Karishma Luthria is a Sydney-based, Mumbai-born-and-raised freelance audio producer and journalist. Her audio projects and commentaries can be found on ABC Radio National, ABC News, Guardian Australia, SBS News, Reuters and the Wheeler Centre.
In this edition of Working With Sound, Karishma shares her interest in producing stories with culturally and linguistically diverse communities, issues of human rights and identity politics.
What piece of audio has had the most profound effect on you – as a listener, as an audio maker or both?
Kirsti Melville’s The Storm and Lea Redfern’s The Trouble with Beauty. I listened to them when I was studying a podcasting unit at university and they were some of the first few long-form pieces that made me realise personal stories with fly-on-the-wall narratives, recording styles and sound design are powerful, life-changing listens. Kristi and Lea’s works continue to constantly inspire me – from questioning the actions of those in power, to questioning ourselves to change and evolve.
Where else do you find influence or inspiration for your work?
The news, POC spaces on Twitter, chats with friends and my community, and what’s going on back home in India.
Where do you work? And what tools help you the most?
I’m currently a freelancer, so my noisy apartment that faces a busy Sydney street and train station is ideal to record! On a serious note, I find Otter.ai really helpful when I’m knee deep into second and third rounds of edits.
Where did the idea for Australia’s caste divide come from?
During the Wheeler Centre’s Signal Boost programme my mentor Masako Fukui and I were talking about challenging privilege within our communities, and that’s when we discussed casteism in Australia. I was very reluctant to push the idea forward because I wasn’t sure if it was my story to tell, but very soon I realised in light of Black Lives Matter and Dalit Lives Matter in 2020, those from oppressor castes need to acknowledge their privilege and confront the Caste hierarchy that has impacted South Asians for thousands of years.
What was your favourite part of producing Australia’s caste divide?
The learning – I got to learn from the fantastic people who shared their stories with me, from Masako, my supervising producer Claudia Taranto and sound engineer John Jacobs. I learnt invaluable skills about the nuts and bolts of producing long-form audio such as letting the interviewees’ story drive the script, as well as intricate and effective sound design.
What was the biggest challenge of producing Australia’s caste divide?
The hardest part was navigating two hats – one of a producer, and another as a member from the South Asian community who is challenging their privilege. While editing people’s stories, over time your ears go numb particularly for a project like Australia’s caste divide that was produced over a few months. But when it came to pulling it all together and focussing on sound design that told the story emotively, it really hit me that I was dealing with real people and their lived experiences of being horribly discriminated against even at their hardest moments, like at a time of losing a loved one. I felt very grateful that people trusted me with their stories.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about podcasting?
Knowing when to effectively interject during an interview. Traditional interviewing styles always expect the interviewer to stay silent, but the beauty of podcasting is that it can be interactive and personal. With the right response at the right time it can add dynamism and personality to the programme.
As an audio maker, what have been your biggest lessons so far?
Audio requires a lot of unlearning as well as learning. Podcasting has upended a lot of rules of traditional journalism – particularly, unlearning some of the toxic traits of traditional media has been really foundational to my practise so far. This includes being able to reveal my personality to listeners, and even practising better trauma-informed reporting.
Do you think the work you make reflects your personality? If so – in which ways?
I would hope so! I’ve been lucky enough to produce pieces that share my own experiences and experiences from my community so I’ve been able to personalise them quite a lot. But I’m really interested to see how my practise will evolve when I do a story that has no relation to me at all but is about an issue I’m interested in.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I’m a little late to this, but Gimlet’s Reply All: The Test Kitchen. It’s abrupt end shows it is a reckoning about toxic workplaces and double standards that hit too close to Australian media houses as well. I’m also a regular listener of ABC’s Earshot – I love learning about beauty and feminism in one episode and the lived experiences of CALD communities in another.
What’s your favourite Australian podcast, and why?
Slightly biased of me but Guardian Australia’s Full Story. Laura Murphy-Oates can tackle any story and the toughest of lived experiences with such grace, power and tact. Laura’s ability to do so is really inspiring for me given my news background and I learn something new each time I listen.
What – if anything – do you think distinguishes Australian audio? What would you like to hear more of?
There are so many untold stories in Australia particularly from/by culturally and linguistically diverse and marginalised Australians. I think that’s what makes Australian audio storytelling so unique.
The Wheeler Centres 2020 Signal Boost programme participants and producer L-R, T-B Karishma Luthria, Beth Atkinson-Quinton, Nicole Pingon, Cherie Minniecon, Linh Do and Maddison Miller
If you could go out to dinner with any audio maker, who would it be – and what would you talk about?
This one’s difficult because I can’t pick one – so everyone involved in the Wheeler Centre’s Signal Boost programme. Beth Atkinson-Quinton, Jon Tjhia, Maddi Miller, Cherie Minnecon, Linh Do, Nicole Pingon, our mentors and Phineas Meere. We never got to meet in-person because of Covid-19 lockdowns and I am counting on wholesome audio conversations with the people who saved 2020 for me.
More learning, and hopefully more long-form audio storytelling. I’m obsessed!
You can listen to Karishma’s Earshot doco Australia’s caste divide here.