Ever since the lockdown began in March, it has been marked with uncertainty and fear owing to the pandemic. To escape from these testing times, people have embraced technology to stay connected with loved ones. We have found ways to keep ourselves entertained, thanks to OTT platforms or home-delivery services. However, news has become more depressing and there appears to be a change in content preferences among netizens – podcasts.
As a result, podcasters and listeners are undergoing rapid change in their style of audio content creation and consumption, respectively. Listeners are preferring to access more positive and uplifting stories. To address the need, many new podcasters have entered the field.
Inspiring through stories of critical-illness
Delhi-based Pallavi Rao Narvekar hosts Can Inspire, a podcast that explores real-life stories from fighters of critical illness. Pallavi’s journey into the world of podcasting wasn’t easy. In the past two decades, she has worked as a radio jockey at All India Radio and Radio Mirchi. Things were going well in her career as she enjoyed interviewing interesting people for her shows.
However, tragedy struck when she got diagnosed with cancer. It was so severe that her vocal cords got affected and her doctors told her that she couldn’t speak anymore. “The doctors literally gave up on me but I was adamant to work things out,” says Pallavi. “After intense medical care, yoga, and will power, my health eventually improved and I could start speaking again.”
But her health faced complications yet again in 2015 and she got admitted for treatment. It was here when she started writing a book based on the people around her. “Storytelling and narration have always been a part of my DNA. I spent most of the time speaking with everyone at the hospital from doctors to nurses and I would ask them about other patients,” she says. Pallavi spent her days writing the book at her hospital bed which was later launched at the same place.
“People reached out to me saying that the book motivated them,” she says. Pallavi started observing her own life experiences from a different perspective; she realized that there must be people like herself facing numerous health-related challenges whose stories could inspire more. Thus sparked her dreams to start her very own podcast.
“My show starts with a bit of my own personal narration and it’s followed with a brief introduction of the guest. Later, we share common characteristics in our stories,” Pallavi recalls. “I had a guest speaker who survived breast cancer and later went on to climb Mount Everest.” At a time when COVID-19 appears to take away the grim limelight from other critical-illness such as HIV or cancer, Pallavi’s podcast has become a symbol of hope for many listeners.
Speaking on the benefits of podcasting, Pallavi notes that it gives her liberty and allows her to record or edit at her own pace. “It is an intimate medium and it needs a well-researched content. You should do your homework well before starting. Also, listeners’ engagement is very important.”
Travelling through sound
Once the pandemic started ravaging across the globe, borders were closed, trains, airports, buses and malls were shut. People had nowhere to go. For travel blogger Meenakshi Shrivastava, the coronavirus forced her to stay at home. As an ardent traveller who is keen to experience new things and visit the newest of places, the pandemic changed her plans. Meenakshi says that she has turned this dull situation into an opportunity of learning by creating a travel-based podcast, “Inspiring Explorers”.
“As my father is a banker, we have been travelling around as he gets assigned to different places. In the beginning, my travels were more of just sightseeing. But later as I grew up, they became more on finding experiences and meaning,” says Meenakshi, who then created an Instagram page @mybohovoyage to share her experience with others. Having met numerous people in her journey, she found the urge to tell their stories. “People also ask me on money for travelling, how to live abroad, or having an unconventional career and not being bound to a nine-to-five job,” says Meenakshi.
Having nowhere else to go due to the lockdown, she quickly devised a plan to start a podcast. So she started reconnecting with people she had met on her journey. Thus was born, “Inspiring Explorers”, where Meenakshi interviews “successful personalities who despite all the obstacles did not give up and followed their passion and heart”.
Her podcast aims to “inspire listeners to realize their inner potential and do what they love, become financially independent and explore the world”. Throughout the conversation, Meenakshi emphasized the need for people to adapt and to create opportunities, especially during this pandemic.
Voices of Children
This pandemic has not just affected adults but also children who are facing their own difficulties such as navigating online classes and staying at home without going out to play. To address how children are coping, National award-winning filmmaker Gopi Desai created her show “Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai” where she speaks to kids.
“Life changed after lockdown and everyone’s mind was in turmoil. That was when I wondered what the kids must be thinking, what must be going in their minds and how they cope. So I started my podcast “Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai” for children between ages six to fifteen. It has been a learning experience for me,” she says.
In her show, children talk with her about many things from online classes to learning new skills, activities, parents and friends. “I make it a point to ask them about unprivileged kids, migrant labourers and their return to their villages across India. Children talk with compassion and how they would love to reach out to poor kids. Kids also share their fantasies, aspirations and goals.” Gopi concludes with, “In this trying and testing time, podcasters have a major role to play as people also seek solace in listening stories.”
The Road Ahead
One of the reputed podcast coaches and producers in the country, Bijay Gautam, co-founder of WYN Studio and host of the Inspiring Talk, says that now is an “amazing time to be a podcaster”. When asked if the consumption for motivational podcast shows are on the rise, Bijay says that there is no data on content preferences among listeners in India.
“There was a drop in podcast consumption and an increase in screen time in the first few weeks of lockdown but now people are slowly starting to try out different ways to stay entertained. Podcasts are now starting to get more downloads,” he adds.
Bijay notes that the “pandemic has not affected podcasters much as people are trying to adapt ways to record their shows. “While it was a bit hard in the beginning as we couldn’t go to our studios, we eventually started using simple devices to start working and recording,” he says.
He goes on to add that in this lockdown period, podcast creators are also attracting listeners with entertaining content apart from non-fiction narrations. For instance, Bijay recently released “Heirs of The Pandavas”, a mythological series based on the epic Mahabharata, involving heavy sound effects and music.
Some podcasters like Kunal Mandal are opting to narrate stories with a very simple theme. Kunal hosts “Stuff Tales” where he narrates “extraordinary stories behind the ordinary stuff you use or do every day” from toothbrushes to WiFi and air-conditioners. Likewise, Deepika Arun runs “Kadhai Osai”, a storytelling platform, where she narrates stories written by famous Tamil authors.
As the pandemic continues to spread across the country, there are still exciting groups of passionate podcasters hoping to create a positive impact among listeners.
About the author: Mohammed Rayaan is an independent journalist based in Chennai. You can find his writings at rayaanwriter.com. Follow him on social media @Rayaanwriter.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)