Circa 1986. A week before the Malhar festival at St Xavier’s College in Mumbai, rock bands Mirage and Rock Machine were informed by the college authorities that they would not be allowed to play as “rock music is the devil’s music”. Farhad Wadia, the lead vocalist and guitarist from Mirage, received a call from someone who introduced himself as Anurag, who promised them a concert at Rang Bhavan next door. On August 15, 1986, both the bands were ready with their set-up, but Anurag never showed, forcing the bands to go ahead with the concert on their own. “We stood at the gate, collecting Rs 15 each for the tickets and a crowd of around 5,000 people showed up! It was hugely successful,” remembers Wadia.
He has no clue what happened to Anurag but Wadia would certainly like to thank him for giving him the idea for starting the festival. For 27 years, Wadia organised the popular Independence Rock in India, before he moved to the US for work. After a gap of nearly nine years, the rechristened Mahindra Independence Rock is back in Mumbai with a line-up that includes some of India’s best rock bands. Some of them, including Indus Creed, Parikrama, Pentagram and Zero, have been a part of earlier editions as well, with Indus Creed – earlier known as Rock Machine – kicking it off in its debut year. Bands such as Parvaaz, Bloodywood and Thaikkudam Bridge will be performing for the very first time at Mahindra I-Rock.
Down memory lane
In his own words, organising the concert for all these years has been ‘chaotic, painful and exhilarating’ at the same time. “Right from the police to the Shiv Sena led by Pramod Navalkar and the church has tried to stop the concert from happening,” recalls Wadia. But the “stubborn Bawa” never gave up.
“The Catholic church at Dadar would hold sermons to discourage the youth from attending the concert. But they still showed up. They would carry T-shirts with rock slogans in polythene bags and change out of their formals. After partying hard, they would head home in “decent” clothes again,” he laughs at the memory.
Wadia was also expected to submit the lyrics of all the songs that were to be sung at the concert for the purpose of censorship. “Can you imagine going to every band and asking for lyrics for each and every song? It was ridiculous!” he guffaws. Instead, he would get songbooks and photocopy the lyrics of a couple of songs and send them across. “Once, I was denied permission because I had sent the lyrics for Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ and they took objection to it. Only after I told them that we will not perform the song, we were allowed to go ahead,” he shares.
Rang Bhavan’s shutting down in the 20th year of I-Rock’s existence hit him hard but then they just moved the show to Chitrakoot Grounds in Andheri.
Band-ing with the best
Ask Wadia what he thinks has been I-Rock’s contribution to the rock scene in India and he believes that it gave bands a platform to showcase their talent, when there were none others on the horizon. “Name the band, and they’d have played here. Even pop acts such as Lucky Ali, Shaan, KK, Shiamak Davar and Shweta Shetty have performed rock songs here. I-Rock has always been about the bands, the vibe and the music. If you put up great talent, people will come,” believes Wadia.
Zubin Balaporia, the keyboardist of Indus Creed, recalls how in their 20 or so performances over the years, it has always rained! “Somehow, the crowd would just lap it up and enjoy the music even more. I guess it had everything to do with rock ‘n’ roll. Just let go of all your inhibitions and have a great time,” he says, adding that the concert will always be considered a steppingstone to getting somewhere in the Indian rock scene.
For Binny Isaac and Rex Vijayan of Avial, playing at I-Rock would always be special because it was one of the venues they played outside of Kerala. “Just the fact that you recognise music without the language barriers, how many music festivals do that? While everyone is aiming for the commercial aspects of festivals by bringing in artists who are famous at that point in time, I-Rock remains rooted. We can see the language diversity in the line-up with acts getting to that stage irrespective of their region,” they say.
Mahindra Independence Rock is on November 5 and 6, 2022, at Bayview Lawns, Princess Dock, Mazgaon.