Biryani, Irani chai and Charminar - we all know there is much more to Hyderabad than just its scrumptious food and the Nizam era monuments. From Persian architecture to Turkish food, a great part of the Hyderabadi culture is borrowed from civilisations across the world, and there is very less documentation of this which is available in the public domain.
Realising Hyderabad should not be just reduced to certain stereotypical motifs, Suno India, a multilingual podcast platform, is bringing to its listeners snippets from the city which go beyond its food and heritage. Titled Beyond Charminar, the podcast series is a revelation to the present generation of Hyderabadis who have grown up only witnessing the allure of rapid urbanisation.
Padma Priya, co-founder of Suno India, along with her partner Rakesh and friend Tarun, started the podcast venture in 2018.
“The idea of Suno India came one day when all three of us were sitting and discussing how noisy our television news channels have turned to be. Neither are people speaking to each other nor are they listening. We thought podcast will be a great medium to encourage active listening and also make people less reactive. Because there is ample time to process the information and react to it. Unlike TV channels, podcasts do not invite people simply to react. And when it comes to sensitive issues, not everyone is comfortable talking on camera and they find podcast a convenient medium to articulate,” Padma Priya says.
Suno India till date has produced 15 shows. The flagship podcast called Dear Pari dealt with the nuances of adopting a child, which Padma Priya and her husband decided to produce after they adopted a daughter almost five years ago. A lot of people started approaching them regarding the legality of adopting a child, and Padma Priya says she understood there was still a lot of stigma revolving around the issue.
Beyond Charminar came around the same time as Padma Priya was working on other podcasts which include The Lost Child, Cyber Democracy and others. The idea soon materialised after she came in touch with Yunus Lasania, a journalist, a history buff and the host of Beyond Charminar.
“Yunus and I decided on broad themes that we should cover. For example, people most often tend to associate Hyderabad with biryani. So, we decided to delve deeper into the topics that explored the history of the city. We started our first episode when there was a huge uproar against the government which was mulling to topple down Errum Manzil to build a new secretariat. So, our first episode was on Errum Manzil and then another one on Operation Polo - the annexation of Hyderabad. The idea basically was to capture Hyderabad not just from the heritage point of view but culturally and historically as well,” Padma Priya explains.
For example, the latest podcast in the Beyond Charminar series has author and journalist Serish Nanisetti talking about his book Golconda Bagnagar Hyderabad. The podcast is a treasure trove of information, beginning from 1518 when the Golconda fort was built to its siege by the army of Aurangazeb in 1687. In another interesting episode titled A house frozen in Time, Zubair Noor-ul-Haq, an octogenarian, talks about his 100-year-old ancestral house and explores the rich history of Hyderabad, not in possessions, but in memories.
One of the major challenges that a podcast throws at its host is to break monotony. Good podcasts are supposed to relax listeners while at the same time entertain and engage them through the conversations.
“Podcasts can be challenging to make the listeners stick around for an entire 30 minutes. But a good mix of story-telling and information, which again is easily digestible, can interest listeners. Wherever possible, we add audio elements to break the monotony in voice. So far, we have managed to have people who have brought in those who have had some very interesting stories to share,” Padma Priya says.
Speaking to TNM, Yunus Lasania, the host of the series, says podcasts are perfect for audiences who have niche interests and wouldn’t want to engage in the many unnecessary news items that media houses these days tend to peddle.
“You can listen to a podcast while you are travelling or when driving a car. If you think social media is a good medium, people get easily distracted there. Since I already have a repository of information on the history of Hyderabad in the form of books and other sources, I only have to pick a topic that becomes the subject for a new podcast. And honestly when it comes to engaging listeners, I do not consider myself a storyteller yet, rather I am a history buff throwing facts,” Yunus laughs.
Suno India will soon be collaborating with Goethe Zentrum (German Center) and Bol Hyderabad, a community radio run by the students of the University of Hyderabad to produce a series on Shaheen, an NGO in the Old City that rehabilitates women who are victims of domestic violence and abuse. A new series that will explore the history of Telangana in Telugu is also on the anvil, Padma Priya adds.
“We know it’s going to take a while before the big boom happens. All the big players are now entering it. However, I hope more than as an industry, it leads to people seeking more meaningful content,” says Padma Priya.