Neelesh Misra on the lack of storytellers in a country waiting to listen
<br>Misra, 46, has recently come up with “Qisse Lockdown Ke With Neelesh Misra”, an audio-based show on Audible Suno where the radio personality narrates fictional inspirational and relatable tales about the days of the pan-India lockdown, in Hindi. Currently sheltering at his village home, Misra speaks to IANSlife in an interview.
Audio content platforms are really gaining their feet in India. As a storyteller, your thoughts on the evolution of the audio media?
Misra: Audio content platforms are growing for sure and I think this is a very exciting time to be an audio artiste in any form. There are more and more podcasts, etc. But I also want to put some perspective to this. When we started our journey in 2012 and when I became a storyteller, a lot of people didn't think it would work.
They thought, who wants to listen to stories at prime time? With radio, even YouTube, it was the start of podcasts in its own way and we were able to create an audience that wanted to listen to audio content on digital platforms and develop that habit. My learning has been that as far as storytelling is concerned, while the number of story listeners is growing exponentially in the country, the number of storytellers is not growing.
That's a field that needs a lot of attention, they are voices of their communities, their cultures, their geographies, where they come from. We have launched something called the Mic Platform, a website yourmic.in which is a place where storytellers and other audio artistes are given a platform and mentored by me. There are other platforms that are emerging, which are a great idea and I hope that audio artistes of this country grow in multiple languages all over the country and become advocates and ambassadors of the voices and causes they represent. It's a very exciting time and it's going to get better and better for audio artistes.
What are you listening to/reading/watching these days?
Misra: I've been at my village home since the lockdown and before Holi. We've been trying to put together ‘Qisse Lockdown ke' which has taken up a lot of my time but I've been trying to catch up on web series and documentaries that I wanted to watch, as well as some reading. It's been much more recording than actually watching or reading any content.
Tell us about ‘Qisse Lockdown Ke With Neelesh Misra'. How did you come up with it?
Misra: ‘Qisse Lockdown Ke' is a show that was born out of what we're seeing all around us and is a response to our time as a writer and storyteller. I find it extraordinary and fascinating that when people are locked up in the four walls of their home for a long period of time it does things to them, their lives and relationships. They are able to see their lives in a different light, their priorities and look at themselves in a manner they have not seen before.
Relationships could change, they could heal and get fixed or come under stress, people might find answers or be confronted with questions and I think all of that churn is something that a writer would love to capture and that's what we've tried to do with these heartwarming stories. We have tried to look at different facets, different geographies, different social strata and how being in the lockdown has affected them. It's a challenging assignment for a writer because in normal stories, the plot moves from place to place and there's great freedom to write. There's geography, there's events associated with a place but here it's inside four walls, so it's even more challenging.
We put this show together very quickly for Audible Suno and we're very proud of it, it's a delight to have done it and we hope that millions of people around the country are able to listen to it, especially because Suno is a free app. I hope all my listeners catch it and see something of their lives, a little bit of their lives and themselves in the show and these stories.
Looking at mainstream COVID-19 reportage, do you find enough media spotlight on stories from our hinterlands and subaltern groups?
Misra: No, not at all. I don't see mainstream media covering the voices of millions and millions of people in the hinterlands and rural areas that don't have a voice. I think this is the time when the narrative needs to be empathetic not only to big industries and the trading class and companies, but the 3/4th of India outside of this circle. This coverage does not stop, but stories of migrant workers walking back, that's just the start of the numerous ramifications of how the voiceless part of India has been impacted.
That's what we're trying to do at Gaon Connection as we launch a big reportage project. We have been covering this for the last two months with great empathy and intensity and will be ramping it up with national coverage and a survey, as well as a series of reports from across the country.
There are figures and statistics everywhere. How can we bring out the human aspect of stories and narratives as we tell them?
Misra: I think there are numbers and statistics of all kinds everyday through the day. How do we put faces to them? While social media does give them faces or television media does give them faces, but these are a very small fraction of it. Often the media likes to only sensationalize, and the media does not have enough empathy and it has a scavenging attitude that feeds on dramatic stories and there's a need to go beyond that.
For journalists, communicators, anyone who is a chronicler in any form, to document these extraordinary stories in a way that they capture the pathos, the pain, the successes and victories, all of that and what is to follow from here. This is so that we can move beyond the numbers and look directly at the faces of people who are impacted from this, that will be a complete story.
Your current and upcoming professional engagements.
Misra: Currently, I'm busy with non-stop recordings for ‘Qisse Lockdown Ke' and trying to create new ideas and pilots for audio shows in the future. A lot of video content. For example, I started a series called Slow Poetry, which is poetry written and narrated by me. We've shot many episodes of that. We have been shooting a storytelling show, a horror story show and I hope that the productivity of this time and the sense of calmness at this time will allow me to create a lot of new things. I'm also working on a new film script, and a lot of interesting ideas that I'm just trying to figure out and put into action.
(Siddhi Jain can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)