Sangeeta Pillai: Breaking taboos through podcasting

How the Masala Podcast tackles sensitive subjects in the South Asian community

Photo by Mala Vadgama

Podcasts can be a fantastic way to deal with delicate topics, and for Sangeeta Pillai, speaker, activist and founder of South Asian feminist network Soul Sutras, it’s a format that has been vital for breaking cultural taboos. Her award-winning Masala Podcast tackles cultural taboos against women in the South Asian community, and Pillai has used her platform to amplify real-life stories around taboo subjects such as periods, sex, menopause, and more. 

Pillai spoke to presenter Rhianna Dhillon and reporter Reem Makari in the latest episode of the PodPod podcast about how podcasting can be used to create a safe space for sensitive discussions, the most successful ways to approach potential guests, how to build a community beyond the podcast, and more. 

Key Takeaways 

Do your homework before approaching a guest 

“If I email Rhianna, and I know about Rhianna and I know what Rhianna does, what she’s interested in, the kind of things that Rhianna talks about, that makes a huge difference,” said Pillai. “It’s kind of up to us as people who might want to interview someone to kind of really get to know them as much as we can on social media, on the internet, look at their work, look at what they've done, and then email them.

“They can tell if you put in an effort or not; they can tell if you've just dashed off the same email to 50 people, and that doesn't work.”

Do more listening and less interrupting 

“I think a lot of people make the mistake, especially if you're young and you're starting out, of being so eager to get your questions in that you're not giving people the space to speak,” said Pillai. “We've got to remember that as podcasters, a guest has come on to our show and we've got to give them the space and the time and the energy that they deserve so that they can feel heard fully and properly.

“I think when you do that, when you really listen, a kind of magic happens and the other person feels heard and then they open up.” 

Let your guest guide the story 

“I just find the people, I think that's what I do, and then the people tell me the themes,” said Pillai. “So even for the next season, there isn't anything where I've said, oh, I need to do this or haven't done that. It will just evolve.

“I think when I speak to the person, I have a conversation and I know what I'm gonna talk about, and it just emerges in that very organic fashion.”


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