(An interview with India’s top rock band, Parrikrama published in Timeline Goa, magazine)
Sometimes it’s a good thing that life doesn’t follow through with our plans. If it did, then Parikrama would have been just the ‘four month project’ they had originally set out to be and India would not have been blessed with one of its powerhouses of rock music. Thankfully, 24 years of rocking and rolling has offered a repertoire of hits like ‘But It Rained’, ‘Till I Am No One’ and many more. They have performed with the masters, Iron Maiden four times, one of them being at the UK’s premier rock festival Download in 07’.
Even Goa, an unlikely house of rock where Bob Marley, Lorna and the like continue to hold sway, has invited the band several times to play. The Goa leg of their ‘Play For A Cause’ concert series recently brought them back and we caught up with Subir Malik, keyboardist and manager, for a chat about their music.
Subir says that ‘Play for a Cause’ was a Prikrama concept worked out with Seagrams who were looking to activate their CSR. “The first tour was Parikrama at 23. The tie up was with Khushi Foundation happened and we did 23 shows, the age of the band. This year we are 24 years old. So, Parikrama will perform 24 shows and next year, June 2016,
when we turn 25, we plan 25 gigs,” he explains.
The band’s fondness for Goa draws them here a day earlier to explore the place and the feeling of ‘openness and freedom’ it offers. Apart from enjoying the serene environs, Goan audiences have proven to be fun yet challenging. “The audience here is so musically literate that it becomes a bigger task for us to convince them, a bigger challenge for them to accept you. Now people’s appreciation of rock music, like
in the rest of the country, has transformed from wanting covers to accepting our own compositions. “Goa and the north east are the two areas where musical knowledge
amongst the audience is probably the highest in the country. ‘So it’s more challenging to play here. And more fun. It gets you involved,” says Subir.
The band’s piece de résistance lies in their interpretation of rock music that seamlessly amalgamates western instruments such as the violin with Indian classical music instruments like the mridangam, tabla and bamboo flute. But that’s not all. No ‘Gothic’ look and leather pants—these are just a bunch of relaxed guys in jeans, shorts
and T-shirts playing in a place they love. And they haven’t let fame alter their empathy for the less fortunate as they have held concerts that support various causes since 1992. They held New Delhi’s first AIDS awareness concert.
Indus Creed and Rock Machine have been their idols. In fact Parikrama’s number ‘Xerox’ has been directly inspired by Rock Machine’s song ‘Top Of the Rock’. “When we play with them, they get top billing,” says Subir.
Back in 1997, the World Wide Web was almost unheard of but Subir plunged straight in by registering their site for Rs 35,000 and releasing their music free online. “There was no way for audiences in South Goa, for instance, to know that a band like Parikrama was
playing except for press ads that were rare and expensive.” The move was ridiculed by most in the industry at that time, but Subir ignored the critics.
Years later they had top international music executives like Peter Gabriels of Real World, the record company, writing in to ask how did they ‘predict how music would be sold in the future when the whole world got to know only 15 years later’.
He laughs and shrugs it off humbly, admitting, “I really wasn’t that farsighted thinking that the whole world would later sell online. For me it was a different marketing strategy.” Most of their audiences were students so a CD costing Rs 500 would be out of their reach.
Offering their music free online helped them reach their target. Even the thought of selling a song at Rs 10 much like iTunes, where you can buy songs online now, crossed their mind. However, those days lacked online payment domains like Paypal or Paytm. “Back in 1997 how do I tell a student to send me Rs 10?” he asks. “Citibank had just
come into credit card banking. You can’t send currency in the post and courier by Indian law. The only thing that remained was money order and no one is going to stand in a queue to send us 10 bucks. ”
The band even resisted tempting offers to switch to Indipop, a decision he doesn’t regret given the genre’s rapid decline into mediocrity. Whether it’s the cautious approach in taking decisions, its meticulous planning for shows, Parikrama defies the conventional image of the superfluous, reckless life associated with rock. In fact the band follows a strict set of rules. “No one touches alcohol before a performance no matter where and which part of the world they perform,” says Subir.
Another is that rehearsal time doesn’t mean bickering about other bands. Subir says that they have never seen other groups as a threat even though they appreciate different forms of music. Along with the music, band members follow their own careers. Says Subir, “We made it clear to all members that Parikrama will not be our main profession
and source of income. It’s a hobby and it remains so. When you live your passion, you survive.”