journey of a storyteller.