For those who were around in Delhi in 1997, the music scene was pretty dismal. For most people in the capital, music meant either Hindi film songs or bhangra beats. The listening pleasure of this kind of music was heightened by holding a glass of whisky, with a plateful of chicken tikka to go with it.
Luckily for the more discerning music lover, this was also the year that two young boys who were graduating from college decided to give the city an entirely new sound: Indian electronica, a by-product of Asian Underground, which was being spearheaded by Talvin Singh in the UK.
And this is how Midival Punditz was born, with Tapan Raj and Gaurav Raina deciding to come together to form a band that was born out of a shared love of music. Says Tapan Raj, who graduated from IIT Delhi: “We just pooled our money and bought some equipment and started throwing parties called cyber-mehfils, and these parties started becoming popular.”
The Punditz boys, as they are fondly called by friends and acquaintances alike, were so naive back then that they were willing to spend their own money to host these cyber-mehfils. It was only when they realised that the bar owner was making a handsome profit on the back of their gig that they realised there was money to be made.
Money, however, wasn’t the driving force that kept these boys going. Says Raj with a self-deprecating smile, “When we started we didn’t know anything.
We didn’t even know that there was a beat like drums and bass. But both Gaurav and I had oodles of self-confidence and self-belief therefore we weren’t deterred by the fact that there was no one in India at that time who was doing this kind of sound. Had we looked at it rationally, maybe we would have spooked ourselves.” Two of the founding members did get spooked and opted out, leaving Raj and Raina to walk the long and often lonely road to success. Adds Raina, “The first four years of the band, we made no money at all.”
By now, there is no doubt at all that the Punditz boys are a success. Zoya Akhtar’s directorial debut film Luck By Chance has a track remixed by the Punditz boys. Says Raj, “We had met Zoya four years ago and at that time she was writing several scripts and once she finally decided on this script, she asked us to work with Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy, who have composed the music for the film.” Before Luck By Chance, the group did remixes for Don, Dhoom 2 and Monsoon Wedding and gave tracks for the hit TV series Six Feet Under and Prison Break. They have also given a track for the Jude Law and Julia Roberts starrer Closer.
Raina, who started his career as a DJ, says of the group’s association with the entertainment world that doing remixes isn’t being creative enough. He says, “Remixes aren’t something that we see as a creative milestone. Cinema is a strong medium, but we want to do Bollywood our way. We won’t compromise our style.”
Raj, who agrees with Raina, adds that the success they have had can be pinned down to plain old-fashioned luck. He says, “A lot of these things work out with luck also.”
Will the Punditz, once the flag-bearers of niche, become mainstream? Says Raj, pragmatically, “Every artiste wants his music to reach out to as many people as possible, so therefore there isn’t anything wrong with being mainstream. It is true that the mainstream has a bad reputation, but there is another part of the mainstream which comprises people like Bjork, U2 and Chemical Brothers, who have made music the way they wanted to and have been successful commercially.”
Raj also quotes the example of Radiohead, who released their latest album online, allowing their fans to pay what they liked for a period of two months. Says Raj, “Its important to sell and reach out to people, and they managed to do that.”
What has kept Midival Punditz’ sound fresh is their willingness to innovate and use every experience they have as fodder for creativity. Says Raina, “Our third album, which will be out this March, is very different from our first two albums. We try to rediscover ourselves with each album.”
The third album, titled Hello, Hello, has lyrics and rock-influenced music as well as Indian electronica, their particular forte. Shankar Mahadevan, a luminary of the music world, sang one track on the album, as did Vishal Vaid, the Sufi and ghazal singer from New York. Of the process of creating an album, Raj says, “Each track gets inspired by what we do, our experiences that we have. Our environment is the driving force.”
In the music business, 11 years is a long time. Do the Punditz boys see themselves being phased out? Raina says with conviction, “In the middle no one was talking about us, but music can or cannot be age-specific.”
And he adds, “We helped the music scene change in India. We were the first ones to start playing electronica in the country. We went on doing it as were passionate about it. We made a workable financial model out of our music.”