The Malayalis are moving their online interactions to “ rooms ” on the Clubhouse app, to discuss a range of topics from parotta and fascism, fictional filmmakers to current political developments.
Can a Parotta be a Parotta if it looks like a Chapathi? Some fierce Parotta loyalists believe migrant cooks from West Bengal and other states are turning Kerala’s famous Malabar Parottas into flatbreads. “There seems to be a reluctance to throw in and slap enough parotta paste to make these layers. This gives the parotta an identity crisis, ”they say.
The above is a rough excerpt from a discussion in the Malayali chat room about the new Clubhouse app. It looks like my fellow Malayalis have moved their chaaya kada (tea shop) conversations to the audio-only chat app that has become all the rage this lockdown. Clubhouse has rooms that can be created by anyone logged into the app, and in these rooms, users can chat about anything under the sun.
Less than a week after the app’s Android release on May 21, it became clear that the app’s Malayali community took this invitation – to discuss anything under the sun – very seriously. It’s unclear what sparked the most bizarre discussions on the platform. Is it the Malayali’s inherent love for satire? Do they have too much time to kill? Or are users desperate to not discuss their day-to-day realities? Regardless, Clubhouse is currently witnessing some of the most hilarious conversations in so-called “ spoof rooms ” on several topics in Malayalam.
If you’re wondering how weird this gets, the conversation on parotta sees a plot twist when a speaker accuses the above-mentioned layered parotta loyalists of being fascists.
“To insist that the parotta can only have a layered existence is quite a fascist way of thinking. A Bengali can make a parotta like a chapati and a Malayali can beat it in layers. We have to be prepared to explore the different identities of parotta, ”he says, managing to bring academic rigor to his parotta argument!
Another parody room led by a Malayali hosted nearly 500 participants. Here the conversation shifted to the cinema where speakers discussed the postmodern impact of a ’90s Turkish filmmaker who only exists in their imaginations. The man’s name is Decronio Malkoos and for four hours the Clubhouse speakers analyzed Malkoos’ films including Autumn days, Postman, I’m here etc. They also dissected the cinematic significance of Malkoos leaving the first five minutes of his film blank, and the glorious shot divisions in his scripts. The hall also discussed the 5D cinema introduced by Malkoos in the 90s, while the world is still enjoying 3D cinema in 2021.
However, what listeners who came later did not understand is that Decronio Malkoos is purely fictional and the whole discussion in the room was started from scratch.
“People searched Google for Decronio Malkoos and couldn’t find anything on him. Speakers made it harder for them to say that Malkoos has never been a mainstream name. Finally, when a lot of people realized this, they had a good laugh. Some of them even sent me a message saying that they felt betrayed, ”said Hrishikesh Bhaskaran, who was part of the Malkoos hall.
Journalist and film critic Maneesh Narayanan says the Decronio Hall performed very well because the speakers made it convincing “with a great pinch of technical jargon and the use of an academic tone.”
“People could talk about anything they wanted as long as it fit the larger narrative on Malkoos. You can also elaborate on the story of his life, ”explains Maneesh, adding that the success of the room lies in its good moderation. “We gave Malkoos’ date of birth and death. So if a user was discussing a movie that didn’t fall within those dates, the moderator would ask them to check previous conversations and come back, ”Maneesh explains.
Politics, femininity and more
Fun aside, discussions of current political developments in the country are also being discussed on Clubhouse. Several rooms had discussions on Lakshadweep’s arbitrary administrative reforms, with Kerala MP Elamaram Kareem among the speakers.
“Members of the DYFI (youth wing of CPI (M)) as well as Congress leader VT Balram, Ajay Maken, Mani Shankar Aiyar, etc. participated in debates on Lakshadweep. BJP spokespersons within the group have championed the reforms at UT, ”says Hrishikesh.
There are several rooms dedicated to feminist discourse with topics such as “Do women have sufficient freedom of choice in food?” Some rooms also discuss the downsides of the Clubhouse itself. For example, “Toxic Masculinity and Explanation on Clubhouse” is a topic discussed in one play while this story is being written. Another very popular room which currently has 2,300 participants discusses the reservation system with well-known speakers such as Dalit activist Dinu Veyil and journalists Shahina KK and Arun Janardhanan.
Maneesh adds that a big advantage of Clubhouse is that it offers so many new voices with different perspectives. “Prime-time TV discussions usually have the same panelists whose views are familiar to the audience. So the Clubhouse is a good way to get new perspectives on the same issues, ”he explains.
With open rooms (rooms that do not have a closed or restricted entrance), anyone in the Clubhouse can enter any room. That freedom created a bit of embarrassment during one of the talks earlier this week when Malayalam director Jis Joy fell into a room where speakers were ridiculing his films.
“The theme of the room was – Is the goodness of the Jis Joy movies a burden to the world? It was a troll room to discuss his films. But when the director himself came in to listen to what the speakers had to say about him, the whole conversation changed and it kind of became a question and answer session with Jis Joy, ”adds Maneesh.
With Kerala, among other states, going through multi-week lockdowns to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Clubhouse has arrived at the perfect time, allowing Keralites and non-resident Keralites to move their conversations forward at a time when interactions social are not -existent. Twitter Spaces, a similar platform, on the other hand, appears to be dominated by Tamil groups.
According to reports from the App Analytics Platform, on May 25, Clubhouse had more than 1.03 lakh of downloads on Google Playstore in India since its launch on May 21. For IOS, the total number of downloads for Clubhouse was over 2 lakh.
While we don’t know if Clubhouse will survive beyond the initial buzz, several users believe the wireless audio social networking model could stick around longer. “When you look at the evolution of social networking portals, it quickly moved from text messaging to visual support. But now we see the emergence of audio as an important medium for social networking. And I think it’s here to stay, ”says Hrishikesh.