A 'Lego' temple in Maharashtra that can be dismantled, moved and re-assembled. A one-house village near Leh. The last of the singing Halakkis tribe in Karnataka. These are some of the stories being told on the storytelling platform Untold.in.
Launched in June, this self-funded collective is run by a group of 10 writers, photographers, filmmakers and designers. Their aim, they say, is to make storytelling a multimedia experience, featuring text, visuals, video and audio.
"A lot of the content online today is about curation, where you spot cool stuff and repost it. That is clogging the web," says Yashas Mitta, 26, a writer, designer and a co-founder of Untold. "There's a need for a new storytelling narrative."
Untold, therefore, aims to tell genuinely unknown tales from across the country. All the content is original, with the 10 co-founders drawing on tales they have heard or exotic places, rituals or communities they have crossed paths with in their extensive travels across India.
The 700-year-old 'Lego' temple, for instance, was discovered by writer Naveed Mulki and Kali Sayak Mukherjee, one of their collaborators, in Mulher, Nashik district, during a trip to the village for another story.
Pankaj Singh was in Ladakh shooting pictures of Parachute, a café made from discarded tents, when he overheard two locals speak of Yurutse, the village of one house. And the story about the four surviving singing Halakkis of northern Karnataka came to them through a friend who lives in Gokarna.
The co-founders come from advertising, travel writing, technology and finance backgrounds and met through travel meetups and Instagram. They all quit their jobs in January to focus on the e-platform. "This venture is entirely self-funded. We have pooled our money and every story gets a budget, based on the distance and logistics involved," says Mitta. "We are open to partnering with brands for stories later on, once we have established our brand, but are adamant that we won't feature ads."
All decisions are made jointly. All stories need to satisfy certain filters - they have to be tales that either haven't been told before or are being told from a fresh perspective; the narrative must be positive, the presentation multi-format.
Sometimes their stories come from a need to experience something different. Untold's first short film, In Search of a Storm, is about a 22-day fat biking trip to Chitkul in Himachal Pradesh in February. "We wanted to test if it was possible to travel and experience the Himalayas in the winter, so that others could do the same," says Rishabh Malhotra, 28, writer, photographer and avid cyclist. He was accompanied on the trip by two cyclists and ad filmmaker Shaktiraj Jadeja.
On their trip, they came across semi-frozen rivers, breathtaking views and abandoned villages whose residents had moved to lower ground. "The focus is not activism or news. We want every feature to take storytelling to a different level. Each story has to look unique and reading it must be an experience," says photographer and co-founder Madhumita Nandi, 27.
The website already has a fan following - at last count, it had 55,000 hits. "Their work isn't mainstream. They are trying in some way to retain some of our country's history and stories that are getting lost," says software trainer Bhavna Kalra, 35, who lives in Australia, blogs about Mumbai and regularly follows the Untold posts via Instagram.
The stories are interesting, but could benefit from some editorial intervention, says writer and journalist Dilip D'Souza. "Someone needs to take a call on which stories are worth telling and then streamlining how they are told. But it is a commendable effort in a country of so many stories that remain untold."
For readers like Delhi classical music student and hobby photographer Revathi Kulkarni, 21, the platform comes as a breath of fresh air. "Most of what I see online is just blogs or curated material. Untold's collection is very different, combining history, travel and the unknown," she says.