Parikrama: India’s Most Hard Working Band
The story of the Nineties band that is still going strong, playing more gigs than anybody else
Subir Malik won’tÂ allow the slightestÂ inaccuracy inÂ remembering gigÂ details.Â “No, Srijan [Mahajan, drummer],”Â says the co-founder and keyboardÂ player of the Delhi-based rockÂ band Parikrama, “We were goingÂ to play in Jamshedpur that day, notÂ Ranchi”¦This was on January 25thÂ 2008. Remember, our flight fromÂ Calcutta to Jamshedpur was delayedÂ and then canceled? So we hired aÂ tempo traveler ”“ a bad version of itÂ actually ”“ drove for 10 hours, playedÂ the show, came back to Calcutta andÂ from there flew back to Delhi whereÂ we had a show the next day.”
When your gig memories run intoÂ thousands, attention to detail isn’t aÂ virtue worth upholding at every anecdotal retelling. Or so we thought!Â Another memorable concert:Â Recalls Subir, “On December 28th,Â 1995, we played our first concert atÂ IIT Bombay ”“ Mood Indigo. We traveled inÂ a second-class train ”“ we took 18Â thousand [rupees] including travel. That wasÂ the deal. We lost money to do thatÂ show but we got all-India established.Â Farhad Wadia noticed us atÂ the show and he immediately calledÂ us for Rock Yatra in February the nextÂ year and for Independence Rock for almost everyÂ year after that.”
Turning 25 cannot be easy for aÂ rock band. Especially in India, whereÂ pursuing music professionally is stillÂ not a practical option for even the bestÂ of talent. Parikrama started as a four-monthÂ project in 1991 for the foundingÂ lineup comprising Subir, his brotherÂ Nitin (vocals), Chintan Kalra (bass),Â Sonam Sherpa (guitars), PrashantÂ Bahadur (guitars) and RahulÂ Malhotra. “We just wanted to playÂ some Pink Floyd and Rolling Stones,”Â says Subir. Their first concert ”“ atÂ Delhi’s Father Agnel School on September 15th, 1991 ”“ was too good forÂ the band to restrict their rock & rollingÂ to only four months. Bahadur andÂ Malhotra soon left the band to pursueÂ higher studies but Parikrama hadÂ only just begun. It seems their tunnelÂ vision ”“ or the cocksure college-boyÂ resolve they wore along with long hairÂ ”“ went a long way. The Nineties wereÂ a rather turbulent period that sawÂ rockers appear, disappear and gingerlyÂ reappear only to fade away all overÂ again. In the face of a fast-changingÂ music scenario, playing gigs consistentlyÂ and playing them well becameÂ a matter of dogged determination forÂ these young men. The current bandÂ is an eight-member outfit featuring,Â apart from founding members Subir, Nitin and Sonam, Saurabh ChaudharyÂ (guitars), Gaurav Balani (bass) andÂ Mahajan. They are joined by ImranÂ Khan (violins) and ShambhunathÂ Bhattacharya (tabla/percussions).
Band is bigger than you
Parikrama maintain that they haven’tÂ merely survived in the business. “WeÂ have kicked ass and are still kickingÂ ass,” says Subir. The band playÂ over a hundred shows every year andÂ in some of their busiest years, haveÂ averaged a show every two days. Following their successful debut gig at at MoodÂ I in 1995, Parikrama were able to captureÂ the college festival market likeÂ no other band. It was a case of perfectÂ timing ”“ interest in rock music was atÂ its peak among urban Indian youth,Â MTV had launched in the country and big brand sponsored college festivalsÂ provided a ready-made stage.Â Economic liberalization had had itsÂ desired effect. Of course it helped thatÂ Parikrama made badass showmen.Â “They were these big rock & roll guysÂ that I read about in RSJ [Rock StreetÂ Journal] and heard songs of in theÂ GIR [Great Indian Rock] tapes. TheyÂ were stars,” says Prithwish Dev, frontmanÂ of Delhi-based rock band ThemÂ Clones and a big Parikrama fan.
