Every podcast tells a story
Stories are told in different ways, and the tale of murder victim Hae Min Lee and her alleged killer Adnan Sayed is testament. Set in Maryland, Baltimore, the story of this decade-old case became an international phenomenon after it was investigated and retold by journalist Sarah Koenig in her show, Serial. Her enraptured audience had no grisly close-up shots or haunting pictures to fall back on, no way to see her story, except through her voice. Serial’s success heralds the golden age of one of the fastest-growing forms of media today — the podcast.
Podcasts are episodic series that come in the form of a digital audio file, and deal with topics that range from music and books to health. The new radio of the millennial era, its impact is not lost on India, with dozens of podcast shows springing up in different cities. “All media has evolved into an on-demand model — take Netflix and Kindle. The audio industry is no different and people are slowly beginning to shift their listening habits,” explains Amit Doshi, founder of the podcast network Indus Vox Media. “Podcasts are growing because they cater to niche audiences,” says Kiruba Shankar, who plans to launch a podcast for first-time authors, “We create specific, flexible content that you wouldn’t find in mainstream media.”
It helps that creating one isn’t as hard as it looks, says Suyash Barve, “My show, Adventures of Cheap Beer, looks at affordable, local bars in the city. It started as a blog, but I, along with my co-hosts Karan Agarwal and Siddhant Mehta, decided to shift to the audio format, because it was as easy as getting in front of a basic microphone, hitting record, and then uploading it when done.”
A large part of its appeal lies in the fact that there’s something for everyone. “Its greatest strength is that it’s something personal and intimate,” believes Avadhoot Khanolkar, executive producer of podcast network, Audiomatic. “Subjects can range from science and music to pop culture, like our show, The Intersection, that melds culture, history and science in India, to Our Last Week, where physicist Anuvab Patel and philosopher Kunaal Roy Kapur come together to analyse the events of the previous week.”
Take the show Maed in India, run by host Mae Thomas, which highlights upcoming Indian independent musicians. “Podcasts give you a multitude of choices, and unlike the radio, they play what’s good, not what’s popular,” says Mae, a radio journalist from Chennai. “My podcast is a space for people to access new artistes from all genres; it’s about a rediscovery of music, not listening to the same stuff over and over again.” There’s also Jishnu Guha and Tejas Menon’s show Geek Fruit, which celebrates nerd culture, “Between Star Wars, Game of Thrones and The Avengers, nerd culture is one of the biggest enterprises today. Our podcast became a way for us to talk about what we love, and it’s hard not to find inspiration in these shows and franchises.”
For Aniruddha Guha, a film critic and writer, his podcast Watcha! is a refreshing and alternative way of storytelling. “India is a highly visual country; cinema is our crutch when it comes to experiencing a story,” he says, “With the podcast, I am trying to engage people purely through conversation. I’m not critiquing film — I’m already doing that in the written and video format — but trying to create a casual, informal environment, where I can discuss everything from how humour has changed in sitcoms to how a particular character may have evolved over the course of a show or film.”
With episodes pulling in hundreds of listeners every day, podcasts are steadily on the rise. “There’s authenticity and accessibility in them that people around the world have come to appreciate, and Indian audiences are warming up to the form,” says Jishnu. “It took some time getting there,” says Mae, “But I think we’re on the bandwagon now, and the portfolio of artistes and podcasts is only going to get bigger.”