Monday, June 28, 2010

Prakash Shetty: A tribute

Karadi’s family is huge. Amongst its extended members are the artists, musicians, writers, narrators, sound engineers, singers and everyone who has contributed to leave  an indelible mark in the hearts of children.  Prakash Shetty’s imprint on Karadi Tales, amongst many others, is the opening music sequence of the title song, 'Welcome to my Jungle'. We lost Prakash in the late hours of 25 June 2010. Karadi Tales mourns this irreplaceable loss and would like to honour him by paying him the following tribute.

The following piece is written by Narayan Parasuram, Creative Director of Karadi Tales.

Late one night, during the Mumbai rains of 1991, I was called to sing an advertisement jingle. It was a male duet and an upcoming singer, Shankar Mahadevan, who had just sung the hugely popular Pepsi ad, had already finished the dubbing. The recording studio, Sound Company, was in Fort, in an alley which seemed straight out of an underground Tarantino film. After I finished singing, the producers were not particularly thrilled. They began to discuss other options, when a man, who was lazing around on a couch at the back of the studio, got up and remarked, ‘Nothing doing!’. I had earlier been introduced to him as Prakash Shetty the recording engineer. He went up to the mixer, played my voice track a few times, tweaked some knobs and voila! I had just returned from the US with a diploma in Sound Engineering but did not realize until then the art form that it is. 

When I got my first opportunity as a music director, I was anxious as to which studio to work in. I had quite a few options. Even though I was mighty impressed with Prakash and his studio, I was quite intimidated by him – if this guy who is supposed to be working under the instructions of the music director starts saying ‘Nothing doing!’ during takes, what would happen to my career?! But then as always, without intending to, I landed up doing the right thing. I booked the studio for two days to record two songs. When he saw me rushing through towards the end of the second day, he told me that I could have the studio the next day too – at no charge. He told me that what I was creating there was for posterity and that I should work with complete honesty and without compromise. That song has yet to see the light of the day, but what Prakash told me that day has been with me all my life and is indeed for posterity. 

When Karadi Tales happened, I had absolutely no anxiety about the studio to record in. This time, I didn’t need options. This time, the anxiety was about Naseeruddin Shah (our narrator, Karadi the bear). Some of my acquaintances who had worked with him warned me that he was a maverick and extremely unpredictable. Prakash told me not to worry. Prakash had spent time with Naseer and was confident that he would be great to work with. And as Prakash had predicted, the recording went without a hitch, Naseer was extremely cooperative, even recording live with other voice actors. The recording of Naseer’s voice and its impact is there for all to hear – 16 years on, with all kinds of gizmos in sound engineering, the voice track of Naseer recorded by Prakash with a simple Shure SM58 microphone on a one inch tape using an analog Tascam mixer, stands its ground rock solid, adapting so easily to the myriad tech formats in which it is demanded today. 

Prakash owned every space he was in. Be it his restaurant Ankur with exquisite palak soup and neer dosas or Sound Company or his home in Ghatkopar where he had one room (out of three) exclusively for his grand piano, it had to be without compromise. He had gold plated cables to ensure precision connectivity, an analog Moog synthesizer (he created the jackal howling in The Blue Jackal using this), an actual Rhodes piano (most musicians have only seen the name Rhodes piano on a sound sample on their keyboard/computer display), a Kurzweil keyboard, Yamaha NS10Ms – gear that you would see only in the most state-of-art studios in the world. Once, an iconic Austrian jazz pianist came to Prakash’s studio with the intent of buying some of his gear. Anyone else would have swooned at the mere idea of such an icon touching their equipment, but Prakash refused to sell anything. Instead he made him autograph the Moog that he was trying to buy, treated him to a nice dinner at Ankur and respectfully drove him back to his hotel!

Prakash is a unique musician. He recorded his solo album, Hard Notes Loose Change, over 4 years. Like most of Prakash’s music, this hardly got a release. But the best musicians craved to be a part of this and those who couldn’t went out of their way to run this album down. This is how Prakash’s music is - it challenges every rule in the book and makes musicians insecure. But that was never what Prakash intended: he made music that way because that was the only way he could. 

Many filmmakers tried working with him, but somehow, it never happened. Impressed with Hard Notes Loose Change, Khalid Mohammed asked him to compose one of Gulzar’s poems for a Hrithik Roshan film. He rejected the song and took on a mainstream music director instead of Prakash. Gulzar later told me that the song had moved him intensely and how ‘bewakoof’ it was to not have kept it. I am sure all artistes have stories like this to tell, (I surely do!), but what made Prakash so very special was that he was never ever bitter about it, nor did he ever wallow in self pity. Lata, his wife, has probably not even heard these stories!

Prakash grew up in a boarding school and it was here that he had his music influences. Freddie Mercury of Queen was from the same school. It was here that he trained under legends like Miles Davis, Hans Zimmer and The Beatles. Working with him was probably the best training for me. My background was only in Indian music and he introduced me to the real concept of chords and chord progressions which we in the music industry have been using in a clichéd manner. He made my melodic structures sound gorgeous with his chord arrangements and bass lines. The Sapri song in Karadi Tales is based on the regular Punnagavarali scale but his chords and bass lines mesmerized Usha Uthup when she came to dub for the song. The background score of the Karadi Tales stories too had this indelible mark and and I believe Prakash has been singularly responsible for the sound of Karadi Tales. 

There was a phase in my life when I used to ride with him to his studio almost everyday. He would pick me up on the highway near my house in Chembur, drive to Flora Fountain, have breakfast at Welcome Hotel, order chai after chai in the studio from Milan Coffee House, lunch at Adarsh, have upma-sheera in the evening and dinner at Ankur. In between these lunches and dinners and chais happened an education that the greatest sound institute in the world cannot offer. 

Around 2002, I set up my own facility and my trips to Sound Company reduced. Whenever I got stuck or couldn’t get the right mix, I would try to imagine how Prakash would approach it. Most of the times I failed, but when I thought I had got it, I would go and play it to him. He used to make me believe that I was the best music composer in the world and at the same time sneaked in some invaluable advice. My brother Sriram, recently texted me saying that the sound production of one of our recent titles was ‘top notch’. I was on cloud nine but when I revisited it, I realized it was Prakash all over. 

Prakash is my best friend. There is nothing I did not share with him. There were many ‘first times’ that I had with him. The first time I recorded a song, the first time I had palak soup and paneer sandwich, the first time I heard Miles Davis, the first Karadi Tales soundtrack, the first time I saw Ganpati drinking milk, the first time I used a computer to record, the first time I came to know about Parkinsons…. the first time I went to a funeral was also his. 

A month ago, we performed together at the World Parkinson’s Day and after that his ninety-two year old father in law told me that I was his best friend.

How could I not be?

Written by Narayan Parasuram of 3 Brothers & A Violin,Creative Director of Karadi Tales.