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regular-article-logo Sunday, 26 May 2024

Spooky tales a hit on Clubhouse

Bengalis bond over ghost stories and more on the latest virtual-adda zone

Sibendu Das Published 23.06.21, 10:38 PM
Representational image

Representational image Shutterstock

Early this month, a friend put up her monthly ‘looking for recommendations’ post on Facebook: “Who’s binge-watching what?” Curious, I started glancing through the comments only to stop at one. It said: “Not watching. Only listening. Bhooter golpo whole night. On Clubhouse.”

Spooky, spine-chilling tales at the dead of the night — that’s what keeping Bengalis across the globe wide, wide awake these days, err… nights — all thanks to the latest virtual-adda zone on the digital space, the Clubhouse app.

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For the uninitiated, it’s a social media platform where users can connect with each other in voice chat rooms. It’s an audio-only app where one can create chat rooms, follow clubs on different themes (or even create one), and host live discussions, where you can drop in just as a listener, or speak if the hosts (called moderators) allow you to. And this is where adda-loving Bangalis from near and far are flocking and bonding together over hair-raising, eerie and quite addictive stories of paranormal experiences, all shared in the Bengali language.

Rising glory

The popularity of this room — aptly named Golpo Holeo Shotti — is soaring high by the day. In just a fortnight of its existence, its mother club, Bengali Creators Club had more than 2k followers! A brainchild of street-and-travel photographer Suprotim Nandi, the Golpo Holeo Shotti room has a dedicated fan following. The room opens daily at 11pm, and goes on till 3am. “Just the other day I was very surprised to find that the room had 92 people in the audience immediately after opening. This means people have been waiting for the room to begin!” said Suprotim.

As the sessions continue till late night, many probashi Bangalis living in other time zones also drop in for their share of paranormal chronicles. From as far as the US to closer home in Dhaka, or for that matter from other states of India, Bengalis are getting addicted to Golpo Holeo Shotti.

“This insane popularity of this room is unbelievable. It’s like a necessary evil. We all feel scared, but we all will tune in at 11pm daily to get scared. It’s a very funny situation,” said Ananya Das, a 24-year-old photography enthusiast and content curator-cum-influencer management executive, who is also one of the admins of the Bengali Creators Club.

Fact or fiction

The fun of tuning into the Golpo Holeo Shotti room, as the name suggests, is the fact that you can’t really tell if the “story” or the “paranormal experience” you listened to is real or just a figment of imagination. Or maybe a real story narrated with some finer finishing touches to elevate the spookiness to the next level.

“That’s the best part. On several occasions I kept wondering if the story was actually true or completely made-up,” said Anusree Gupta, a corporate content writer, who recently joined Clubhouse only because she had “heard so much about the bhooter golpo sessions” from her friends.

Art of the spoken word

What started as a random room for sharing each other’s real-life spooky experiences, quickly turned into a platform where casual storytelling evolved into a serious performing art. Members started putting in their effort in scripting ghost stories and then narrating them with panache. The audience lapped them up, and soon Golpo Holeo Shotti regulars had their favourite storytellers.

For freelance digital artist Sivam Kundu, a Purulia resident, the Golpo Holeo Shotti room let him explore and hone his skills as a vocal artist. “The first day I had shared a story, it was impromptu. But when I heard Poorna Banerjee, who is everyone’s favourite storyteller in this room, I realised I could start planning my stories and try something new with my storytelling techniques. I am glad I did, because it brought a lot of appreciation my way,” said Sivam.

“We have a lot of people who used to tune in as mere listeners, but now are actively taking part in storytelling. We have seen a rise in the number of people who are coming out of their shell and speaking. Clubhouse being a platform where you can’t see anyone, I think that helps a lot of people in building that confidence in the world of Zoom and Google Meet,” said Ananya.

A screenshot of a Golpo Holeo Shotti session

A screenshot of a Golpo Holeo Shotti session Sourced by the correspondent

Why so popular?

“Who doesn’t love ghost stories? We all have grown up reading bhooter golpo. So naturally people are getting drawn to this session in particular,” explained Tanayesh Talukdar, an IT professional and travel blogger who has co-founded Bengali Creators Club. In fact, the popularity of Golpo Holeo Shotti “is the main reason why the Bengali Creators Club reached a follower count of more than 2,000 within two weeks,” feels another co-founder, Sammya Brata Mullick, a management consultant and photography enthusiast.

