Can you imagine talking about female ISRO scientists and the implications of ‘Sarkaye leyo khatiya’ in one breath? You can pause to think here. How are the two even related? Well, Sweety and Pappu can solve that conundrum. Their desi feminist podcast Chuski Pop, skinny-dipped in quirky 1980s’ Hindi film and pop culture references, bring a world of feminism and equality that smacks you with its sass and bluntness and is yet easy to digest.
While for many, chuski ice lolly is a symbol of their sweet childhood, Sweety has (mis)appropriated the meaning to suit the tenor of the podcast. “Chuski is an ice lolly. Sweet, sour, tangy and ice cold. An innocuous sweet, but in the hands of a precocious Lolita it turns into something dangerous and suggestive — all because in our primarily patriarchal society any phallic-shaped fruit or food can mean only one thing. I imagine myself and Sweety as precocious Lolitas sucking hard at our kalla-khatta and kacchi-kairi flavoured golas, giving zero f***s but plenty of death stares to tharki uncles,” explains 33-year-old Sweety.
Each episode of Chuski Pop, released every fortnight, begins with a searing dialogue from the ’80s that sets the tone of the podcast. The two then pick up a current event or an experience they have had in the recent times to begin a nonchalant conversation — that they make you a part of.
The no-nonsense attitude of the podcast is what catches one’s attention. Public voice of women has been silenced in more ways than one. In light of the silences that are still prevalent, Chuski Pop is a refreshing voice. “The Internet is a great platform for the voiceless and now more than ever, brown woman needs to be loud. From childhood we are told how to behave and we aren’t as worthy or valued as men. This podcast is to let everyone know that we’re here, and we’re not going anywhere,” Sweety says.
The most attractive element of Chuski Pop is the use of personal experiences to talk about feminism and equality. Sweety and Pappu depend on the relatability of these experiences to talk about feminism. Unapologetically, they could be talking about female friendships in one podcast while toe-gunk in another and the institution of marriage in yet another.
“A lot of them tell us how listening to our show makes them feel like they are hanging out with their own girlfriends. It feels like having your own little tree house club,” says Sweety. Even though they’re anonymous — Pappu, 32, a copywriter in the e-commerce industry, lives in the Middle East and so does Sweety’s family — they feel they don’t even need to reveal their identities to talk about issues.
“A lot of our topical discussions would be accompanied by personal anecdotes… (but) I feel that the things we talk about are relatable to most desi girls. So, I think it’s immaterial of who we are, what our names our or what we look like. We could be that girl in the train, waiting at the bus stop, in your class or practically anyone,” Pappu says.
The two met when Pappu was dating one of Sweety’s cousins. “The relationship did not last but I walked away with a best friend,” says Pappu. The idea of the podcast came to them in 2015 when the heard several other such podcasts — dominated by white female voices like Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer — talking about women’s issues but couldn’t find a relatable one for themselves. It was Sweety who reached out to Pappu and they began this journey.
The Women’s March on Washington held on January 21 put a lot of emphasis on intersectionality in feminism. In the hierarchy of the oppressed, brown women, black women, and in the case of India, Dalit women, will often form the lowest wrung. Chuski Pop addresses the gap of brown feminism in a particularly white feminist discourse that often ignores the struggles of others. “South Asian (or desi) women face discrimination not only because of our gender, but also on account of our culture and society – both at home and in the global arena,” Pappu says.
Apart from bringing their own voice, the two bring their creative energies to the podcast too by re-appropriating a lot of old Hindi movies that were regressive at best. Sweety rightly notes that in the ’80s films, while rape scenes were presented for the audience to see – often unironically – scenes of kissing were hidden by flowers and bushes. To subvert these ideas, the illustrator and concept artist keeps the podcast’s social media handles updated with sprightly characters who are appropriations of actors from the ’80s.
“The reason you see a lot of 1970s and 1990s actresses like Rekha, Sri Devi, Madhuri, Praveen Babi is to celebrate their incandescent beauty and nostalgia. While these women came to life in mainly male written narratives during this era of Bollywood movies, they were unapologetically sensual (albeit for the male gaze). Their sensuality is powerful and a celebration of their womanhood,” Pappu says.
In the newer Bollywood, it is irksome for the duo to see many female actors distancing themselves from the term feminist. So they find solace in the other desi feminists like Superwoman Lilly Singh, writer Arundhati Roy, actors Kalki Koechlin and Kangana Ranaut and even AIB’s Tanmay Bhat. “They wear their desi feminists sash with pride,” the duo says.