A Malayalam YouTube channel narrates bedtime tales for children, relying on the power of good old stories than videos
YouTube channels for children usually feature videos and animation. So, it comes as a surprise when business partners Justin K Abraham and Rakesh R say that their channel, LaLa Malayalam Kids Stories, has a blank, black screen when the narrator, LaLa tells a bedtime story, every day.
“This is our USP, we want children to listen to stories rather than watch them. Parents and children have come to expect that. We want to break the cycle,” they say, of their 22-day-old venture aimed at taking stories to children and reducing screen time.
Every night, at 8 pm, a bedtime story is uploaded on the channel. Daily ‘viewer’ figures range from 1,000 to 2,000 views, and the channel has 13,000 followers.
Rakesh’s seven-year-old son and his demands for a bedtime story gave the friends this idea. As they tossed it between them, they hit up on the no-video story-telling platform idea. “For close to four months, we tried variations in narration as research — with background score and without, with sound effects — ‘experimenting’ on our friends and their kids. We tweaked content and presentation based on feedback,” says Rakesh. They learnt interesting facts during the course of their research: for instance, it was parents who expected the accompanying videos and not the children.
“Children are okay with listening, in fact they are attentive, taking in the tiniest details,” says Justin. Although the stories were planned for five minutes each, parents suggested the duration be increased so that children fall asleep as they listened. This meant packing more content without changing the original storyline. “For example, in the story of the Fox and Grapes, we said the fox was a kid, who went out to play without footwear. We brought in, organically, relatable elements for children. The narration is deliberately slow so that children can visualise the scenes. We encourage active listening as opposed to passive listening which happens, for instance, when they watch television,” Rakesh says.
The interactive content encourages listeners to repeat after LaLa, and stories are so structured that nuggets of information are provided — new words, what consists healthy behaviours/good manners. Children are asked to do activities such as drawing pictures or sing, videos of which are uploaded on their Instagram handle. While LaLa is a woman, there is a male character called NaNa. Actor Aju Varghese has lent his voice to this character, for three stories.
“We chose these names as our target audience comprises three to seven-year-olds, and NaNa and Lala are easy to pronounce. When NaNa (Aju) narrated the stories, a lot of kids related his voice to their father’s. Aju has been supportive of this venture,” Justin says.
Justin and Rakesh have got interesting feedback, mostly from Malayalis who live outside Kerala and overseas. “Since the narration is in Malayalam, parents say their children’s pronunciation is getting better and they are picking up the language,” says Justin.
Reduced or no screen-time aside, there is another angle to their project. “This way, parents can spend time with their children. At the end of the day, all a child wants is to be with his parents and this is one way to do that without the usual distractions of technology,” Rakesh says.