Stressing that the Hindi film industry is an institution that doesn't place talent and virtuosity at the top and runs on nepotism, India's best-known drummer and music director Ranjit Barot. Guitar legend John McLaughlin describes him as "one of the leading edges in drumming." Barot adds, "It looks to cultivate a servile attitude in the people that service that industry. Therefore, not a good fit for me. However, if the right director and brief come my way, I would gladly collaborate."
Ranjit has won multiple awards—Zee Cine Award for Best Background Score (Shaitan, 2012), Filmfare Award for Best Background Score (Shaitan and Aks, 2012, 2002), GIMA Award for Best Fusion Album ('Bada Boom', 2011) and Screen Award for Best Background Music (Shaitan, 2012). He has been part of more than 50 films as a music director, lyricist, music composer, sound designer and singer has also collaborated with major international artists, including John McLaughlin, Jonas Helborg, Ayden Esen, and Tim Garland. He has also been the musical director of all of A.R. Rehman's live shows for several years now.
He started playing at the age of 12, encouraged by his mother, the legendary dancer Sitara Devi, and has been around in the industry since the age of 17, starting with Kalyanji Anandji right till Rahman. The musician has now begun a unique collaboration with Mumbai-based True School of Music.
“Through my Master Course titled 'The Boiler Room', I'll be able to share some deep insights I've accumulated over the years. It's a 'non-curriculum'-based course and involves coming up with individual sessions that address one aspect of the unity that exists between rhythm and melody. Exposing rhythm as the unsung song and melody's ability to drive a piece of music, I intend to inform the students to look beyond the obvious and dig deep within themselves and into musical cultures from around the world," he said.
While the lockdown has spelled doom for performing artists, Ranjit has managed to record a new song and video with John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension. "I've written a bunch of new music that will soon be released by Abstract Logix, the same record label that released my 2010 jazz-world-fusion record 'Bada Boom'. It features musicians from India, the UK, France, and the US. This is besides a vocal project driven by my alter ego 'Musafir', featuring some of the finest singers in India: So all in all, creatively, it has been a big tick!"
Ask him if he can be called a 'self-taught musician', and Ranjit laughs that the term is a misnomer of sorts considering he has been exposed to music all his life through the associations that his mother Sitara Devi had with classical musicians. "I was born in the UK, so I was exposed to rock and roll there at a very early age. What I'm getting at, is that the 'student' in you has to be awake and alert so that the learning process is an everyday activity, free from classroom timings and the teacher's availability. We have a saying, the Guru is a flowing river. You have to decide how much you can scoop out of that river."
The musician also has a band, Superhonic in which he collaborates with his daughter Mallika, who has a peculiar take on modern music. He smiles when asked if it is easy to work with one's child. "Frankly, it's quite easy working with her, considering she has high standards. It's interesting for me to write for her and have her as my muse also. She has grown into a fine musician. A.R. Rahman was so impressed with her singing that he featured her as a soloist in two concerts."
But given the state of independent bands in the country, further crushed by the pandemic, one wonders how they can now re-emerge and sustain themselves. "Well, another reason for me to start Superhonic was to have a vent into the indie music scene, which is growing but not 'there' yet. Promoters have to stop treating the indie music scene as the 'poor stepchild' of the film industry. Monies have to find their way to the musicians so that they can sustain and develop their craft. And yes, musicians and artists have to up their game too. If they are to command respect and money, they have to match up to what's happening in the rest of the world. Your reference point has to be global as far as production values and songwriting skills are concerned, along with keeping a pulse on what's trending musically locally. Yes, It's an interesting and challenging time, one that I'm willing to embrace wholeheartedly.”
Believing that music is an expression that belongs to everyone who embraces it as a way of life, Ranjit believes that the only thing that can give one a unique identity is his/her life story. "It's important to have a point of view and not just be regurgitating music that's been done before or that's being done to death, as we hear so often in the pop scene. There's so much music that's made till date, in all genres. The only way to stand out is to be you.".