Nikhil Chinapa returns to radio after 15 years to find technology has made a huge difference. However, the MTV host and DJ tells Mini Anthikad-Chhibber there is a sense of homecoming when recording for In the Mix
This interview has been a long time in the making, and sitting at his parents' lovely house at Langford Road on a Sunday morning, there was a sense of disbelief when Nikhil Chinapa breezed in with a cup of coffee.
“I started my career in Mount Carmel College doing music for the carnival,” Nikhil begins, with an engaging grin. “In '92 when the first event company was set up, I emceed a personality contest. My first salary was Rs 150. We pretty much made the rules as we went along.”
Nikhil dabbled in theatre, doing four plays with Arjun Sajnani and graduating from tap dancer to sound man. From theatre he moved to radio. “Those were the days of medium wave. When I went to the recording studio, it was love at first sight. I carried the principles of radio to TV. So, it was not ‘all you people out there', but rather just you and me. I was talking directly to the listener/viewer.”
When Nikhil interviewed Rahul Khanna, who was a veejay for MTV, he thought this could be an interesting job.
“But I am a lazy person, so I didn't do anything about it. In '97 MTV announced the first veejay hunt. If you remember then, veejays were already celebrities, people you would look up to. At that time, MTV was looking to changing the profile from aspirational to the boy next door and I fitted the bill.”
Fifteen years, super-successful shows, films and Submerge later, Nikhil returns to radio with “In the Mix” on Radio One on Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. “Twitter has exploded,” he says, happily scrolling down the comments.
“Radio is so much more intimate. Of course technology has made a difference. Now I have messages on Twitter, while then I had people writing seven-page letters to me. They did that because they felt connected to me. I have kept all the letters. And those days we would physically play the CDs, while now there is something called radio control software where I feed everything into the computer and the show is done!”
The aim of the show, Nikhil says, is to educate and entertain. “There are different sections, such as ‘Sample Example', ‘A Decade Ago', ‘Bringing It Back', ‘Round the World'... When 3,000 songs are created a day in dance music, six months is old. In the ‘Decade Ago' section, we look at a song that was big a decade ago.”
Nikhil was always fond of dancing. “My friends and I would go out to dance here. It wasn't about the beer (we couldn't afford it anyway), it was just about music. I would say dance music chose me. I remember when the DJ played Prodigy's ‘Firestarter' for the first time. It was really tough to mix and when the DJ mixed it after two tries, there was silence on the floor for the 15 seconds and then everyone was grooving.”
Talking about the club scene in Mumbai, Nikhil says, “Film music started creeping in. The first song was ‘Kaliyon ka Chaman.' I became a DJ out of frustration. I am not against Bollywood music, I choose not to play Hindi film songs. There is some amazing work being done in film music, it is just that when a ‘Munni Badnaam Hui' plays in the middle of a set, it turns the groove. You go ewwww…”
It was the desire to play their kind of music that resulted in Submerge.
“No one goes clubbing in Mumbai on Thursdays. In 2002, we thought of an event, Submerge, on Thursdays where the DJ could play the music he wanted to. There were a few ground rules. The first was requests were not allowed. The DJ was an artist and just like you would not tell MF Husain what to paint, you couldn't tell the DJ what to play. If you didn't like the music you could always go to another club. The second rule was we encouraged the DJ not to use the mike and rather let the music do the talking.”
Ten years down the line, Submerge is internationally recognised. “The reputation grew and DJs wanted to play at Submerge. If you got to play at Submerge, you had arrived.”
Far from being the rock capital of India, Bangalore, Nikhil says, “is the cradle of all kinds of music. It is a young city and young people are willing to take risks. You know hip hop was popular in Bangalore much before it became fashionable elsewhere.”
Nikhil feels strongly about piracy. “By downloading music, you are depriving musicians of their bread and butter. If a musician doesn't get paid, he goes back to being an accountant or whatever he is doing and the quality of music goes down. Also with downloading, music has become less precious. If you were buying a tape or a CD, you would deliberate till kingdom come before deciding on which CD to buy. Now you download 300 songs and don't listen to any of them!”
He hosts the MTV reality show “Splitsville”. “It is part of the world we live in today. Yes, the emotions are all out there. You need to apply my coffee and tea philosophy to the phenomenon. There are those that like coffee and others that like tea. It does not mean one is right and the other is wrong.”
He grins disarmingly. “So can I now offer you a cup of coffee?”