'No need to pit independent music against the film industry'
While agreeing that control over their music is vital, Prateek Kuhad, Lisa Mishra say Bollywood's power cannot be underplayed
Lisa Mishra wants to open the conversation by "addressing the dress in the room". It's only the second time that she has slipped into the emerald attire after initially donning it a year ago when hanging out with Prateek Kuhad. "Crazy things happened that night," they laugh, without divulging details, but giving us a glimpse of the camaraderie they share. They spend 15 minutes discussing sound checks before concluding that the subject wouldn't enthral readers, deviating to talk about relationships instead. Edited excerpts from the interaction between Kuhad, whose songs feature on former US president Barack Obama's playlist, and Mishra, who shared a virtual platform along with the likes of Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and Elton John at a recent gig:
Prateek: How has the lockdown been for you?
Lisa: My family lives in the US, and while I had intended to, I didn't make it out [of India] in time. So, I went to Bhubaneswar where my extended family lives. I hadn't lived in Orissa since I was six-years old, so, it was strange to live in my grandpa's home and meet relatives who I've met no more than four times in two decades. I'm grateful for that [experience]. But, I [had a few] songs that released at the wrong time. We put out one song, and the next day, Irrfan [Khan] passed away. The following day, Rishi Kapoor did. So, musically, it was a tough month. I hence had some resentment against the [development]. I didn't play music for a few months because I was upset. I only started writing again in July, and ended up writing a lot. In fact, everything that I will release in the upcoming months will have been co-produced or co-written by me. Calling the shots, and making the kind of music I needed to, even in lieu of the lack of work from Bollywood over the past few months, was amazing.
Lisa: You recently released Kasoor. The craziest thing that I noticed was that within a week of releasing on Instagram, it had five million views. That's the kind of number you acquire on YouTube, but not on Instagram. Tell us about it.
Prateek:[My teammate, writer-director] Dar Gai came up with the idea. While I am usually cynical about most recommendations, I instantly knew that this would be great. We had been working on it for a year, and had planned to release it last year, but kept deferring it for various reasons. First, I went on tour, then I didn't have money because I spent too much of it touring. When I got money, we found ourselves in the pandemic. We realised this was the right time to make it. The guys wanted me to shoot some portion in the studio, but we couldn't do that. So, we shot it at home with the help of my girlfriend. But, apart from that, the track was created exactly as we conceptulalised it. I knew it would do well, but it exceeded my expectations.
Lisa: That song was definitely a movement in the independent music [scene]. I was in awe. I think it is an inspiration for all those involved in non-film work.
Prateek: There's so much discussion about non-film music and Bollywood music, which are pitted against each other. Can you weigh in on that since you've [been involved with both]?
Lisa: The truth is that if your sound is authentic, you can [take creative calls]. For instance, your song, Kho gaye hum kahan [Baar Baar Dekho, 2016], [reflects] your sound. When you make an authentic mark with an original sound, you will be asked for that, even in Bollywood. There's a notion that the only music worth listening to is independent music. But, if your work can speak for itself, and your writing is authentic, they will seek that from you. Nowadays, I am told that the brief given to other singers is to sing like me. So, if you make that mark, you can carve your own space even in Bollywood. Bollywood is a giant; the dal-chawal of the country. It was the only source of music for 70 years [until independent music became popular]. You may not have creative control, but you are exposed to a huge listener-base. But, how willing are you to mould yourself [for them]? That's a call you need to take.
Prateek: But even if one chooses to do so, it's okay. If you want to stick to an industry's sound, it's fine.
Lisa: It is. I talk of [Bollywood singing] like melodious voice acting. You're in a booth, singing for a character for a given movie scene while [deciphering] how she looks and sounds. It is fascinating and challenging. I grew up on Bollywood music, and love the big productions. But, within that, I have to remind myself that I'm here for a reason; I have a particular sound, and I love it. I don't want to become someone I don't recognise. Independent music is growing, because of people like you, but it is a slow and steady climb. Even in a year like this one, when it should, ideally, have dominated the scene, we still need an actor to feature in it, or a star to share it on social media.
Prateek: That is a refreshing way of looking at the situation. It's also about not being rigid. You can choose to keep your distinctive sound alive; you may have to pay a price for it, but it could help you in [the long run].
Lisa: Or you could simply be featured on the [play] list of the former president of the United States!
Prateek: It's a gamble. People shouldn't be apprehensive about [exploring either industry]. There are good and bad people in both. I find a lot of people demonising Bollywood. I have had bad experiences working in that industry, but that has happened in the indie-music industry as well.
Lisa: This war between the two worlds doesn't need to exist. It also [affects] musicians like us. I enjoy [working in] both industries equally. Although, one aspect in which the industry can grow is in enabling musicians to be the face of their music, instead of just the voice. We have big music industries [backing] original [songs] that are not fronted by the singer. For long, we have had Bollywood actors be the face of our music. That has got to shift.
Lisa: Where have you spent your time in the lockdown?
Prateek: In Delhi. I was happy when it began, because I had toured extensively last year. I was depressed, and in a bad place, physically and emotionally. I had just started dating my girlfriend, and that wasn't the best timing to do so since I was heading on tour. I was tired and cranky all the time. When I came back, I spent time working on my health; eating, and sleeping properly. I haven't slept the way that I have in the lockdown, for five years. I am sleeping for eight hours each day.
Prateek: Can you talk about the making of your recent track, Nai chaida?
Lisa: We planned it in February, before the pandemic. Eerily, it revolved around a couple that communicates over video chats. We released it in April, and began to wonder if we had predicted this situation. The video is also inspired by my life, and had to do with letting go of my romantic [equation] to take forth this career. We shot it at the same locations where I held my meetings when I first came here.
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