I am only vaguely aware of the fatigue creeping slowly from my shoulder blade as I hang by a mere hand in the local en route to Kanjurmarg, of the much tortured bladder threatening to burst at the seams due to sheer pressure, of the retinas smarting under the impressions made by sudden influx of studio lights. My mind is yet to retrieve itself from the reverie it had plunged into, the feeble strains of a much funkier four-beat ‘Khilte hai gul yaha’ in the mesmerising voice of KK playing on ad infinitum…
The day started, can’t say as usual, but there wasn’t anything unusual about it either. An e-mail earlier inviting me to the live recording of one of the episodes of Coke Studio at MTV had me anticipating a lot more towards the fag end of the day. After getting off from my class I took an auto which took me on Malad-darshan, the destination, Cherish Studios, sprouting magically out of the ground in what most in Mumbaiyya slang will call khopcha of a village. Strategic positioning in retrospect, most people trying to gatecrash would probably be lost on the way.
I entered, and contacted Nitin who would be my Moses in guiding me through the Studio door. Nitin was one among the crew. Timid kinda man. I had to wait for about 5 minutes as the previous shoot was coming to an end.
The ambiance I could relate to as soon as I went in, seen in so many of the Pakistani versions. But the grandeur of it all crashing on me was enormous. Here it was, Coke Studio, in India, shooting its first season, and I was witnessing it happen. The Sabri Brothers stood 2 metres away, chatting animatedly as the crewmen readied the sets for the next shoot. , Musicians gave interviews, social butterflies flitted from person to person, there was flurry of activity all around, and I, the bystander, calmly looked upon the proceedings, waiting for the next repertoire to begin. On the left side of the stage, my left that would be, the Guitarists sat idly flicking their respective plectrums. Directly ahead of me was a pedestal sparkling with the mystery of what was about to come. The drums to the right looked quite alluring, as if clamouring to be beaten up with sticks and played to instrumentalist’s heart’s content. A flycam, huge in size, was placed just towards my right.
The priming for a shoot took quite some time. I sauntered away to inspect the back of the studio, while calling up a friend (equally ardent fan of Coke Studio) when suddenly a door opened and out came an old man sporting a Master Sheefu beard and balding features yet a braid behind. I was so startled so as to be temporarily deaf to the person mouthing something incoherent on the other side of the phone. The door which he came through was emblazoned with the words, “Leslie Lewis- Do Not Enter.” Meanwhile he had gone to musicians and by the pregnant parley he held with them it seemed to me that they were discussing the various elements of the song they were about to play.
The cameramen danced like spiders over the whole of the stage, intent on capturing the artist’s face or their fingers floundering artistically as they voiced themselves through the trilling of their talent. The house band was extremely rich in this regard, flawless in their act and performance. Sabri Brothers ruminated on the state of broken young hearts via the lyrical qawalli which went like, “Hame to loot liya milke husn walo ne…”. You could tell that the musicians were having a ball. One of the siblings even went to the extent of pointing out his sparse (all right, not so much) hair while crooning ‘Kale kale balo ne, and then to his puffy cheeks ‘gore gore galo ne’. Extremely peppy number, the add-ons though limited added to freshness of this version. The shoot went well past 6, owing to several slips of the hand, adding and subtracting riffs, and rampant improvisation. Seated in the guest section, I could until then just make out the heavy thudding of the drums and the overall music as if in a jam, but not the music akin to a recording.
The Knight in Shining Armour Nikhil came in then, after the shoot of the Sabri Brothers had been completed and we were waiting for KK to arrive, to rescue the Facebook Page Fans from the lack of any sophisticated equipment for listening. Acquaintances were made among other Facebook and Coke Studio fans, and we within ourselves for some time were consumed with the discussion of the Pakistani TV show and how this venture in India would turn up. We were then allowed to click pictures upon the stage, and we like unabashed kids went up thrilled at the prospect. A couple of clicks later we were, however, ushered off as whispered rumours of KK having stepped in reached our ears.
Indeed he had, looking every bit as flamboyant as he is made out to be, up there on the stage. Apart from him I also noticed the Violinist seated near the Coke Studio LED screen, adjusting and tuning his instrument. This time we were prepared, Nikhil having procured us seats near the head phones, and now only could we truly appreciate the beauty of the music of which Coke Studio is so characteristic, while KK’s voice rent the first note of ‘Tu hai aasmaan me’ in a casual, laidback manner.
This version had been considerably mellowed down. Slower beats, distinctive focus on pure melody, you just wanted to lie somewhere, maybe on a hammock, gently rocking to and fro swigging a peg of a double malt, while this soft musical rendition played on. The violin took over, and took us on a flight of musical inebriation, the Carnatic notes slowly creeping in to evoke the goose-bumps. We were then taken inside the room where every camera, 8 of them, were monitored by a visionary of a man. I could almost imagine the Coke Studio episode of this one cut and edited out the footages I saw in front of me.
Three takes it took for the song to get recorded before everyone could be satisfied. We had some snacks, pilfering in the studio again to be told that KK and Sabri Brothers had a collaboration way later into the night, around 1 or 2 am in the morning, though nobody had a clue to who was up next. Our enquiries were soon addressed when we saw Mathangi and KK together. We had just entered the TV room (thats what I called it, a media-gawaar like me wouldn’t know the technical name) with the 8 monitors when KK crooned, ‘Khilte hai gul yahaa’ with such effervescent gusto that immediately brought to mind this Kishor Kumar number of yesteryears.
Four beats elapsed before we gasped at the innovation, nodding our heads according to the metronome in approval, smiling at its unique sound. KK coiled and twisted his voice in a Western meandering of the voice while Mathangi followed suit. A bald gent interrupted with the Tabla beat-box after the first chorus was over, chased in hot pursuit by those same beats in the percussion instrument itself.
With that we emerged out, thanking Nikhil on the way, allowing him to make a feedback video to show our gratitude. Many artists were discussed, many songs sung on the way back, revelling in the passion that enveloped us as well as the legions of fans across the subcontinent, making us reach the consensus that Coke Studio @ MTV would certainly be a grand success, quite alike its Pakistani counterpart, ultimately residing in a domain of its own, free and above all judgement or criticism, an entity to be just enjoyed and cherished. We bid adieu to each other, all the while thinking of the unbearable wait until the 17th of June we had to endure.
And oh, here is a small souvenir. You can spot me on the right pic sitting down on the rightmost corner. Yeah, the one with the sparse hair and specs who looks like he is sleeping.
Photo courtesy: Saurabh Rathi, Sushil Chhugani, Coke Studio @ MTV