Prime time for Desi Crime

Two school friends from Delhi with a hugely popular podcast on South Asian crimes called ‘The Desi Crime Podcast’ have caught global attention with the podcast landing on a Times Square billboard in New York
‘The Desi Crime Podcast’ featured on a Times Square billboard
‘The Desi Crime Podcast’ featured on a Times Square billboard

Sandese Aate Hai’ is a beautiful Bollywood song that your parents probably play today on an evening of drinking and reminiscing. This song is from the movie Border, which hit theatres across the country in June 1997.... That June of 1997, Border was also playing inside one of Delhi’s most famous cinema halls, The Uphaar Grand; by the time the song got over, 59 people had died...,” narrates 24-year-old Aishwarya Singh from Delhi, in one of the episodes of ‘The Desi Crime Podcast’, which she co-hosts with her friend from Mumbai, Aryaan Misra, 23. The podcast was launched in 2020—after four years of dedicated effort and extensive research, it was featured recently on a Times Square billboard.

“Being featured on a Times Square billboard is a dream I didn’t know I had,” says Singh. Their podcast now tops the Indian True Crime Podcast charts on Apple Music and Amazon Music, and is the first result when you search “top Indian true crime podcast” on Google.

Filling the gap

The duo met in 2015 when they were both in the ninth standard. Attending the same school in Noida, they eventually secured scholarships to the same university in the US. Singh, a true-crime podcast enthusiast, introduced Misra to ‘Crime Junkie’, popular in the same genre, in the US. One evening, while listening to an episode, Misra asked Singh: “Why don’t you ever listen to any Indian true crime podcasts?”

This question led them to search the internet for Indian true crime podcasters. To their surprise, they found some scattered episodes, but no podcast dedicated to crimes in India. Although there were TV shows like India’s Most Wanted (1999) and Crime Patrol (2003), no such podcasts existed. This was their Eureka moment.

(L-R) Aryaan Misra with Aishwarya Singh
(L-R) Aryaan Misra with Aishwarya Singh

“We realised the gap in the Indian market, and being true crime junkies ourselves, thought why don’t we start our own podcast?” says Singh.

The Desi Crime Podcast was born, and the duo covered not only Indian crimes but also various South Asian crimes. “Our first podcast was on the Burari case. This was way before any documentary was made on it, and it was a national sensation,” says Misra. The Burari podcast, launched on Spotify and Amazon Music, garnered over 700,000 listeners and became a hit.

In February 2021, they launched their podcast on their YouTube channel, ‘Desi Studios’, which now has 94.3K subscribers. “We’ve been very lucky with the response because the audience loved what we did and flocked to our YouTube channel when we first launched it,” says Singh. Many who listened to their podcasts on Spotify or Apple Music also tuned into their YouTube channel for the same episodes. This is because their podcasts are not just simple narrations; they include rich visuals, archival videos, and engaging conversations between the two hosts.

Unlike amateur productions, their work is “web-series level”, says Misra. One host thoroughly researches each episode while the other remains unaware of the details until the time of recording. This approach keeps the podcast lively, with one host reacting organically to the story with comments and questions as it unfolds. “Since we started this podcast in college, we needed to give each other breaks to catch up with our studies. While one of us would study, the other would work on the case. But the audience loved this pattern. One of us reacting like the audience on the podcast made it more relatable for them,” explains Singh.

Aftermath of The Uphaar Grand cinema hall fire
Aftermath of The Uphaar Grand cinema hall fire

Desi detectives

While being a true-crime podcaster is exciting, it is not all fun and games. “The biggest challenge is accessing records. In the West, you have online archives for everything, but that’s not the case in India. We rely heavily on case files and news coverage,” says Misra. When those are unavailable, they must dig deeper, as they did for their recent episode on ‘Titu’ Toran Singh, who remembered his past life.

Singh, born in a village near Agra on December 12, 1983, claimed to be Suresh from Agra, who had been shot dead, just three months before he was (re)born as Titu. Remarkably, the bullet marks on late Suresh’s temple matched the birthmarks Singh had. Misra tracked Singh down and interviewed him for the first time since 1999. “This episode changed my beliefs. I was sceptical about reincarnation, but Singh passed tests conducted by Suresh’s family members and the researchers from the University of Virginia. I came out of it believing in the possibility,” says Misra. The video garnered over 41k views on their YouTube channel.

Hunting spirits

Recently, the duo ventured into a horror series called ‘Bhootbuster’, visiting India’s scariest spots to bust myths. “Our first episode was on the Burari case, and we’ve covered cases like Gaurav Tiwari’s death, which deals with the supernatural and crime. Naturally, our curiosity led us to explore whether ghosts exist,” says Singh. Their horror series, full of adventures, includes visits to places such as the Mehandipur Balaji Temple and the Kuldhara village in Rajasthan. However, Singh notes, “Nothing substantial has come up so far.”

Despite the lack of conclusive evidence, these experiences have changed their take on life. “Both jobs—discussing crime and seeking spirits—can be very scary and negative. This has made me appreciate the positives in life and show gratitude for my healthy life,” says Singh, with Misra in agreement.

The Desi Crime Podcast is available on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music, with 231k followers on its Instagram @desicrime

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The New Indian Express