The funny thing is that ParikramaÂ could easily have been one ofÂ those bands that young musiciansÂ usually grow out of in time. It’s notÂ as if there were any role modelsÂ around for an English classic rockÂ band. Their notable predecessor,Â Mumbai’s Indus Creed ”“ or RockÂ Machine as they were called in theirÂ early years ”“ had three albums outÂ by 1995 and were hailed as one of theÂ original rock bands that India producedÂ in that era. But they didn’t stickÂ it out. The band disintegrated in 1997Â after over a decade of ruling the fledglingÂ rock scene in the country [theyÂ reunited in 2012 after 17 years andÂ released a comeback album].
Parikrama maintain that they haven’tÂ merely survived in the business. “WeÂ have kicked ass and are still kickingÂ ass,” says Subir.
Parikrama, on the other hand, hadÂ no reason to call it a day because byÂ the late Nineties, they had alreadyÂ cracked the code to being not just aÂ sustainable project but a most sought-afterÂ act too. The band played allÂ kinds of gigs and rarely ever refusedÂ shows. College festivals, fundraisingÂ corporate events, school shows andÂ what have you. A strict code of disciplineÂ within the band ensured practiceÂ was priority. Rehearsal had rightÂ of way. There was another unusualÂ tenet that the band set in stone backÂ in 1991, one that guaranteed that theÂ members never left the band in frustration.
Parikrama members decidedÂ to not depend on the band for theirÂ bread and butter. They had to find other sources of income. “So that inÂ summers, when you don’t get shows,Â you don’t start blaming a Bandish orÂ a Pentagram,” explains Subir. ThisÂ move, according to the musician, wasÂ the smartest one that they ever made.Â Also, punctuality. “Even till date, ifÂ we finish a gig at 12 in the night andÂ have to report at the airport the nextÂ morning at 4, all of us are there byÂ 3.55,” says Subir. The band also makeÂ it a point to never drink before a show,Â unless on rare occasions when someoneÂ grabs a beer during the last songÂ or if it’s a fun pub gig. For all theirÂ rock stardom, the men that formÂ Parikrama could well be a bunch of industrious IIT graduates spearheadingÂ a startup that is on a roll.Â Or rather one that has been on a rollÂ for a quarter of a century. “The tightnessÂ and the way we sound on stageÂ all comes from working hard,” saysÂ Sonam, who also runs the ParikramaÂ School Of Music [founded in 2003]Â which offers courses in instrumentalÂ and vocal music, not to mention artistÂ management and marketing. AtÂ the school’s annual concert last monthÂ at Delhi’s Kamani Auditorium, closeÂ to 20 student bands played an all-originalsÂ show.
Mahajan joined the band eightÂ years ago and is one of the youngestÂ members who has also had stintsÂ with Delhi rock bands such as Half Step Down and Cyanide. He is also one-half of the electro-rock duo FuzzCulture. The 28-year-old minces noÂ words to call out the vainglory ofÂ the ”˜scene’ guys. “I also play for theÂ indie scene but trust me, those guysÂ ”“ we guys — don’t know anything.Â We think that playing three gigs overÂ eight days is ”˜Oh my god I am so tired,Â it’s a tour’”¦ With Parikrama, we’veÂ done nine gigs in 10 days in differentÂ parts of Indonesia with zero sleep. WeÂ have played on the crappiest soundÂ systems in the most fucked up placesÂ in our country ”“ on jaagran soundÂ systems ”“ and there is not even oneÂ percent chance of the gig not beingÂ delivered from our end.”
