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A journalistic podcast on the infamous ‘cyanide woman’ of Kerala

Cover art of Sashi Kumar’s podcast ‘Death, Lies & Cyanide’, a Spotify exclusive   | Photo Credit: Spotify

“The podcast requires a good deal of investigative journalism, which is pushing the frontiers of journalism,” starts Sashi Kumar, who is beaming over video chat on Google Meet, as his début podcast ‘Death, Lies & Cyanide’ is set to launch on Spotify today.

“You cannot take too many liberties with the facts. Some crimes are not as fascinating as they are constructed — sometimes the narratives get tedious. So one has to make it fascinating, in being true to the facts and engaging,” adds the journalist who is also trustee of Media Development Foundation, that handles the Asian College of Journalism.

Across 10 episodes, ‘Death, Lies & Cyanide’, written by Ramesh Ravindranath, covers the chronicles of Jolly Joseph from Kozhikode whose poison-imbibed murders took Kerala by storm. Both local and international media were drawn in by the ‘women who kill’ allure as well as the nature of her 14-year silent rampage (from 2002 to 2016). It all came to a head this year, when Jolly was convicted of six murders by cyanide, including that of her husband.

Sashi Kumar points out that the podcast ends on an open-ended note, to leave room for the listener to ponder, and for more developments in the investigations down the line, if there are any. The podcast is not just a retelling of the crimes, but also a navigation of the widespread media coverage and of perspectives of investigating authorities. Sashi Kumar was careful to make sure that before kicking off the podcast, he and his team had access to primary and secondary sources to back the narrative.

‘A lot of fresh information’

During the pre-podcast research, more angles to the case were discovered, based on a re-examination of evidence. “It’s not as though there is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered here,” he admits, “You get that from dogged and painstaking investigation. This case, for a spell of time, had over-saturated coverage, so one would think everything to know is out there already. But in the podcast, there is fresh information from the chargesheet, and snippets that were in the public domain which no one bothered to follow. There is a lot of fresh information about this character: what she has done, who she is, her connections, those complicit in the killings, and more. The podcast, importantly, is not aimed at vindicating or demonising, but rather at telling a true story objectively without taking anything for granted.” The fact that the case is fairly recent and still in the subconscious of Kerala and India, adds an appeal and contextual relatability for listeners.

Sashi Kumar, Chairman, Media Development Foundation photographed on November 03, 2011.

Sashi Kumar, Chairman, Media Development Foundation photographed on November 03, 2011.   | Photo Credit: R_Ravindran

There is a storytelling vibe about the podcast, affirms Sashi Kumar, pegging the experience as having a “non-factual aura” about it, because of the juiciness factor to keep listeners on tenterhooks.

The podcast comes at an apt time, he agrees, given the polarising coverage around Sushant Singh Rajput’s passing. It invites listeners to take the news and social media they see, hear and read with a grain of salt. “It will be hard to compete with the breathless sensationalism that the [SSR] case got,” he shares. “It is important to have a narrative which was corrective, in one sense. We are no one to say whether so-and-so is guilty. In the case of the podcast, there is a chargesheet with numerous bits of corroborated evidence, an accused, victims, and so on.”

A believer

Sashi Kumar, who started his career as a film journalist, was also The Hindu’s first West Asia correspondent in the mid-1980s. The 68-year-old is a big believer in “the sound of journalism” having been a radio journalist for many years. But podcasting — “a huge new dimension,” as he describes it — is a new horizon he is excited to conquer.

He explains why: “Though I have not sought out podcasts avidly, I’m not surprised that it is the happening thing now. In a time when the visuals are becoming more difficult, listening to podcasts is a soothing experience, and you can engage with the medium in an everyday setting.”

Listen to ‘Death, Lies & Cyanide’ on Spotify here.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 6:24:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/spotify-india-podcast-true-crime-death-lies-cyanide-sashi-kumar-journalist-interview/article32540044.ece

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