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WIP Journal

WIP Journal

MEET THE DUO BEHIND BITCHES BREW, THE INTERNET’S NEWEST NO-HOLDS-BARRED PODCAST FROM INDIA

Aditi Sivaraman and Alina Gufran met in film school in Prague. After working on several film sets together, they both moved to Mumbai and began separate journeys. With the onset of the pandemic, the duo decided to collaborate once again, this time on a podcast.

Bitches Brew is a podcast about ‘everything under the sun’. It’s born out of the need for multiple points of view and a lack of open and honest public dialogue in India, especially when it comes to issues that affect a large chunk of the population in their early 20s to mid 30s. From mental health to dating culture during the pandemic to marriage and our obsession with ‘matchmaking' to the balance between art and money, each episode takes a deep dive into one overarching facet of India’s complex and multi-layered reality. 

We caught up with Aditi and Alina to get tips on starting a podcast during the pandemic to what their current favourites are and what they really thought about Indian Matchmaking

Megha: How did you guys meet and how did you know this was the person you wanted to start a podcast with?

Alina - We met in 2016 in film school in Prague. We were actually in the same group of 7-10 people in a batch of 60 kids or so and we ended up on a lot of film sets together - assisting on each other’s films, etc. The idea for the podcast came about very spontaneously - we’d kept in touch in Bombay the last couple of years mostly meetings at parties, etc. and then, after Indian Matchmaking was released, we were arguing on Instagram about it. Less arguing, more passionately discussing how problematic the show really is when one of us, can't remember who at this point, was like - 'hey, wanna do a podcast? and the other was like 'ya, why the fuck not?' We got on a call, we hadn't chatted for about half a year easily and a month later, we had the first episode out. I guess I hadn't really ever thought about doing a podcast, and definitely not with Aditi, but once we took the leap of faith and started it, we realised our working styles were quite complementary and it's been going pretty well since. For me, it's also the first time I'm in a long-term working partnership with a woman and it's been REFRESHING. 

 Aditi -  We met in film school in Prague. We were in the same group, group C, for the kids between the ages 23-25. It was a weird system that school had. I wouldn’t say we got along exactly haha but I’ve always respected Alina’s work. When I moved to mumbai after coming back to India, Alina really helped me settle in. She helped me find work and introduced me to her friends and acquaintances. We hung out occasionally over the next two years. When Indian matchmaking came out she and I got to talking and the idea of the podcast came about very spontaneously. A month later we had our first episode out. 

 

M: Are you both similar in your views about things or are there some significant differences you notice when discussing things on the podcast or writing a script? 

Alina - With regards to some things, mostly related to topics to do with female identity and sexuality, patriarchy, mental health and the current political state, I feel like we have similar points of view but concerning some other things - not so much. It's hard to pinpoint exactly where the road forks but all our recordings are improv and unscripted - we put down some broader talking points and chat with each other and our guests. I personally feel like one of us tends to play the devil's advocate whenever the other is putting a point across and I think that makes for an interesting see-saw while recording. 

Aditi -  Our opinions generally align quite well. The format of the show is such that we have to have a good Jugal Bandhi going between the two of us and I think we manage that quite well. There’s no script really. We generally just put down some talking points and jam with those. We haven’t really had any major disagreements and offer a good counterbalance to each other’s very strong opinions. We were very sure we didn’t want to be didactic or moralistic, we’re not an authority on anything. Just two women with opinions they’d like to share. I think we’ve been very successful in that regard. 

 

M: The term “bitch” is often seen as derogatory to women, especially when men use to describe us as “their bitch” in way too many situations. Is the name an attempt to reclaim the word? 

Alina - Yeah, I mean, the word bitch has some pretty loaded connotations. It definitely was a way to reclaim the word and also, we personally liked the alliteration and the fact that it kinda sums us up - we're fairly salty bitches and we like brewing content. We did think it might alienate some people, potentially brands in India, but figured we'd cross that bridge when we get there.

Aditi - Bitches Brew wasn’t the first name we came up with. After we vetoed a bunch of names for various reasons, Alina’s boyfriend suggested it and it just clicked. Of course, it’s also a way to reclaim the word and it feels like us. I think our main aim here is to be authentic and uncompromising.

 

M: In episode 1, you tackled dating and hook-up culture during the pandemic. What’s one experience you guys have had with that or have you steered clear completely?

Alina - So, I'm in an exclusive relationship and haven't really been on dating apps since last August/September or so. My experience on them pre pandemic was fairly insipid too so I steer clear either way. Aditi's single and active on dating apps so she'll have some interesting stories though. 

Aditi - Honestly I don’t think any of my experiences have been very interesting per se. I made some very interesting friends and haven’t actually met anyone I met on the apps during the pandemic. I’ve been very very single. 

 

M: Recording a podcast pre-pandemic and post-pandemic must be worlds apart. Do you have any advice for people looking to start their own podcasts in these strange times?