For Sivam, it gives him a feeling of nostalgia. “Growing up in Purulia, we used to have almost regular power-cuts around 11pm. All neighbours used to come out and engage in adda. Mostly ghost stories were shared. Golpo Holeo Shotti takes me back to those days,” he added.

And yes, daily routines are being rehashed and re-tweaked to make room for the most popular Bengali room on Clubhouse. “Earlier I used to have dinner quite late in the night. These days I quickly finish my dinner by 10.30pm, sort out next day’s schedule, finish all phone calls that I have to make, so that I can join in sharp at 11pm,” said Rounak Banerjee, a medical representative from Bhadreswar in Hooghly district, who admits that “Golpo Holeo Shotti is very, very addictive.”

Members in the audience at times bring in their family members and have them narrate their share of ghostly tales with the audience. “One guy joined in with his grandmom, who then told us a very spooky story. It literally was a ‘thakumar jhuli’ night for us,” said Tanayesh. “Everyone within a family can relate to these stories. Shobai bhoy petei ashe (everyone willingly comes to get scared),” added Sammya.

Even some of those who only listen and never come up on the speaker’s panel take part in creating the ambience by changing their Display Pics into something scary and spooky during this session!

The Adda Spreads

Ananya Sinha, a consultant clinical psychologist and former assistant professor of psychology, Christ University, Bangalore, points out that the strength of Clubhouse is the power of empathetic human touch in real-time, online, social interactions. “The participants feel heard, connected, supported and validated. It provides a virtual platform of learning and exchange of ideas, and even the very shy one in the group feels encouraged to share.” The pandemic has resulted in an increased sense of isolation, stress, uncertainty, boredom and lack of real-time informal interactions. According to her, “In the wake of such social isolation, loneliness and experience of collective trauma due to the impact of Covid-19, Clubhouse provides a community that promotes non-judgemental acceptance, a sense of belonging, positive regard (aspiringly unconditional) and reduction of stigma.”

Add to that the freedom and pleasure to communicate in one’s mother tongue, and you have a formula for success. As a regular audience like Prithwijit Ghosh, a brand marketeer based in Delhi, puts it: “It’s popular because adda is in the DNA of Bengalis.”

For some NRI Bengalis, joining a Bengali chat room gives them an opportunity to practise the language they hardly get a chance to speak in their immediate surroundings. For others it is also about meeting fellow Bengalis from other parts of the globe. For many, it is about staying connected to their roots.

Hence, on a platform like Clubhouse which has users from across the globe, primarily conversing in English, the popularity of Bengali-only rooms has been quite a phenomenon. Bengali Creators Club also organises chat rooms on different adda themes — ranging from body politics to baul gaan, spirituality to travel, and more.

Their upcoming sessions include ‘Pride and Bengal: Stories from the LGBTQ+ Community in Bengal’ on June 25 at 9pm, and ‘Bengal Undiscovered: Beyond Roshogolla and Durga Pujo’ on June 26, at 8pm.

There are other Bengali-only clubs as well on Clubhouse — such as Bong Adda, Bengali Booklovers, Bengali News Room, Bong.Social, Bangla O Bangali, Kolkatar Adda and Kolkata Foodies — each with a niche Bengali following.

Running the Show

It’s not easy to host multiple rooms every day continuously for hours, without fail. Hence the core team of eight people who manage Bengali Creators Club — Sammya Brata Mullick, Shubhayu Dasgupta, Ananya Das, Tanayesh Talukdar, Sharmita Ghosh, Anirban Dey, Pramit Chanda, Suprotim Nandi — divide up responsibilities, taking turns to keep the rooms going. The moderators ensure that nobody makes any political or religious comments or hurt sentiments, or be a troll.

“They are doing a fabulous job. Having lived outside Bengal since 2005, this session has become a stress buster for me. And listening to the moderators as well as the regular speakers daily, it gives me a feel of being connected to a virtual family,” sums up Prithwijit.

Golpo Holeo Shotti room on Clubhouse opens daily at 11pm and goes on till 3am. Follow Bengali Creators Club to access the room. You can access Clubhouse on iOS and Android phones

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