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Prince of pulp

Other star kids may be chasing Bolly dreams. But Imaad Shah, son of Naseeruddin Shah, prefers his tangled coils of untamed hair running down his round rimmed glasses as his thumbs pace up and down an old and monophonic Nokia 1100.

In town to showcase his funk-rock band The Pulp Society at Someplace Else last Saturday, the 24-year-old reveals a Rastafarian flair for making music and living life on his own terms. A t2 chat...

How did The Pulp Society come together?

Well, the present set-up has been around for a little under a year. I was playing solo with just an acoustic guitar for a couple of years, intermittently. A lot of singer-songwriter stuff. We all knew each other for a while and we were jamming for fun more than anything else. Then it struck us that this kind of permutation works very well for some high-energy stuff. There are six of us. Jonathan on keyboards, Anand Bhagat on percussion like bongo, congas, djembe, Debjyoti Saha on drums, Dusty Ryan on bass and Lokesh Bakshi on guitar. Our violinist Assel Atageldieva lives in Kyrgyzstan. She’s a floating member but when she’s around she works on the funk sessions.

Imaad Shah at Someplace Else; (below) members of The Pulp Society. Pictures by Bishwarup Dutta

Violin, djembe, beer bottles, whistles…. There’s a lot happening. What did you have in mind?

Just a love for funk and a bit of disco styles with a lot of ham and talk. It goes with the old school funk vibe. Percussions give it a very tribal community feel and that’s the sound we’re looking for. There are tons of bands in India but I don’t know how many of them really have a strong idiom or a sense of style that can work within a song. We’re also thinking of breaking language barriers with Hindi. We might even try some Bangla funk because we have some Bengalis in the group.

 

The Pulp Society isn’t just about a band…

Yeah, it’s a collective of people. A combined pool of skills, but not an open collective. People have to really vibe together and focus on that slightly vintage sound and look — black power kind of feel from the Sixties or Seventies. Even the audio-visual stage set-up with stock motion photography and graphic art projections on a wide screen in the background has that retro angle.

Does that explain the dreadlocks and antique phone?

I’m pretty tech-savvy actually. I have a Mac so I don’t need a fancy phone and the hair’s pretty natural. Just got to do with the fact that it’s completely out of control! I didn’t feel like having a haircut for about eight months or maybe a year and that’s how it ended up.

How did you go musical?

I was self-taught, mostly. I had some teachers but I wasn’t able to stick with them. Because of my parents (Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah), I tried Hindustani classical vocals and western classical notation but it was such a drag to start with. Then I realised it’s pretty essential but hard to work in a teacher-student routine now, so yeah, I’ve been teaching myself.

Who are your musical inspirations?

For the band it’s James Brown, Earth Wind & Fire, Tower of Power and Quincy Jones. My idols in terms of songwriting are David Bowie, Bob Dylan and the whole post-punk movement.

What do your songs talk about?

Just eccentricities of urban life we see around us. I use humour as much as possible, but a very wry kind of humour.

Have your folks heard you?

Yeah they’re quite happy but very critical! They’re the first ones to point out even if I go off slightly. They love the band and the stage act but are still a bit befuddled by the sound. That’s because they’re a little more old-fashioned. They still like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Leonard Cohen but I think they can associate with the lyrics in some sense.

You’ve done so few films. Why?

I’ve been trying to lie low and keep a low profile. I want to take it easy. Abhi kaafi time hai. We’re all pretty young right now. There’s no need to become a face that everybody can recognise and grab hold of. I think it’s important to see the whole country and basically live the way I want to. Doing films is often counter-productive to that.

But being out of sight can drive you out of mind…

I know. Random guys much younger than me are getting pretty good roles. But I’m quite sure it’s going to happen soon for me. Any actor’s phase only gets more interesting as time goes by. Frankly, there were particular types of roles I wanted to come my way. So I turned down so much work and so many producers that I’ve got a slightly shady reputation in the Bollywood film industry. I’ve done this thriller with Mahesh Manjrekar called Ekanth which should release this year. Let’s see. Things should change in the next three or four years.

So, where does your heart lie now… music, films or theatre?

All these forms combined, and that’s what we’re hoping to do with The Pulp Society. Theatre and music together can kick off really well as a live performance so we’re trying to put together a few musicals.

I want to make my own film, so I’m actually more keen on that right now. I’ve been making a few shorts that have travelled to festivals and I hope to make a feature within a year. I’ve also done music for an independent film called 404. It’s very indie-funk. All this might seem a little branching out, but it’s actually about coming together.

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