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The White Tiger producer Mukul Deora: It’s taken me time to figure myself out

Musician and now producer of The White Tiger, Mukul Deora talks about movies, his next album, and how his sound has evolved

Deora says he read The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga a decade ago and decided to make a movie on it at some point

Right now, musician-producer Mukul Deora finds himself in the conversation of cinema lovers. He has successfully managed to make Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker winner, The White Tiger, dark and complicated as it is, resonate with millions of Netflix watchers. “The book made me laugh, and cry, it made me angry. It made me feel a zillion things. I thought this is not a normal book, it’s a classic. I had never seen India in the way he showed it. There were many people who said, why are you making it, it’s so dark? But it’s a story that stays with you. Netflix has said 27 million people are going to watch it this month. So I am sure Aravind is going to get so many more new readers as well,” says Deora.

But, first, he is a musician. And like so many from the industry, he too, saw in the pandemic-induced lockdown an opportunity to work on new music. His debut album, Stray, released way back in 2006, and he went on to co-found the hugely influential Bha—a collective of DJs, graphic designers and artists, credited with kickstarting India’s underground club culture. On the side, Deora also released Expressway, a compilation of abstract electronica from India on Dudup, his record label, and has hosted radio shows, including a month-long one on all things Bob Dylan. He dabbled in direction when he co-directed The Body Electric, an experimental music video that was commissioned to launch the UK Cultural Olympics. “I have been productive during the lockdown, and I had thought the album would be out by now, but it always takes longer than you think.” Ask him if his sound has changed from his electronic days, and he says he had to think a bit before he settled down on a genre this time. “The good thing is that I have taught myself to make music. It’s easy for me. So, I just started experimenting with stuff, and decided I wanted to do something melodic, with me singing, and hip hop beats. I love where hip hop has gone today; the emotional angle is very interesting to me. I come from a pop rock space and that’s more emotional. So, that’s where my music is these days.”

Mukul Deora

Mukul Deora

The upcoming album is not ready yet, and he is still wondering how he wants to release his music. “I love albums. For people our age, they were soundtracks to our lives,” he us. “But, for kids now, it’s all about streaming, about singles and songs. So I may do that.” But the old-school musician in him can’t get the idea of a cohesive album out of his head. “It encapsulates a particular period of time in your life, and you want it to go out like that, even though it may not be current in that time and space.”

As we end up talking about our favourite albums (his is Artic Monkey’s first, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not), he remembers his favourite time making music. It was 2009 when he performed at TED India in Mysore, where he collaborated with Kalaripayattu dancers to create a piece called The Wandering Arrow. “I love Kalaripayattu as it has both masculine and female energies. I wanted to juxtapose that with abstract electronica music. That was a really fun time.”

For now, though, he is managing the balancing act between filmmaking and music. But when he speaks about what he identifies with more, he says, it’s all about doing what he wants. “I struggled with this for a large part of my life. I didn’t know if I could do this kind of music. I thought it’s either Bollywood music or some kind of business. Now, I write scripts, produce movies, and make songs. It’s taken me a long time to accept from inside that all this can be a part of you, and not cause a conflict.” And though he plans to release more music, and make more movies—he is already ready with the next book he wants to work on—Deora thinks the trick is to spread out and see what you can do, and focus simultaneously. “In the end, it’s all just nonsense in your mind, until you can make it happen.”

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