Karan Joseph death: Who is Rishi Shah? Acquaintances decode the man

Sep 17, 2017, 08:20 IST | Aastha Atray Banan

Rishi Shah, the man at the centre of Bangalore-based pianist Karan Joseph's mysterious death decoded by old colleagues, creditors and elite companions from New York

Rishi Shah
Rishi Shah. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

A man hardly discussed in the media until September 9, Rishi Shah has repeatedly hit headlines since pianist Karan Joseph was found dead in the compound of his Bandra Bandstand building. Known to the indie music community as publisher of RAVE magazine, and music entrepreneur, he, however, is remembered by actor and anchor Kubbra Sait as "a certified medical marijuana prescriber".

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"That's how he was introduced to me," she tells mid-day, recalling an event she hosted in Hawaii in 2011. This is when she first met Shah. When he learnt that she was to holiday in New York the following year, he said, "Come over, stay with me. I will take you to some fashion parties." "And I said, yes, why not," she recounts. His Manhattan apartment overlooked the Hudson, and at the parties they frequented, he seemed to know the right people. "I don't know what they thought of him, but he knew his way around. It was clear he was well-off and he shared a camaraderie with the people he met."

Illustration/Ravi Jadhav
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

An American life
Scouring the Internet confirms Kubbra's claim. Pictures of Shah on the website of the New York Social Diary show him partying with the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, Sachin Tendulkar and Deputy Head of Mission and Consul General at the British Embassy David Lelliott. Kubbra next met Shah in March 2017 when she hosted a party to re-launch RAVE, a music magazine he had first introduced in India in 2002. "I hadn't kept in touch with him ever since New York. But [when I met him], he was the same. A jittery energy surrounded him."

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Shah lived the life of a high-flying elite thanks to his successful urologist father Dr Shashi Shah. The man with a 40-year-long career in America, much of it at Franklin Hospital, Valley Stream, NY, has held several prestigious positions including President of Medical Staff and Chairman of the Medical Executive Committee. In the 1980s, he is believed to have performed the first percutaneous nephrostolithotomy (keyhole kidney stone) surgery in Long Island, according to a report in The South Asian Times. He met Pushpa when they were students at Sawai Man Singh Medical College in Jaipur. She did her residency in Rehab Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, but gave up her practice a few years later to focus on family. The Shahs are a prominent couple in the Indian-American physicians community. Their younger, Rahul, runs an asset management firm with wife, Anjani in New York. Rishi Shah, himself, also apparently has a background in medicine, but chose to work in the entertainment business.

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He is believed to have started his career at Arista Records in 1992, and since has been on the board of prominent committees, including the American Society of Young Musicians and the Multicultural Motion Picture Association.

Rishi's parents Dr Shashi Shah (in pic on facing page) and Dr Rupa Shah (in sari) are prominent names in the Indian-American physicians community. Pic/Kaushal Punatar
Rishi's parents Dr Shashi Shah (in pic on facing page) and Dr Rupa Shah (in sari) are prominent names in the Indian-American physicians community. Pic/Kaushal Punatar

A wannabe star maker
Shah returned to India in 2002 and launched RAVE, which he said at the time, would be India's answer to Rolling Stone.

Also read - Mumbai: Is bad advice from flatmate Rishi Shah to blame for Karan Joseph's death?

Pop singer Shibani Kashyap met Shah at the same Hawaii event as Kubbra. But it was in New Delhi in 2003 that she was first introduced to him when she was being interviewed for his magazine. "RAVE was doing well then. He seemed to have a passion for music and played the guitar. He was positive about my talent and later got me to record three songs with Silva Ganesh, which he produced. I don't know what happened to those songs, though," she says. This trait of leading on musicians is responsible for the negative image he has within the industry. Two days ago, Kolkata-based band, Underground Authority, released a video that recounted how they had been shortchanged by Shah. Lead guitarist Adil Rashid told mid-day that he met Shah at a gig in Blue Frog last year, where he expressed his desire to help them record new material and get them gigs. "He even travelled to Kolkata to convince us. He almost begged us. We arrived in Bombay and recorded five songs at Famous Studios." Once that was done, Shah became a changed man, Rashid alleges. "He ridiculed us in front of his staff. He told us we were s*** and he was the reason we were doing anything at all. We don't know where those songs are. We were never paid for them."

A man of many faces
Event management and public relations firm Picture N Kraft owner Parul Chawla handled three events for Shah, and remembers him initially for his confidence and his enthusiasm. "I remember how he fired his former PR rep on the phone right in front of me. He was aggressive and eccentric but had the zeal to do something. He had an eye for talent too. For RAVE's re-launch, he sniffed out a talented bunch of kids from Dharavi and had them perform."

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The non-payment of dues comes up again when Chawla says that her firm was never paid for managing the launch. "Shah said it was because he wasn't keeping well and had been admitted to Lilavati Hospital," she says. A well-known musician, who requested not to be named, confirms Chawla's story and in fact shares that Shah said he was suffering from pancreatic cancer and had 18 months to live. "For old times' sake, I'd meet him once every couple of months to find out how he was." Projects he collaborated with Shah on would rarely take off, and his reputation was getting sullied, so they parted ways.

Kubbra Sait
Kubbra Sait

A former colleague and scriptwriter remembers him for his sound knowledge of music. "His heart was in the right place and he had a vision for his company. But, he seemed to be grappling with emotional issues, and that got in the way of his work," she says.

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Most people who knew, and worked with him, will agree he was arrogant and a horror to work with. "He is a bully," said one acquaintance. "Can he kill or drive someone to death? I don't know."

Also view - Pianist Karan Joseph's tragic death: What we know so far
Karan Joseph suicide

The Karan Joseph case
Rishi Shah in his statement to the police said Bangalore-based pianist Karan Joseph, 29, who was living in his home for the last one month, jumped to his death from the 12th floor on September 9. Shah had apparently been advising him on his career. Friends of the musician have alleged that he was intimidating Joseph, preventing him from working with others, and supplying him drugs. Hours before his death, Joseph had messaged a number of friends about being beaten. The police have lodged an abetment of suicide case against unknown person/s after his parents alleged mental torture.

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