A heart-to-heart with the band on their recent trip to Pakistan to perform at a local music awards function.
Perhaps one of the rare pop outfits to break forth from the Indian entertainment industry, Euphoria, from the time they came out on mainstream television in 1998 — most Pakistanis were exposed to them via the wonders of satellite television — with their first single Dhoom (which is also incorporated into the title of three of their albums), garnered as much of a fan base in Pakistan as they had in India. Subsequent hits such as Kaise Bhoolay Gi Mera Naam and the all-time classic, Mayeri, has reinstated their status as Pakistan’s much-loved pop act import.
Despite everything, in the 10 or so years that they have been in the mainstream media (the band was originally formed in 1989) they had never managed to perform in Pakistan till recently, when they were invited by the ARY Digital Network to perform at The Musik Awards. At the ceremony, they performed for a whopping 50 minutes, more than any other act in that very, very long night.
Courtesy of ARY and The Musik, Images was given exclusive access to the band for this interview. The Euphoria line-up currently consists of Palash ‘Polly’ Sen, Benjamin ‘Benny’ Pinto, Debajyoti Bhaduri, Hitesh Madan, Ashwani Verma, Rakesh Bhardwaj and Prashant Trivedi.
“We never thought that we’d ever be in Pakistan after the way things have been over the years,” said Palash, adding, “but at the same time there was so much exchange with so many Pakistani artistes coming to India. Plus, we play with Pakistani artistes in India as well as all over the world. I guess it was bound to happen, one way or the other. I was pretty vocal about the fact that if it is a peace (and friendship) process, it has to be two-way. You cannot keep hosting people in your country and not get hosted in theirs. I guess somebody heard!”
Euphoria reaffirmed that even though they had wanted to perform in Pakistan, getting a visa was the biggest hurdle they faced in the past. “It’s another thing that we got a visa only for Karachi, and that too only for seven days. And we had to report to the police station!” laughs Palash.
I couldn’t help but wonder whether there were any requests for autographs? “It’s actually kinda funny. The guy at the immigration first took our autograph and then said: “Sir, aap jaa ke C form le kar aaiye.” With this the band broke into another fit of laughter — something which they did every now and then during the course of the interview.
But did they have any idea of how popular Euphoria is in Pakistan? “Yes, we have an idea,” says Hitesh. “For the past three or four years we’ve been getting numerous mails and emails from our Pakistani fans. Also, we’ve been getting invites for a lot of shows over here. The only hurdle was the visa.”
“And we know there are a lot of bands here that have covered us,” adds Palash. “When we get to meet musicians from other bands, they speak about songs from our first album, which means people have taken it very seriously. But I think it all came to a stop that night when we were at Bilal’s house and we saw the kind of support we had.”
Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia of Strings had (sneakily) hosted a get-together at his place and invited most of the musicians present in Karachi at that time, which included the likes of Nusrat Hussain (ex-Vital Signs), Rohail Hyatt, Ali Azmat, the Noori brothers, Omran Shafique from Mauj among others, and surprised them all by having Euphoria make an appearance later that night. Needless to say with so many musicians under one roof, an improvised jam session was inevitable with almost everyone performing one song or another, including Euphoria.
Referring to that night Palash says, “Popularity is transient. We saw the love that night. It had nothing to do with popularity, we felt that love!”
“That love and the respect,” adds Hitesh.
“Everybody got up in the end and gave us a standing ovation,” recounts Palash. “For us that was our dream in Pakistan and we saw it.”
The band has recently launched an album titled (not surprisingly, they’ve carried a tradition forward) Re-Dhoom. Why is it called that? “Because we just completed 10 years. The journey started with Dhoom, went on to Phir Dhoom, to Kalli, Mehfooz and now this. Re-Dhoom has 12 songs from the last 10 years of our journey.”
With a decade behind them which they refer to as a journey, how do they feel after completing it? “Extremely grateful, accomplished and content that it has happened. Honestly, none of us really thought that this was actually going to happen.” Palash says referring to the dinner/jam session at Bilal’s place again. “When we were driving back to the hotel from Bilal’s house I told Ben because he’s a huge believer: ‘Just say a prayer to God and just thank him on our behalf’. What we have experienced and what we are experiencing from everywhere, any band in this world would like to sample it, especially an Indian band.” He pauses before referring to the categories in the TMAs, “There were awards for the best guitar player, drummer, bassist, etc, in Pakistan. There is nothing like that in India.”
