Girls who sailed

National Geographic documents the historic expedition of an all-women crew aboard Tarini

On September 10, 2017, the INSV Tarini, a 56-foot sailboat, set off from the coast of Goa. On board were 6 Indian women who had never sailed before but were determined to accomplish a feat that only 2,000 people before them have ever completed. 22,000 nautical miles, 254 days, 4 continents and 3 oceans, they returned to where they had started, the only all-women crew to have ever circumnavigated the globe.

At National Geographic, we knew that this is a historic story of adventure and exploration and we wanted to tell it to the world.

“Tarini is a spirit of wanting to go further, a quest for adventure and a story of fearlessness. The journey is historic, a first of its kind and a triumph for women.”

Our tryst with Tarini started from the first day she set sail.  Shruti Takulia, Creative Director explains, “From the start, the team knew that the journey was the hero of the story.” We shot extensively with the boat’s crew during training and after their return, but during those 8 months at sea, it was decided to leave them alone. Cameras were installed all over the boat which captured every day moments of their journey.

It was the right call but a nerve-wracking one. “We didn’t know what we would have till it was over…we didn’t even know if the journey was going to be a success,” Takulia says.

Even as the crew returned triumphant, having created history, for Takulia’s team the mission was just beginning as they faced the seemingly impossible – condensing a story that spanned almost 3 years from its conceptualization into a tight, compelling documentary. The first edit was 125 minutes long but they knew it had to be under an hour to retain viewer interest.

“We had to take some really tough calls,” Takulia recalls. “We also wanted it to be lyrical, not just stuffed with cold facts.” The agonizing work paid off. Finally clocking in at an enthralling 44 minutes, Tarini was ready for the world to see.

But how would National Geographic ensure that this empowering story reached its target audience?

Pawan Soni, head of marketing and programming at National Geographic has been an intrinsic part of the channel for nearly 8 years and was more than ready for the challenge. “We knew immediately that this could act as a really inspirational piece, not just for young women but young people across the country,” he said.

The marketing strategy was divided into 3 key phases: revealing to the market that this story existed, drumming up conversations around it and finally, the premiere on Women’s Day.

Soni’s team had the support of the Indian Navy, who launched the trailer using their own handles, in coordination with a press note about the documentary. The response was immediate, with multiple news outlets writing about Tarini.

But it was necessary to reach audiences on the ground. The crew of INVS Tarini was taken on a 3-city tour of leading colleges in Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and Delhi. Thousands of students were in attendance, fascinated, inspired and curious to know more.

“Our message was that anything is achievable,” Soni explained. “These women were not superhuman, they were regular people who believed in themselves and we said that if they can achieve this, so can you.”

Accompanied by the tagline, #GirlsWhoSailed, this messaging reached its zenith at an event in Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi, attended by top Navy brass who felicitated women achievers, from Fathima Beevi, the first female judge in the Supreme Court to entrepreneur Shahnaz Hussain.

When the documentary finally premiered on TV and Disney+ Hotstar on Women’s Day, it ranked number 3 in the genre, increasing viewership by 200% in its slot. But it hasn’t stopped there - Tarini will be screened in schools across the country, particularly in rural areas, in partnership with leading NGOs.

Looking back, Soni believes it came down to the 6 women at the heart of the story. “We treated them like you would treat the talent for any big show or movie,” he said. “This was a different approach from anything we had done before. We treated them as celebrities and it really worked wonders.”

It’s something Takulia agrees with wholeheartedly. “These women are in their early 20s but you meet them and they’re so rooted,” she smiles. “That’s when you realise what true heroes are really like.”

The crew of Tarini
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