In India, we have almost a monopoly of one music company: Abhigyan Jha
‘Music Mafia’ in India has been under the scanner of late, when even music maestro and Oscar-winner AR Rahman recently revealed that there was a coterie in Bollywood that was preventing him from getting work in Hindi films. Oscar-winning sound artist Resul Pookutty also claimed that after winning an Oscar for ‘Slumdog Millionnaire’ he was not getting any work in Hindi films.
One might recall that a couple of months back singer Sonu Nigam and Divya Khosla, wife of T-Series Chief Bhushan Kumar, had got into a very public spat when Nigam took to social media to highlight how two major “mafias” were controlling the music industry in India.
Veteran director and serial entrepreneur Abhigyan Jha and Mrinal Jha’s ‘The Socho Project’, India’s first-ever musical web series seeks to shed light on the challenges faced by music artistes at the hands of the established music labels today.
In conversation with Adgully, Mrinal and Abhigyan Jha talk about their inspiration for this first-ever musical web series and the difficulties that budding artists face in the industry.
What do you mean by a ‘musical web series’?
Mrinal Jha: Like fantasy, which is what I am most known for currently, the musical is a specific genre of storytelling, where the story moves with songs or rather where the songs are not the props, but they are the story. Like in ‘La La Land’ or ‘A Star Is Born’. Now those are films – and no one in India has ever tried a true-blue Musical TV series – let alone a web series. So, I thought it would great if we created a new universe around music and musicians in India and set our story within it.
How did you put together an ensemble cast for the web series?
Abhigyan Jha: This was very tough. Unlike many productions – we have a very distinct casting philosophy. We make a probable shortlist, meet with the people on the shortlist, get to understand them as people and artists and then audition them. Even our auditions are very detailed and I personally auditioned every character. We finally cast our principal characters over 4 months and multiple rounds of auditions and we found those who are closest to our characters, those who resonate totally with them. We then invited French acting coach Thierry Blu to come and work with them for a week and the result is simply amazing. You will never believe that these cast members have not known each other for years.
Can you describe the struggle that new artists face in the music industry?
Abhigyan Jha: In India, we have almost a monopoly of one music company. The recording industry has not grown over the last 20 years, but in many ways it has shrunk. Having said that, opportunities for new artists to make their mark has shrunk. The biggest issue is that there is simply no originality nor there is any respect for lyrics and there is no scope for non-Bollywood music. The days of labels like Magnasound are over. A new artist is bulldozed into doing the same Sufi, Punjabi stuff over and over again. There is no respect for genres. The artists are forced to mix genres and end up never discovering their true sound or voice. Which is why we may have famous singers, but there are no famous singer-songwriters. There is a scene every early on in ‘Walk The Line’ (starring Joaquin Phoenix), where a young Johnny Cash is asked by a label executive – ‘why have you made this song? There are a hundred songs like this. Where is your own voice?’ Unless you have something new to say – why bother making a new song? This is the crux of our show. This is what is lacking in our music business today.
Why do you believe this was a good concept for a series, especially for digital audiences?
Mrinal Jha: My shows on TV usually get to No.1 and by God’s grace for the last 26 years – from ‘Rajani’ to ‘Naagin’ – my shows reach a huge audience, so I would hope that I know a thing or two about audience tastes. Having said that, I have always wondered why Indian web series are full of sex and violence and didn’t this formula belong to the B-Grade 80s films? Why is everyone doing politician and cop stories as meaningful stories – these were the staple diet in the 80s. What is it that people have not seen and what world can we transport them to? What can we make that has not been made before? ‘The Socho Project’ is as fresh as it gets, as every song is new, the concept of each song is new, the characters are new, the choices they make are new, things they do are new, their music has new sounds. This is what digital audiences have been missing. How many abuses can they listen to or how many sex scenes can they watch? ‘The Socho Project’ is inspiring, it is not dark or grimy or seedy. It is about people who change the world with the beauty they create.
What platforms will viewers be able to watch the show on?
Mrinal Jha: We hope to bring it to people via the platform with the largest viewership.
Do independent artists find an appreciative audience and success on digital platforms?
Abhigyan Jha: There is a line in ‘The Socho Project’ – “Jo ho nahi sakta, ussey hi toh ek mauka dena hai, tabhi toh woh hoga!” Which means what seems impossible – unless we try, how can we know if it is possible or not! Before ‘Naagin’ happened, no Weekend Fiction show had got TRPs. Before ‘Movers & Shakers’, no show had worked beyond 10 pm. Before ‘Nazar’, no show had worked at 11 pm that well. Mrinal and I have tried and succeeded in doing things not done before. This is our latest attempt to change the content landscape for the better.
How are you creating conversations and buzz around the show? Do you expect to see support from other artists in the music industry?
Mrinal Jha: When we started working on the show, we wanted to tell the story of this music industry. Little did we know that Sonu Nigam would start talking about this six months later, which has created the perfect context for a show like ‘The Socho Project’. Ironically, we wanted Sonu Nigam to be a consultant on the show back in November, but he was out of the country when we reached out and then we were in the US and then it was time to start shooting, so it never materialised. We hope the show gets the support from everyone. From a buzz point of view – we always wanted the show to stand on its music and its content – which is why we have started releasing the music – one track at a time and they are already getting traction, both the songs released so far have got hundreds of thousands of views on FB and YouTube each. Even the first look trailer has been very well received. We have a few days shoot balance – due to the lockdown we couldn’t finish as planned on April 6. We resumed shooting from July 10, so the show will be ready latest by September. Even if we release one song a week – we will only be able to release about 50 per cent of the songs on the show by September.
Abhigyan Jha: Together, even a dozen songs can create a pretty wide audience. We have doubled that and remember, this team made ‘Jay Hind!’ in the year 2009, which got millions of views online when there were no web series anywhere in the world. Good content automatically begins to travel.