Considering that most of what we hear here is film music from India, how is the pop industry faring there? “Actually the pop industry is not really there. It simply does not exist,” responds Hitesh firmly. “We see so many Pakistani bands such as Strings and Junoon doing the kind of music that they would like to do as artistes, and not do music which is completely based on a film. It’s really very heartening that such kind of a system exists over here. Back in India, Bollywood dominates everything. I think Euphoria is probably the only Indian band doing mainstream stuff.”
“We’re mainly the only artistes doing it,” reiterates Palash. “Actually the thing is what Hitesh just said about Pakistani bands, that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’ve always made music for the sake of music — whether somebody was listening to it or not. In fact, it was so amazing to see so many bands play at Bilal’s place. You can’t even see that number in India.”
Euphoria’s music itself is an eclectic mixture of just about everything: There are local percussions fused with the drums, with Benny — the wild child of the band — holding it together on the keyboard and the mandatory lead and bass guitar also incorporated into it, coupled with the desi-sounding tunes they come up with.
How would they describe their music philosophy? “It’s very simple,” affirms Palash, adding, “everything that we do in our day-to-day lives… For example, you could be dressed in any clothes, but your heart is Pakistani. That’s your base, your root. The same thing is with us. Hum jiss bhi bhasha mein baat karenge aur phirange, the heart is Indian. I also think that is what our music is about: A little bit of this and a little bit of that. That’s what we’ve become, slightly westernised but still the roots are still strongly Indian.”
Perhaps what he means to say is that it is the urban side of music? “Right. But I would say it’s the experimental side of life. It is very important for us to portray what our roots are, and yet tell the world that this is the new voice,” Palash pauses for a moment. “And we tried to do it till that voice changed to Himesh Reshamiya!” (he and the other band members laugh).
Often Pakistani bands, when gravitating towards the Indian music industry, are accused of literally selling their souls to Bollywood. Their music is re-vamped and made more film-friendly. What does Euphoria have to say about that? “It’s not only the case in Pakistan. It’s the same thing in India as well. For example, Woh Lamhe. Nobody had heard the song till it was made into a remix dance number. It is quite amazing how the song’s fate changed once it was disco-ised and it became something else,” says Palash.
But have they as a band ever felt that kind of pressure? “I’ll tell you what: the pressure is always there. But you know if I as a band leader succumbed to it there wouldn’t have been a band called Euphoria today.
“I’m pretty arrogant about our music, life and the band, and I’m very strong-headed. When we started out, the first thing I was told was that ‘chooro band ko, become a solo artiste instead.’ That’s the first temptation I avoided. So if you avoid the first temptation which primarily involves you, you automatically become a team man. If I could set that example for the band, the band would follow likewise.” Reinstating his point further, Palash adds, “There is always pressure. There will be pressure not to have a band, then not to have this kind of music and then to join films.”
Ah, but Palash did ‘join’ films. He acted in a Bollywood production titled Filhaal that also featured Sushmita Sen and Tabu. How was the experience? “It was amazing to act with someone who was 2.5 inches taller than me. I’m proud I worked in that film. The nicest thing was that I got to work with Gulzar saheb more than anything else.”
And how did the rest of the band react to his acting in Filhaal? “I know one thing, we had a blast watching the premiere,” says Hitesh. “We were all in splits watching it.”
“The funniest thing is that it’s a very serious film. I think we all sat over there and made it into a comedy,” adds Palash with a laugh. Considering how the rest of the Euphoria band members have seemingly responded to Filhaal, have they ever taken Palash’s acting seriously? “They’d better. We have to do music videos. But then he becomes slightly serious, “The reason why we never did a film, as Hitesh said, was that we never wanted to design for a certain kind of situation. A film recently came our way in which the director wanted our sound our way, our lyrics and our thought. He made a film around it.”
So is it a Euphoria film or a story inspired by it? Says Palash, “Its storyline is inspired by our songs. There’s a song in it called Jiya Jaye. It’s not in the new album, it’s an independant song. It’s very exclusive and we’re hoping good things will come out of it.”