Inside Clubhouse India

It is like a live radio show, and in India the social media platform has taken on an identity of its own — with antakshari rooms, regional discourses, and more

June 11, 2021 12:43 pm | Updated 07:10 pm IST

Credit: Mihir Balantrapu

Credit: Mihir Balantrapu

I first heard about Clubhouse back in January. A friend sent me an invite and I reluctantly opened an account, annoyed at being tasked with learning how to operate yet another social media platform. Then I ignored it. At least until the second wave hit and we were all back to being at home indefinitely. I logged on thinking it was going to be like last year’s Houseparty fad; safe to say, I am now hooked and I have no concept of sleep any more.

What is Clubhouse? Think of it like a podcast in real time or a live radio show. Some describe it as a group of friends chatting or even having a “kitty party”. Whereas others call it a place to have dialogue and discourse. People now have the opportunity to speak to some of the best minds in their fields — internationally, rooms with names like Dr Anthony Fauci and Virgil Abloh have seen some of the biggest engagement. Closer home, people like Sonam Kapoor and Kusha Kapila now have a direct line with their fans. Since there are no text messages, direct messaging, or commenting on the app, the audio-only format limits opportunities for trolling. Something that Twitter and Instagram still don’t know how to deal with.

For me, it started out as some fun, frivolous conversations about dating and “shooting your shot” (basically the Clubhouse version of telling someone you find them attractive). But soon I was tuning into more “serious” rooms. I am now listening in on conversations about the caste politics in India, the #MeToo movement, and crypto-currency.

Local connect

Clubhouse’s trajectory in India has been slightly different. The American market had a head start, which means they are now monetising rooms — artists are hosting paid gigs, people are charging fees for exclusive closed rooms, and the like. Indian Clubhouse isn’t there yet, but it is close. The main difference I’ve noticed is that in the West, there are many rooms with certain people talking and others listening. The Indian audiences want to speak and contribute more. If I am hosting a room and the hand raising feature is off, I end up getting messages on my Instagram to invite people so they can chime in.

India being a very linguistically diverse country has also ensured that regional languages have found a life of their own on Clubhouse. In fact, the rooms hosted by some Malayali folks — with the most diverse topics (think ‘Can a parotta be a parotta if it looks like a chapathi ?’) — have seen up to 8,000 people at one point, the maximum number allowed in a room by Clubhouse.

Is it a polarising app? Absolutely! Especially since it is now open to Android users, and numbers have risen. Earlier a 500-person room was something to be proud of. Now 5,000 are not enough for some.

There is a lot of discussion about “influencers” on Clubhouse. People are annoyed that already popular digital stars are bringing their clout and disrupting a space that the early adopters worked hard to build. Yet, every other day there is a discussion about influencers, and each of these rooms draws large numbers, elicits several reaction rooms, and creates many Twitter and Reddit threads.

There is also a very active political subculture on Clubhouse, with a clear distinction between the Left and Right leaning groups. The word “echo-chamber” is often used because these heated rooms aren’t really having a discourse. I have been “warned” about not following certain people and entering certain rooms because they don’t necessarily align with my political ideologies, and I am supposedly at risk of getting cornered.

Making it your own

My favourite rooms have been where my extreme privilege has been checked, and I have learnt a lot. A popular club, ‘The Dark Room’, has hosted incredible rooms on topics ranging from fat-phobia to caste-based discrimination. Making these spaces inclusive has been one of the reasons I find Clubhouse to be more democratic than other social media platforms.

Some of the other rooms I enjoy attending are the music rooms, including ones dedicated to antakshari! There are also some great artistes that are now Clubhouse celebrities, such as Anirudh Deshmukh and Markand Soni.

Clubhouse has become a great forum for the LGBTQIA+ community. Queer people have found their own table, since a seat wasn’t made available at the existing platforms for them. The conversations range from fun to educational, and the beauty of the app is that you get to shuttle between both.

Clubhouse is still very new in India. Questions like how to monetise it, what is the future of the app, are being asked. Nobody really has an answer, but what we know is that people are either on it or are trying to score an invite. DM me on Instagram (@arjunmadan), I may have a few spare invites.

Arjun Madan is a food, marketingand brand consultant.

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