Rohit Das Interview with Omkar Bhatkar
Rohit Das is a musician from Mumbai. His music is an eclectic mix of Hindustani classical, alternative fusion and electronic. He started his journey forming and playing with the band Translucent. He has been closely associated with theatre in Mumbai and has been a musician for a variety of plays. He has also been composing music for short films and movies as well. He has acted in the Bollywood movie 'H2SO4' which is to release soon and has also acted in Majid Majidi's movie 'Beyond The Clouds'. In his interview with Mumbai Theatre Guide Rohit Das speaks of his deep roots in music and his journey as a musician for the theatre.

 By Omkar Bhatkar

Omkar Bhatkar (OB): When did your interest in music start?

Rohit Das (RD): My family has been with music since the last five generations. My dad has been a Sitar player for the last 35 years in the music industry. So the interest developed since childhood. However the main reason that pulled me into this vocation was Michael Jackson I think. I have always wanted to be like him. My practice started from the scratch as a Sitar player. By the age of 15 I started playing and carrying the Sitar to college. I wanted to showcase my talent. Besides who carries a Sitar to college? I attended Ritambara College and I chose it because of its attendance policy. There was no issue about attending classes and I thought that would be a great opportunity to spend more time with my music. I used to bunk lectures, attend college festivals, and have fun generally. My father trained me with the Sitar. The Guitar I picked up as I went along.

OB: So what kind of music did you play in college?

RD: I think it was fusion rock in festivals, as it was a mix of Hindi songs and western music. During that time Hindi cinema songs were played as they were in demand and even the female singers in the band were more comfortable with Hindi. So songs like,"Chup Ke Se...", etc. Most of the songs were in Hindi.

OB: Which music instruments can you play?

RD: I would say, more stringed instruments such as the Sitar, and of course the Guitar. A little bit of keyboard. I worked at the keyboard, because of the "Tamasha" projects. It helped me a lot. I don't think that the "Tamasha" project BLANK PAGE could have been done without the keyboard. And if they would have suggested me to play the guitar then I think it would have been the freezing scene of the play.

OB: Who all have inspired you?

RD: My dad for sure. Michael Jackson follows. And I think, also because of my cracked voice, Bryan Adams is an inspiration. I used to think that this guy has a cracked voice. Well, so do I. It created a connection and that's how it all started. Now it's all about western music. I also like the music of Steve Vai. In Hindi music, Asha Bhosale and Ghulam Ali's work have drawn me. At the age of 15, the song Miraj-e-ghazal was the piece for which my dad worked and therefore the song is very close to me. The song also engaged me more with classical music.

OB: Tell us about your career in the theatre? About your first play, rather your first performance? How has your career unfolded since?

RD: My first performance happened at Prithvi theatre in 2007. The play was LIFE OF PI which is based on the same book. One fine day my Tabla player Sunny Singh got a call from the director Bijon Mondal that he was searching for rock musicians for his play. And eventually we were the fortunate people to perform. We performed for that play for almost a year and a half. After that it was another play for Bijon, ANDHA YUG, a legendary play by Dharamvir Bharati. It is based on the Mahabharata mythology but Bijon wanted rock music in his adaptation. It was very challenging for me at that point of time. That was the first time when some publications had articles stating that we were the first band to perform with a theatre group. And then I played for Trishla Patel's plays.

OB: What unique challenges and rewards come from working as a theatre musician?

RD: Every play has a different genre, a different timeline, a different story. So a musician in the theatre has to make efforts to make his music different from the past work. One can't keep playing music in the same style, and that I feel is really challenging.

OB: What's your process of conceptualising music for a play?

RD: I definitely attend the script readings and try and get an idea of what the director wants. I pitch forward my ideas and I try to attend the rehearsals. After that I start working on the music. I keep the background score for the last.

OB: What are some common myths about the music profession in theatre?

RD: It is a journey that each musician has to explore on his/her own. I remember when I entered theatre there were groups that were strictly professional. If it's a rehearsal, you just have to come, unpack your stuff, finish your rehearsal, pack your stuff, and not socialise with people around you too much. But it took me a while to realise that actors not speaking to musicians was just a barrier as well, which I overcame gradually. But one major thing I would say is that smoking definitely brought many people close together.

OB: Tell us about your experience for working for bigger theatre productions like CLUB DESIRE?

RD: Oh well, there is a small story behind this. I feel this journey is really freaky. It was 2013 when I had a conversation with Sunil ji. Sunil Shanbag was definitely a name I had heard of but unfortunately I had never met him. I must have seen him but never realised that he was Sunil Shanbag. One fine day he gave me a call saying, "Rohit Ji, this is Sunil Shanbag. I direct plays. If you have some time I would like to meet you. Let me know when can we meet." I thought to myself, that this man is giving me huge respect. Why is he giving me so much respect? So we planned to meet at the Prithvi adda. I think it was a 15-20 minutes meeting through which I realised that this project will be fun to work on. It was Inspired by the French opera Carmen by Georges Bizet and it seemed something nice to work on. And while working on it I understood that every single day was a challenge for me.

OB: What ranks among the best achievements in your career to date and why?

RD: Around 2012 when my band split it was a very difficult time. I realised that I was going be all alone. Directors were not sure about their projects with me, thinking I would not be able to do it solo. But then I got my first solo project RASHOMON BLUES which gave me the confidence to work solo. I am a person who doesn't look for comments and reactions but when someone comes backstage and says that the music of the play was amazing, I feel, that is my biggest achievement. I feel that was the day when I got the title "ROHIT DAS".

OB: Describe a typical week at work for you. What exactly do you do?

RD: Since the last couple of years my life is almost a routine. I love my life. I am so glad I am not living a life where I am doing a 9-5 job or something of the sort. Rehearsals are the major part if my life. If not rehearsals then I am performing somewhere and if not performing I am chilling with friends. Or I go for a drive on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link listening to music. It's a very important part of my life.

OB: Directors with whom you would love to work again?

RD: Fortunately I have worked with all the directors I wanted to work with. If Sunil Shanbag is coming up with a new project, then I would definitely want to be a part of it. I would also like to work with Trishla Patel again. I am quite happy that I am not looking for any director to work with. But if it's a movement piece or something of the kind, then I would love to work with Faezeh Jalali. Working with her will be like an experiment. It will give me a different point of view and inspire me to create new music. I would also like to work with Naseer Ji and Sukant Goel. Unfortunately I never got a chance to work with Makarand Deshpande. I also missed an opportunity to work with Akash Khurana for UNDER THE GYPSY MOON. So I would love to work with him soon.

OB: How would you describe yourself?

RD: I am very simple and a childlike kind of a person. I try to be very normal. What you see is what you get. For me peace is everything and there is no room for politics and guns.

*Dr. Omkar Bhatkar teaches at the Department of Mass Media Studies at St. Andrews College. He runs the eclectic St Andrew's Centre For Philosophy and Performing Arts. He is also a theatre director, poet and painter.

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