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Straight from the Gut-tural

Pankaj Awasthi is on a roll as he directs music for Sudhir Mishra’s next film, while his electronic outfit Mili Bhagat gets noticed

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Nov 10, 2008

Hashim Badani

Pankaj Awasthi is quick to pass sagacious remarks on the creatively abject condition of the Indian music industry – referencing reality shows such as Indian Idol, plagiaristic Bollywood music, and substandard impressions of ‘done to death’ international rock in the independent music circuit. But when the disgruntled man says “rock is dead” he inadvertently trivialises an ongoing music revolution within the country. “It’s all been done before in the West, we are only aping their past, we haven’t even reached the surface of the core”¦ do something from where you belong,” he stresses, validating his callous remark. So why does Awasthi participate in that which he considers to be unworthy? He shifted base to Mumbai from Delhi a year back, just so he could avail of appropriate opportunities within Bollywood. It’s the old saying ‘if you can’t fight the system, work within it,’ that seems to have agreed with the singer-songwriter. Scruffy stubble, hair in a dishevelled mess, sunken eyes ”“ Awasthi looks quite the part of a distressed intellectual, but he quickly discounts the impression with his spirited conversation and convincing in what he is doing as a musician.

Perhaps only a few remember but a song received fair play on music channels in the year 2005 ”“ ”˜Khuda Ka Waasta,’ Awasthi’s first composition was sincerely a draft of fresh air within the otherwise contrived music that inundated music channels. “Khuda ka waasta tu dekar/Mere Ram ka tu Naam lekar/Naa jala mere dil ko” ”“ the lyricism attacked the religious dogma that haunts Indian society specifically directed at the Babri Masjid fiasco that took place at the time. It was representative of the kind of authenticity, political and social expression that music in India is in dire need of. The track was off Awasthi’s debut album Nine Lives which like the song invited little attention. Though the track was noticed and remixed by a well known German producer, Friedel Lelonek, and featured as the opening track on Reflections Volume 2, a progressive world music compilation by 1K Science Records. In 2004, Awasthi also performed at the repudiated Montreux Jazz Fest in Switzerland and St Dennis Music festival in France with Talvin Singh. The St Dennis performance was recorded live and was released as Songs of the Inner World on a European label.

Bollywood was never his calling, but in a chance meeting with director, Harry Baweja, a song of his, ”˜Tera Hi Karam,’ got picked as the title track for the movie Karam, a 2005 release. Awasthi speaks of his inspiration on the track, “I was overwhelmed by coincidences that have made this world materialise, and how everything fits perfectly”¦ it’s me appreciating that otherworldly power’s will.” But his songs meaning was lost in translation as the movie overdosed on the underworld. The video explicitly drew attention upon drugs, sex, violence – and the song adopted a feigned impression of Karmic retribution. Today, Awasthi obliges only offbeat Hindi cinema which agrees with his sensibilities. His most recent work as a music director was for the Manish Jha film, Anwar, in which he applied many Sufi-istic influences in keeping with the setting of the film.

Awasthi believes that electronica is the future of music especially in India which bears enough promise. With his indie electronic outfit Mili Bhagat (co-founded with Shyam Ravindran) he serves to direct his compulsive energies conjuring a progressive sound which seeks to permeate into a global acoustic-electro dimension. A Mili Bhagat track ”˜Khuda Khushi’ features on the recent underground series released on SaReGaMa/HMV. Even Bobby Friction seems to have taken to the track, as the song is doing the rounds on the BBC Asia network. Awasthi also featured on vocals for the self-titled album by Midival Punditz, electronica whiz kids from Delhi.

Currently, he is composing the soundtrack for Tera Kya Hoga Johnny, being directed by Sudhir Mishra, which will see release later this year. Divulging a bit on the music he lets us know that it harbours a very industrial allure ”“ “It’s the sound of Mumbai, I mean how can you expect traditional music here, just listen to the stuff around us!” ”“ we are sitting at the open bay of a café which faces the road; it’s the disengaging cacophony of traffic, myriad conversations, street vendors which surprisingly inspire him.

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