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The Rolling Stone Interview: Raghu Dixit

“Last year we spent about Rs 39 lakhs and earned back about Rs 11 lakhs…”

Bobin James May 03, 2011
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If we could rewind all the way back, was yours a particularly musical family, considering your brother Vasu is also a musician now?

Ours was not a musical family. I think we have to start now [laughs]. My mom is an avid listener of music. Her day starts with Carnatic classical music and ends with Carnatic classical music. And as a child growing up, I would wake up to her small transistor playing. My dad was neither musical nor artistic. He was a farmer’s son, and he was very rough and very rude all the time. But he had this amazing interest in plays, street dance performances and music concerts. He would always force us to watch classical concerts, classical dance performances and plays. But never did my parents force me to learn anything. What happened was an accident.

We were living in a joint family and one of my cousin sisters was learning Bharatnatyam and she would practice at home. I would stand behind her and imitate her and make fun of her movements. Once my dad caught that from the corner of his eyes and he thought I had talent [laughs heartily]. And the next day to my horror, I was being pulled to the dance class. So that’s how I ended up getting into a dance class. And I grudgingly went because of my dad’s ferocious temper.

After the first year, there was a performance and at the end of it, there were people hugging me. That was the time when Saagara Sangamam, the Kamal Hassan movie was a massive hit. And people would tell me, “You dance like Kamal Hassan.” And that was it. I love attention. I went on to learn it for 17 years and started considering becoming a professional dancer.

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That’s when my dad said that I shouldn’t treat it as a profession and keep it as a hobby. He said, “I love the way you dance, but I want you to study well and get a job.” My dad was running a very rundown business which went into losses every now and then. So we were told, “All we can give you is good education, in a decent English medium school.” It was called the Balodyana English Medium School. There, I had ample opportunity to perform on stage. I used to love theatre and must have done a play every year, and danced too.

But there was no music?

Never”¦ Music was there as a background thing for my dance, but never as a singer or anything. I never knew I had a voice. Music happened much later in college when I was about 19. A classmate of mine, Geoffrey, called me effeminate when I was removing my dance makeup. That’s when I lost my temper, and told him, “Give me two months and I will play the guitar and sing a song.”

So we have Geoffrey to thank for you being a musician”¦

Oh, I still do, everyday. [laughs] So soon I started learning guitar at this Christian seminary 13 km from Mysore, where Brother Ivan taught me the basic chords. He said, “If you learn these chords, you have one scale and in one scale you can play all songs in the world.” In two months, I had learned two scales or something and Brother Ivan helped me learn one song, ”˜500 Miles.’ I went to college, looked for Geoffrey and told him, “I’m ready with a song.” I sang the song and I got a loud applause from the students gathered and that was the beginning”¦

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Then I met lots of other people who were playing guitar in Mysore. Then there was this one opportunity to perform at a show for the Aptech annual day. They wanted a band to perform. I had met other musicians by then and we said we would perform. And we had the audacity to say we want Rs 3500 rupees to play [laughs].

That’s a lot of money for those times”¦

Yeah, and we actually got it [laughs]. Because we had to rent a drumkit and pay the drummer who was a hotel musician. So all was agreed upon. Then on the day of the show, my dad passed away, in the morning. I finished the funeral and came back home and my mom is still crying, and my band is waiting outside. And they thought the show is cancelled. That’s when my mom pulled me aside and said, “I know you have a show today. You should go and play. As an artist you have already taken money, you have spent a bit of it and there are people waiting for you there.” That’s the biggest lesson I learnt, that no matter what happens, whatever turmoil you might be going through, when you go on stage, you have no choice. People should not know anything beyond that song.

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