Indian Noir turns 3: What makes the Nikesh Murali podcast a chart-topper?
Crime and horror storytelling podcast Indian Noir, voiced by Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner and voice actor Nikesh Murali just released the third season of their widely-loved flagship horror show Fear FM that features Indian ‘tantriks’ battling demonic spirits. It’s probably the authenticity of homegrown noir storytelling that earns this production top-billing in the current audio sphere and helped sustain its 3-year run (Indian Noir turned three this June).
“I’m a big believer in thematic stories, placing a thematic concern in a thrilling plot, they tend to live long in the consciousness of the listeners. I have been researching and teaching story writing for a long time, in terms of zeroing in on a story, one of the concerns for me is how well a story will sit in a three-act structure for movies or a five-act structure for TV shows. Indian Noir is centred around long-form stories that are run like a TV show and each story usually has 12-14 episodes. Some of them are mini-series that deal with extremely short stories, so there’s some diversity in the format in how these stories are put out," Murali shares
The writer and podcaster also signed an exclusivity deal with Spotify, a trend that many podcast creators are exploring to garner more audio-oriented audiences. “I’m almost a control freak about my production. I almost think of it as a TV show I’m producing where I’m the director as well as the writer’s room,” Murali admits. In a way, audio is a much more demanding format than video or text, and Murali compares it to making a movie for people’s minds. We caught up with the creator to break down some aspect of making audio content for this generation:
Tell us a little about curating a story for an audio-only format. Are there any technical challenges involved?
I come from a traditional writing background, I wrote poetry, got good at them, won awards. The same happened with my short stories. Knowing the basics of storytelling really helps especially when it comes to developing descriptions or conflicts. With audio, you have to be able to enhance the imagery of the story without disrupting the theatre of the mind. All I’m doing is guiding a movie inside someone’s head. I cannot have jarring sentence structures or literary gimmicks that can be pulled off in novels.
The big part of the audio is finding SFX and background music that is appropriate for the story, especially in horror and crime since there’s a particular vibe to it. People have been brought up on a diet of SFX-heavy movies and TV shows with high-quality technical expertise, they expect the same standard from an audio product. For instance, I just finished a military thriller called Trishul, the content length is 4.15 hours and it took hundreds of hours to produce it, so there’s quite a bit of back-breaking work involved
Tell us a little about the kind of research you pursue
Crime and horror demand different kinds of research, with horror it’s more about reading up on all the literary traditions in this genre. India does not have a very established body of horror writing, partly because there isn’t an eco-system for small presses to exist where writers can go and hone their crafts and produce large amounts of scripts that can be published, so it’s a dry pipeline. There is a demand for horror content but it’s being met by Hollywood and European productions, and there's nothing inspired by Indian myths or themes and that’s what Indian Noir is trying to offer. For that I’m required to read widely, be it the horror stories or the critical works that have been written about them, to produce something along Lovecraftian or Machenian lines.
For crime, I keep a watch on law enforcement stories across the world and developments in criminal stories, there are certain elements that may inspire good fictitious narratives. That’s quite extensive work, even more than print fiction particularly because you want to perfect the nuances that can be supplemented using audio to really enrich the story
Why did you choose to go exclusive with your podcast?
I have been in this business for three years, I know most of the streaming providers and I’ve engaged with them for editorial curation or social media support. I actually used to encourage my audiences to listen to Indian Noir on Spotify even before the exclusivity deal because I love how the app is designed and I think the user interface is so smart and the platform is so creator-friendly.
I feel there’s a niche crime and horror audience that really wants Indian content, set in the country featuring Indian characters but they have to rely on the west to supply it to them. Where are the great crime and horror Indian TV shows? I also feel this is a big reason for Indian Noir’s acclaim, it’s got a core fanbase who are vocal about the show. An exclusivity deal helps me commit to that wholeheartedly with the support I receive from the platform.