Life & Style

Unlearning stereotypes with Garima Surana

Cancel culture, hip-hop, internet trolls, make-up for men, the Kamasutra… are these topics that you want to discuss but can’t usually bring up? Well, Garima Surana understands the feeling. Last year, after getting married and moving to Marseille, France, the 26-year-old found herself in a new country, unemployed, and in the middle of a global pandemic. In short, it was time to start the podcast she’d been planning for a year — Popkast with Garima.

“I knew I had to talk and find my voice,” says Surana, who has always been an “audio person”, heavily involved with radio while in college. And ‘unlearning’ (such as deep-rooted patriarchy) became her mantra. “A lot of unlearning needs to happen for everyone. These maybe conversations that can make you uncomfortable, they will lead to a broader perspective,” she adds.

Growing the tribe

While it might not be as slickly-produced as other podcasts out there, its relatable content, kitsch sensibilities (in terms of posters and the like), and its nods to films (the first episode was called Dhoti, Lota aur Chowpatty) have grown the year-old podcast from just six listeners to having 230k listens in just two seasons. The third season, titled #empowHER and comprising 10 episodes (to be released fortnightly), is scheduled to drop tonight (Women’s Day).

Previous guests have included entrepreneur and author Malini Agarwal aka MissMalini, who started #IgnoreNoMoreOnline, a movement to urge women and men to report trolls and work against cybercrime; content creator Ankush Bahuguna, who spoke about beauty routines, men, make-up and masculinity; and drag queen and LGBTQIA activist Maya.

New platforms
  • Is Surana on Clubhouse, the new entrant in the audio scene? Yes, she says. “I think it is a great enabler of a platform where only your voice matters and your thoughts can be shared. Since it is very filtered, there’s genuine connections,” she says, explaining that she is looking to raise funds there. “You get to be in rooms with changemakers; people who you’d never think you could be under the same roof with [Space X founder, Elon Musk, was in one such room],” adds Surana.

Season three will see a collaboration with UN Women and SheThePeople, Asia’s largest women’s channel, as a community partner. Each episode will host guests such as Anju Sen, 28, who is studying under the UN Women’s Second Chance Education Programme (differently-abled, she had dropped out of school earlier); body positivity influencer Sakshi Sindwani; and Academy Award winning producer [for Period. End of Sentence.] Guneet Monga.

How does being a woman podcaster influence her choice of topics or the responses she gets? “Honestly, it is not a gendered thing from my perspective. But women have been silenced for so long, and their thoughts and opinions have not really mattered,” she says. “There has been a revolution on interwebs and digital spaces in the last few years and, with Popkast, it just amplifies this — with women getting to openly express their thoughts.”

Surana’s must-listen podcasts
  • 1. iWeigh: a podcast by British actor, radio presenter, model and activist, Jameela Jamil
  • 2. Masala Podcast: where Sangeeta Pillai (founder of feminist platform Soul Sutras) tackles taboos
  • 3. Meditation Minis: where hypnotherapist Chel Hamilton uses a range of techniques and approaches for meditation
  • 4. Renegades - Born in the USA: The podcast by former US President, Barack Obama, and singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen
  • 5. Indian Noir: a crime and horror podcast by writer and voice actor, Nikesh Murali

Is there a sisterhood of podcasters, I wonder. While there is no “consortium”, Surana says there are podcasts that give rise to a feeling of kinship. For example, Tahira Kashyap’s My Ex-Breast shines a light on breast cancer and what her journey has been like. Or Women in Labour by comedian Aditi Mittal and filmmaker Christina MacGillivray, which explores topics related to working women and family.

Interestingly, while Surana has been “making it for my women tribe”, she has heard back more often from men. “They’ve thanked me for talking about prioritising female pleasure, and [highlighting] the subject of hate speech [in light of the Sushant Singh Rajput-Rhea Chakraborty case].” What about freedom of speech, a much debated topic nowadays? “Podcasts [right now] enjoy the luxury of not being censored. The spoken word format is in its early stages of digitisation and monetisation. It gives you the opportunity to speak your thoughts, which is curtailed on many other platforms,” she says.

Welcoming change

India is the third largest market for podcasts right now. Surana believes that the content landscape has evolved with big tech coming in and platforms like Spotify and Amazon not only acquiring companies such as Anchor (a hosting and monetising platform) and Megaphone (a podcast tech company), but also creating original content. “We are definitely on the cusp of change. There are more tools for podcasting, there’s more content discovery, and since competition breeds innovation, there’s definitely proliferation in the content in different languages.” she says, adding, “Surprisingly, regional content is doing extremely well.”

Don’t think, just do it
  • “If you want to start a podcast, don’t think too much about the equipment or the best editing tools. I started with my iPhone and the mic that comes with it, and I still edit on Audacity, a free platform. Once you’ve done four or five episodes, you’ll know where your content is heading and you will pivot naturally.”
  • As for those who may be hesitant to start a podcast because they think their English isn’t good enough, she says, “The inhibition needs to go away. Also, podcasts in Bengali, Tamil and Malayalam are really dominating the charts now. Even if someone wants to start something as niche as a Marathi podcast about sneakers, it is absolutely alright.”

In fact, Surana also co-founded Podcash last year, which focusses on monetisation — connecting podcasters to brands. “We are where YouTube or Instagram was five years ago. Pretty soon, brands will realise the power of audio, and podcasts will become a mandate in their audio mix — focussing on brand resonance rather than virality. Even though the community is niche, it is hyper targeted,” she concludes.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2021 7:28:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/unlearning-stereotypes-with-garima-surana/article34020602.ece

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