This column typically covers OTT shows and films, but there is now a significant amount of overlap between the entertainment industry and the podcasting space (which has witnessed rapid expansion over the last two to three years). So, podcasts will make an appearance here every now and then, especially when the people involved are connected to the film/TV worlds. This week, it is What the Hell Navya, produced by IVM Podcasts and ‘empowered’ (read sponsored) by Bumble.
Hosted by Navya Naveli Nanda, the weekly podcast (fresh episode releases every Saturday) features her mother Shweta Bachchan Nanda and her maternal grandmother Jaya Bachchan. The ‘hook’ of the show is three generations of women offering their respective insights on friendship, family, balancing one’s personal and professional lives, and so on; three talk shows in one, essentially. The name is derived from what Jaya and Shweta claim is one of Navya’s favourite expressions, as well as the way they feel sometimes when they see the 20-something overstuffing her days and weeks with activities.
Right from the first episode, the banter between the three is both affectionate and deeply committed to getting some solid jibes in every now and then. Like when Shweta introduces herself as Navya’s mother and follows it up with, “I’m here as the voice of reason, to balance the 50-plus and the 30-minus.” Jaya, without missing a beat, shoots back, “I’d remind you that age is only in the head” in a very Maggie Smith-from-Downton Abbey way.
Humour and some heft
Part of the fun, always, is hearing three distinctive personalities jousting with each other: Jaya with her well-chosen words and her sardonic humour, Shweta’s no-nonsense pragmatism, and Navya’s fresh-eyed, optimistic perspective. During the pandemic, the 24-year-old Navya co-founded a non-profit called Aara Health, which researches and develops affordable healthcare products and services for women across India. She speaks about her work with the passion of a young founder, and Jaya and Shweta talk about their own professional experiences, drawing a straight line across the last four to five decades of women in the workplace in India.
“You’re a little crazy and obsessed with your work, Navya,” says Jaya at one point in the first episode, ‘Round of Introductions’. “I can understand that, it tends to happen to people who start something different and new. But at the same time, I’ve never seen you argue. You may not agree to a lot of our [Shweta’s and mine] views, but you listen to them.”
Personal goals, universal appeal
The second episode (released on October 1), called ‘Girl Besties: Almost Therapy’ is about friendships between women, not just in one’s own life but also at the workplace. Jaya has a very eloquent segment towards the middle where she talks about how she and her oldest friends — women she has known for over four decades — still go on holidays as a group nearly every year. According to Jaya, these kinds of enduring friendships, as well as what she calls “old-school family values”, are things that are being significantly eroded by modern life. Shweta emphasised the importance of being intellectually challenged by her friends (something Navya is even more bullish on, as she makes quite clear during this segment), to be pushed to pursue new interests, expand her horizons so to speak.
“I can’t be friends with someone who is just gossiping all the time,” Shweta says during this episode. “They have to be adding something to the table.” That bit about ‘adding to the table’ segues into a lively discussion about the workplace and the kinds of bonds that the three have built with other women at their workplaces, down the years. (Jaya, of course, is a Member of Parliament, which is still an extremely male-dominated space in India.)
What the Hell Navya is, of course, susceptible to some of the problems with a panel format. The three women are not seasoned podcasters and so there is a certain amount of interrupting and talking over each other. And perhaps it is just Navya’s youthful impatience, but a lot of potentially interesting strands are cut off in favour of the next segue. In this context, the makers of the show could look at podcasts like Red Table Talk (which features Jada Pinkett-Smith, alongside her daughter Willow and mother Adrienne) proceed smoothly from talking point to talking point. These interventions could help What the Hell Navya become more of a finished product than it currently is.
The writer and journalist is working on his first book of non-fiction.