At one of the gigs on theirÂ Indonesia tour in 2009, the bandÂ met with a strange situation upon arrivingÂ at the venue, an auditorium.Â In the name of a sound system, thereÂ was only one vocal mic on the stage.Â Apparently, the organizers had mistakenlyÂ assumed that Parikrama wasÂ a bharatanatyam group from IndiaÂ that was going to present a recital!Â The band brought the situationÂ under control by using an age-oldÂ trick. They went acoustic. While theÂ guitarists played unplugged, Shambu managed percussion on whateverÂ instruments he had with him. “And IÂ played drums on a dustbin,” says Mahajan,Â tch-tching that the dedicationÂ to play a good gig even in the face ofÂ adversity is something he doesn’t seeÂ in his indie counterparts. “The disciplineÂ and the will power are lacking.”
Parikrama plays coversÂ only: Myth or fact?
“It’s a dead topic for us,” says Subir.Â He and the band have come to theÂ conclusion that they can’t bust theÂ myth of Parikrama The Cover Band.Â While they couldn’t care less aboutÂ the cover band chides, could criticsÂ and fans (mostly the older onesÂ who haven’t bothered to check themÂ out since they left college) get theirÂ facts right at least? The band hasn’tÂ played a covers-only gig in ages andÂ almost all their shows these days featureÂ only originals.
Srijan: I joined in 2007 and I haveÂ never played a cover setlist. It is justÂ one of those things that is stuck inÂ people’s minds.
Subir: How does it matterÂ whether I play a Boney-M song or aÂ Bappi Lahiri song? People are callingÂ us for gigs. They call us the lastÂ man standing in indie music. We areÂ not ashamed of playing covers. See,Â you also have to understand thatÂ with the kind of schedules we follow,Â writing originals is difficult. WeÂ can’t write 20 songs in a year.
Nitin: I still think that a very, veryÂ difficult and crowd-wise enjoyableÂ cover played really well gives you andÂ the crowd more satisfaction. MoreÂ than an original which is so screwedÂ up that neither make you nor theÂ audience feel well.
Does calling out ParikramaÂ for playing covers that they loveÂ reflect a sort of hypocrisy on the partÂ of the indie music-loving communityÂ that strangely finds no problemÂ with an electronic artist generouslyÂ using songs/samples from otherÂ artists’ compositions? “Of course,”Â says Srijan, “How is that a DJ isÂ allowed to lift a song from SkrillexÂ and just push play on it? And whyÂ are we criticized for playing a songÂ that we love or grew up listeningÂ to? A song like “Baba O’Riley” [TheÂ Who] is one that all of us grew upÂ listening to and we have a lot of funÂ playing it?”Â Subir offers the final word: “WeÂ don’t get emotional about it.”Â His unhurried, pacifist plaindealingÂ even in the face of journalisticÂ probing is strangely inspiring.Â Whenever the discussion even soÂ much as grazes indie ribbing or EDMÂ teasing [“We need three Innovas forÂ our gear while those guys need onlyÂ a pen drive!”], the musician makesÂ it a point to reiterate that he and hisÂ band have absolutely no problemsÂ with anybody. Let them play and doÂ what they like.
“A cover played really well gives you andÂ the crowd more satisfaction–moreÂ than an original, which is so screwedÂ up.” -Nitin
Does round-the-clockÂ success experienced over two decadesÂ explains this disinclination to diss?Â Probably not. Subir says he’s foughtÂ hard to enjoy this state of supremacy.Â “I don’t get every Parikrama gigÂ on a platter. I have to work for it andÂ I work very hard. For the ParikramaÂ For A Cause tour, I spent aroundÂ eight months. And for the army showÂ in Pune last week, I spent four-and-a-half months.”Â Subir and Nitin come from aÂ family of businessmen. The MalikÂ family owns a motor spare parts shopÂ in Old Delhi’s cut-throat trading hubÂ of Kashmere Gate where, says Subir,Â he worked from 10am to 6pm everydayÂ till 2006. Parikrama’s successÂ and monopoly in the ”˜commercial’Â rock business is often credited toÂ Subir’s tenacious business acumen. “IÂ believe there is enough work forÂ everybody in the market, you justÂ have to go and get it,” he says.
