CHENNAI: A soothing voice with timely pauses, apt background music, perfect diction and clear pronunciation demands my attention. I was listening to an audiobook of the late Tamil writer Pudhumaipithan — Nalla Velaikkaran — on the podcast channel Kadhai Osai hosted by Deepika Arun. She had condensed and presented the original work in a 10-minute audio format, efficiently capturing the essence of the long-forgotten literature piece. This is just one of her works.
An avid listener of podcasts, Deepika’s quest for vernacular content led to a disappointing finding that there aren’t many. “My first exposure to podcasts was through the Harry Potter series in audiobook format. I’ve read every chapter an umpteen number of times. But nothing like how the audiobook captured the nuances. It was disheartening to see that so many Tamil works are not available. I scouted for the nationalised author list and decided to make an audiobook out of copyright-free content. People produce content of only the popular works and mostly it’s not copyrighted. I also wanted to stress on that and spread awareness,” says Deepika, who launched Kadhai Osai in 2018.
She’s also a consultant with an art and entertainment platform called Storytel. Deepika has 30-40 hours of content in hand. She spends three to four hours a week on churning out content for her channel and has also invested in a recording mic for her podcast. Some of her works include Ponniyan Selvan, Parthiban Kanavu, Vikram Vedhalam and many other Tamil literary works that are available on Spotify, Gaana, Apple and Google Podcast. “That app that we upload gives us data on the listeners. Around 58 per cent of them are from India and 42 per cent are from abroad. Of which 23 per cent is from the US. The age group is predominantly 20-35 and more of male listeners. I was overwhelmed by the encouragement received by the response. People are yearning for Tamil content but it’s unfortunate that we do not have many content producers,” says Deepika, whose bringing out an audiobook on a story penned by her father.
Slow and steady
Unlike abroad, podcasts have not penetrated the Indian market — especially with vernacular content still in its nascent stages. Last year, popular radio jockey Balaji launched a podcast channel called Mind Voice, which is available on JioSaavn. The medium is making progress albeit slowly. Podcasters commonly agree on one thing — the content is the king. People like Durai Arasu are aspiring to make it big in podcast someday. The journalist created a channel called Pattikadu, where he shares the perspective of life in the city from the eyes of a villager. His dialect makes it enjoyable.
“We all grew up listening to the radio. Podcast is a bit more refined version of it with recorded content on specific topics. I moved to Chennai from a small village in Dindigul. My early days in the city were a struggle. People found my observations interesting, so I documented them. Right from food habits, lifestyle choices to people’s behaviour — you can find them all. My next one will be about life in a village, from superstitions to everyday conversations,” announces Durai, who started his channel two months back.
There’s a dearth of variety in Tamil content. Podcasters feel that history and literature seem to be the sought-after areas among the vernacular audience. The youngsters especially are keen to know about the Indian epics and shelved works of celebrated Tamil writers. “This generation needs to know some of the great works of those times. It’s challenging to read because there are not many translated versions. A podcast is more user-friendly. We mostly consume it while commuting. Likewise, vernacular platforms might also cover pop-culture rather than current topics so it would be too much to expect a variety. There are enough YouTube channels doing the same. I’d like to hear more literary works being brought back to life,” shares Nikhil, a regular listener of podcasts.
Coimbatore-based RJ Naveen Haldorai’s channel called Curry Podcast has 15-20 minute content on Indian history. “Podcast as a medium has definitely gained momentum but it’s time-consuming. Each audio output takes weeks of groundwork and hours of recording but has to be presented in a few minutes because of the attention span of our audience. On the contrary, the English ones run for hours. Podcasts are a rich source of information, vocabulary and entertainment,” says Naveen, who started it as a passion project in 2017.
Podcasters struggle to get investors. “It’s only the big players that make it easily. Big companies are still hesitant to sponsor podcasts. It becomes a career opportunity only when the work can be monetised. In foreign countries, the creators are encouraged with a contribution of two, five or 10 dollars from listeners. That’s not the case here. It will surely turn into a competitive space. Regional content will take over, provided these things are taken care of. Podcast listeners are loyal. They feel an intimate connection to the person on the other end. It’s the way forward,” says Naveen with hope and confidence.