In a recording studio in Andheri, Tabu sits in front of a microphone in a flowy terracotta dress. “Babes,” she says, in a voice deeper than hers, “Mujhe paise ki zaroorat hai (I need money).” Her brows are furrowed as she leans into the mic, flitting between the performances of a confused woman, demanding man, and a tense narration.
The actor is lending her cadences to one of the 10 episodes of Audible Suno’s Thriller Factory. Careful to not give too much away, Tabu says her story, Kala Gulab, follows a young woman stuck in a trap. The anthology audio show, overseen by filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, ties together crime and intrigue in an homage to Hindi mystery novels. Kashyap explains that the episodes’ writer, Pravesh Bhardwaj, undertook an eight-month-long journey to perfect the scripts, largely inspired by the works of the late Hindi author, Ved Prakash Sharma. “Sometimes they were edited, sometimes adapted, and sometimes an element was borrowed and [built upon],” he says.
The pulp noir series is one of an offering of over 60 original audio shows curated exclusively for Indian listeners on the Audible Suno app. With a different actor voicing each of its 40-minute episodes, Thriller Factory’s narrators also include names like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sachin Khedekar and Sapan Saran.
On what drew him to the medium, Kashyap says, “[The medium is] a storyteller and also a literature professor.” He describes how audio books lend themselves to the genre, layered over the traditional experience of reading a text. “The music, sound design, pauses, breathlessness and sense of a chase — the emotions [are] heightened,” he adds.
Exploring Sharma’s literature seemed like a natural choice for Kashyap. “I grew up reading pulp [fiction] from him and other writers. [The books] have dramatic titles that sound great in English, but in Hindi, it’s kind of kitschy and funny in a tongue-in-cheek way.” Bhardwaj adapted the stories and directed the episodes, but the first episode, Apni Katl ki Supari — narrated by Siddiqui — is co-directed by Kashyap. “Nawaz was perfect. He relishes the language so much when he speaks it,” he recalls.
For Kashyap and Siddiqui, the process was reminiscent of their childhood, since they grew up listening to radio. “On Vividh Bharti [artistes] would narrate movies, and I used to wait for it every Sunday,” shares the director. Tabu, on the other hand, has been revisiting the audio book experience for years now through Hermann Hesse’s 1951 book of self-discovery, Siddhartha. “This was the only audio book I had, and I still have it,” she shares. The trio usually find the time to delve into aural stories as they travel. The increasing traffic and growing economy were driving factors behind Audible’s decision to arrive in India last year. Perhaps it will be in the midst of glacial city travels that vernacular pulp fiction will reincarnate. Let’s hope we won’t have to wait too long.