“Subir kuch bhi kar sakta haiÂ [Subir is capable of doing anything],”Â says Rahul Ram, vocalist/Â bassist of the veteran Delhi band,Â Indian Ocean, and an old friendÂ of Parikrama’s. He also considersÂ Subir to be the original bandÂ manager in the Indian indie scene.Â There is nothing that Subir didn’tÂ do for his band back in the dayÂ that modern managers do today.Â All through their early years, theÂ business mastermind would promoteÂ his band at every possible platform,Â from the Internet [ParikramaÂ had a website up as early as ’95] toÂ classified ads. The music sector wasÂ horribly unorganized at the time ”“Â Parikrama were often mistakenÂ for a ”˜shaadi [wedding] band’ ”“Â and Subir attempted to consolidateÂ it by founding Parikrama Inc. inÂ 2001, the artist management agencyÂ which currently books over 70 actsÂ from across India. “It was a breakthrough,”Â says Rahul.
“I don’t get every Parikrama gigÂ on a platter. I have to work for it andÂ I work very hard.” -Subir
Rahul notes that it was ParikramaÂ who back in the day pioneeredÂ things like pyrotechnics and introducingÂ tabla and violin in rock.
Apart from that, the band alsoÂ realized the significance of strictÂ division of labor quite early on inÂ their career. While Subir managedÂ the band, Sonam and Nitin took theÂ bulk of writing and composition-relatedÂ work. Each of them holds the sameÂ roles even today. Says Subir, “WhenÂ Chintan was around, he was brilliantÂ at making creative, design orientedÂ things ”“ websites, T-shirts and otherÂ things. Dilip [Ramachandran, formerÂ drummer] used to be great at writing.”
Prithwish says that it wasÂ Parikrama’s ability to be a big act thatÂ changed the dynamic in their favor.Â “Whenever Parikrama came on stage,Â everyone knew that the big boys hadÂ arrived. Not every band can get onÂ a big stage and prove to be biggerÂ than the stage. They were always theÂ headliners.”
Among the countless headliningÂ gigs they’ve done, the bandÂ themselves count three shows asÂ their biggest milestones ”“ openingÂ for Iron Maiden in BengaluruÂ in 2007, playing at DownloadÂ Festival, UK the same year andÂ performing for a mammoth crowdÂ at the Kennedy Centre in 2011.Â Subir says, “There was a popularÂ Bollywood name that played theÂ night before us ”“ I won’t take theÂ name ”“ but we got four times theÂ crowd at our gig.”
Time for an album?
Unlike other bands, ParikramaÂ have never seen the point in releasingÂ an album ”“ their fans are moreÂ than familiar with their originalsÂ tracks which they routinely uploadÂ on their website for free download.Â Songs such as “Am I Dreaming”Â and “But It Rained” are always sungÂ along to at any gig, lyric for lyric.Â Parikrama’s mass popularityÂ rendered the concept of an albumÂ redundant. “We always told our fansÂ to make an album with the tracksÂ that we have on the site,” says Subir.Â However, the pressure to release aÂ legit album has been at an all-timeÂ high in the last few years.Â The lack of an album has alsoÂ put members in amusing situations.Â Sonam, who endorses LaneyÂ amps, recalls one instance when heÂ was filling out a form during theÂ endorsement deal. “One column inÂ the form said ”˜How many albums doÂ you have?’” he shares, adding, “PeopleÂ often ask us ”˜Oh, you’ve been aroundÂ for 25 years, how many albums hasÂ the band released?” For Sonam,Â an album will be a weapon toÂ “silence the critics”. A “medal” toÂ the band’s name. For all we know,Â there could be two clinking medals.Â Parikrama might just surpriseÂ everyone with a double album. “WeÂ are working on it,” says Subir.
Exclusive band photographs by Amit Sharma
All band members are wearing T-shirt and jeans from Aeropostale and leather cuffs and wristbands from Koovs
Styling by C. Vansangmawia, assisted by Lalhriatpuia Ralte, hair and makeup by Anand