Late last month, in a narrow bylane in Pune, product designer Siddhartha Joshi met a 15-year-old behrupiya or traditional impressionist named Rajesh. A Class 8 dropout, he was one of the last few in his community still practising his craft, impersonating policemen, politicians and even close relatives at social events, creating chaos as a form of entertainment. If people fall for their tricks, the behrupiya is paid; if they don't, he must leave empty-handed.
Joshi shared Rajesh's photograph and life story on his Instagram account, and got more than 500 Likes and comments in one day. This image is part of Joshi's photo-stories initiative titled Tell Me Your Dream 2015. It is a 365-day project, launched on January 1, that has him asking tailors, vendors, mechanics and others from across the country to share their dreams on the social networking site. "Rajesh's dream is to work in a hotel and not do what he is currently doing," says Joshi, 34, who travels frequently and takes his pictures on his travels.
Over the past six months, a growing number of young artists, poets, writers and animators from across the country have taken to Instagram to tell stories of places, people, and social issues through photographs and photo-driven posts.
Pranita Kocharekar, 23, a freelance illustrator and artist based in Mumbai, released a short children's story on Instagram about a whale who is teased by people because he is 'fat'. The tale, released on April 15, is told through 11 black-and-white illustrations.
"I want to be a children's book illustrator and publish children's stories that send out a message," says Kocharekar. Her first experiment on Instagram gave her a chance to build her brand and proved to be a good learning opportunity. She had people point out a few errors and mothers talk about how their kids loved the story.
Kusha Verma, 20, a final-year economics student at Delhi University, joined the site eight weeks ago to upload her poems, thoughts on feminism and love, superimposed on plain backgrounds. She has 2,264 people following her posts. "Instagram has moved beyond just personal pictures. It is about sharing your talent in ways that you couldn't before," she says. "The response to the blog I created in November was limited. Here, I am connecting with other writers and have expanded my audience. This helps me judge people's acceptance of my writing."
Anahita Fotedar, 31, an architecture student from Gurgaon, had to build a portfolio of her work spanning four years of study. While in the process of sorting out her photographs, it struck her that she could upload them on Instagram. She spoke to four writers whom she met via Twitter and Instagram and they collaborated to create the Mayhem series. Fotedar supplies the photos and the writers weave stories around them. The first part of the series featured nine images and seven stories about the seven deadly sins of wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. The ongoing second part will centre on relationships.
"You don't know your followers personally, so the criticism is honest and not filtered," says Fotedar. "The audience is big and appreciation is high."
Experts say this use of Instagram as a platform to reach out to a potential audience reflects how the ways in which people communicate are changing.
"Things are getting more visual-oriented," says Parag Gandhi, 34, director of the Mumbai-based digital agency Flying Cursor.
"A lot of people want to know about the story behind an image," adds Amit Panchal, 28, a digital marketing consultant at Ahmedabad-based Tatvic, which offers web analytics consulting services.
So where Instagram was once about focussing on the visual, it has now moved on to telling stories through images. This is what makes it an ideal platform for young artists looking for instant, mass feedback on their pictures and their writing.
Instagram has also become a common platform for people who share similar interests, even if it is just a hashtag, says Panchal.
For instance, Saundarya Srinivasan, 23, a front-office operator from Delhi, got featured as a 'suggested user' by Instagram in January for her poetry and thoughts on life. "That's when I realised that people actually do connect with captions," she says. This led Srinivasan to start the hashtag Captivating Captions, in February. "I created the hashtag to encourage other writers to share their thoughts and work on similar lines." Captivating Captions now features 3,000 images, each with an accompanying line or rhyme.
The success of Captivating Captions led Srinivasan's follower, Mumbai college student Neelomi Popat, 17, to start her own series, called Ink In My Veins. Popat joined Instagram last year and realised that a detailed quote with a caption got her pictures a better response.
"When I found Captivating Captions, it was like I found someone who thinks like me," says Popat. Ink In My Veins asks people to write about their experiences and emotions and how they connect with each image shared. "Instagram has proven to be the right platform for my ideas. There exists a support and a response system that no other medium has," she says.