Alina - Yeah, I guess, pre-pandemic, being in films and with the pace of how fast Bombay moves, I personally never got the chance to really consider or expand beyond what I already knew and was familiar with creatively. During the pandemic, after having dealt with the constant anxiety and steadily, losing 80% of my freelance work leads, I decided that creating my own work was the only way forward - irrespective of how much money I could make off it immediately. I'm lucky I had some savings to tide me through but it wasn't, and still isn't, very easy in a city where living costs never really match earnings for creatives. There's definitely some serious time-management and proactiveness that goes into making it happen but it's been worth the effort.

So, I guess my advice would be to find the time to do it and not worry too much about making it perfect. Either way, there's a learning curve and you'll grow as you go along. Consistency is key. Also, do your research and don't be afraid to ask for help. The only reason we're still being able to put episodes out there is on account of our small team, consisting of Ishanou Mohindra, the person behind our visual identity and Mallar Sen who's created the music and helps us out with our sound mixing from time to time. Also, don't be deterred by numbers/statistics. I read somewhere that if the first episode gets more than 300 listens, it's in the world's top 50% of podcasts. 

Aditi - I’ve never been very into podcasts honestly so I don’t know what advice I can give. Something generic like always be passionate about what you do. Strive for honesty and have fun and make do with the resources you have at hand. 

 

M: What are some podcasts that inspired you? What are you listening to right now? 

Alina - I'm into fairly obscure, niche podcasts and I wouldn't categorize ours as either. Some that I tune into that deal with subjects like folklore, film theory and reviews and design and architecture respectively are Lore by Aaron Mahnke, the Brett Easton Ellis Podcast and 99% Invisible. We both got into The American Life as well, from which we learnt a lot about narrative styles. 

Aditi: I recently started listening to this American life which is very good. I also like Respectfully Disagree by The Swaddle.

 

M: Your 4th episode talks about marriage in India. What are your opinions on the hotly-debated Netflix show, Indian Matchmaking? 

Alina - I think my gut feeling when I watched it was everybody on the show is contributing to a systemic problem and are essentially, blind to their privilege. A lot of conversation started after about how the director wanted to show the reality or arranged marriages in India but I didn't buy it. I don't think she subverts the tropes she showcases and I think, as an Indian, if you're not aware of the number of caste/class/religious differences, especially in 2020, while in any kind of arranged marriage set-up, you're living under a rock or are in denial. I just don't think we need content like that out there - we know these things. As a writer/filmmaker, I'm more interested in what lies beyond the same tropes and representation we've been seeing on-screen for years. It's hard to deny the element of click-baiteyness with Indian Matchmaking and how, ultimately, us watching it benefits the show's creators while profiting off the discomfort and blind spots of the general audience. And, if that's what it is, cuz at the end of the day, Netflix exists to turn a profit, then it should be called as such and not have it co-opt a larger conversation about disparities and prejudices to make a show more palatable/marketable. That feels very disingenuous. 

Aditi - My major issue with this show was that it made light of some very problematic social conventions in India. Like caste for example. So while most people hate-watched it I couldn’t really get past a couple of episodes because it reminded me of everything that’s wrong with this country. As a creator I’m already quite aware of what hooks the public and this show took advantage of certain tendencies the Indian public has and that really bothered me. I have nothing against arranged marriage, I have a problem with the misogynistic casteist circus around it. 

 

M: Can we expect some video stuff soon?

Alina - Yeah, for sure. We did put out a video cast on our Instagram a few weeks ago talking about how we started our journey and included snippets from upcoming episodes. We'll be putting out a lot more of such short videos on things we find relevant to talk about but entire video episodes might take a bit more time to transpire. 

Aditi - Absolutely, we’ve been wanting to explore video for some time now and already did a bit of a trial run with it. I’m excited to see where it takes us. 

 

M: What’s the next episode about and when / where can our viewers listen in? 

Alina - The next episode is on the state of journalism in India and the fake news epidemic. We have four guests lined up - a journalist with Indian Express, an editor with Caravan, a correspondent with France24 and a writer with a background in political science and policy work coming on the episode to chat with us. It releases on 10th October at 6 pm across all major audio platforms - Spotify, Apple, Google, Soundcloud, Deezer, Stitcher, etc. 

Aditi - What Alina said. We’re gonna have a panel for this one and we’ll try super hard not to get didactic but given how some of our reporters have been behaving lately that’s not going to be easy. 

 

M: Lastly any brand, project, cause or aid group you’d like to shout-out? 

Alina - I think I want to give a shout-out to independent and reliable news publications in India, for starters. Caravan, Scroll, The Wire, The Print that has allowed for actual reportage at a crazy time in the country and, in the world. Few other homegrown brands like onthejunglefloor and noborders.

Aditi - Ketto and similar platforms that help us raise funds, platforms like yours that feature independent artists like us. We just want a space to exist without selling our souls so I’m grateful to anyone that makes that possible.


Check out previous episodes of Bitches Brew here.

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