Once upon a crime – Leisure News

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Simulating primal fears, ‘exposure therapy’, an education in survival, all sorts of theories have been proffered for why true crime as a genre will never cease to have a loyal following. To the ’90s generation that grew up on India’s Most Wanted and Crime Patrol, and obsessively memed Wild Wild Country, this isn’t news. In the ’80s too, despite the extreme popularity of Karamchand Jasoos on Doordarshan, true crime had already amassed a following through Police File Se. Unlike cartoons and hatted detectives, we have never had to import ideas of gruesome villainy for risqué story-telling. The late lamented Crime and Detective magazine capitalised on this abundance of crime and an appetite for the lurid during its run. While Anup Soni of Crime Patrol keeps exhorting every one of us potential victims to be “Satark, savdhan and taiyyar (Alert, attention and ready)”, Indian true crime podcasts are the latest turn in the desperate search for content for a stir-crazy, pandemic-stricken country.

On the lookout for murder most evil, these podcasts are unearthing stories from everywhere. The Desi Perspective takes up famous cases from India and the world, punctuated by many disbelieving exclamations at the vileness of mankind, and banter between the two friends who host it. Khooni: The Crimes of India takes to straightforward but effective narration and is currently one of the most popular true crime podcasts on Spotify. Desi Crime, another independent podcast, narrates cases from across India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Red FM has been on the true crime podcast block since late 2019 (their Indian Murder Mystery is currently on Apple Podcasts), but the smaller fish are digging out better stories. Indian Crime Story, also on Spotify, in particular, picks up stories from small towns across India and even takes up the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. It isn’t as detailed as we would like it to be, but it scores well on the story diversity front.

Some of the most notorious crimes from the national vault of horror feature on several shows, Raman Raghav, the head-bashing Mumbai serial killer from the ’60s; Umesh Reddy, ex-CRPF cop who caught people’s attention not so much for his murderous streak and sexual assaults as his propensity to cross-dress; Ranga-Billa, infamous for the chilling 1978 murder of the Chopra kids in Delhi; and Amardeep Sada, who is India’s claim to dubious fame as the world’s youngest serial killer. It is clear that the research for these podcasts is largely Google-based, and they often disagree on minor details depending on which source they have chosen. Satish Verma, who ran Crime and Detective, and its sister publication in Hindi, Madhur Kathayein (still running), is dismissive of this mode of ‘R&D’. The real story, according to him, is with the locals who know everything and then some and crime beat journalists at the district level who have access to information like no one else.

But true crime podcasting in India is still in its inf­­ancy and the field is wide open for experiments. Internationally, crime podcasts have been around forever, trying everything from voice-acted event recreations to comedy and true crime that is not even about murder. Criminal on WUNC did an excellent episode on the deliberate poisoning of a tree in Texas by a man avenging himself on the city administration. Today in True Crime on Parcast, on the other hand, sticks close to familiar tropes and churns out a daily podcast corresponding to a historical event in crime on the same date as the episode anywhere between 2,500 years ago and today. As they find funders and audiences, true crime podcasts in India can only get better.

Spotify’s head of communication-India, Vasundhara Mudgil, says that inspirational podcasts have seen the largest demand in India for some time, but the platform is looking to expand into new content. Last month, they launched Death, Lies & Cyanide with some fanfare. It tells the story of one woman in Kerala who got away with murders for almost 14 years. The podcast, which has released six episodes so far, will follow her story through four more episodes. Unlike independent podcasts, this show had the resources for field visits and veteran journalist Sashi Kumar as host, which undoubtedly opens doors to access information that small podcasts can rarely hope for. Mudgil also promises more India-specific true crime originals later this year. Jio Saavn, on the other hand, appears to have cooled off on the genre after the 2014 Trial by Error podcast on the Noida double murder case hosted by journalist Nishita Jha. Audible Suno, which launched only late last year, has not ventured into an original true crime so far, although they have dabbled with the genre of crime fiction with Anurag Kashyap’s Thriller Factory, which is doing fairly well, even though Agla Station Investigation, a comic podcast on Mumbai Police’s absurd crime investigations flopped earlier this year.

While podcasts are rising to the occasion, there has been a lull in Indian true crime content in other mediums for a while now. OTT platforms have supplied us with a robust fare from abroad, but high-profile Indian productions cleave towards fiction, think Sacred Games, Pataal Lok and Breathe: Into the Shadows. This, we contend, is highly amiss. True crime in India in unmatched by the wildest imagination of the fiction writer, and there is a case for being vocal for locally manufactured crime stories.

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