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The Life of a Musician: The Journey to Success

Musical journeys today can be challenging and filled with drama, but what about in the 60s?


Now: Mr. Mundkur

The musical scene was quite different more than half a century ago. India was still finding its footing in Rock' n' roll. Bands began forming, people started listening, and the genre soon overtook the nation. In the vast melee of performers, the Savages stood out. Youngsters at the time, they booked gig after gig, cut a record with HMV, and achieved success as musicians. The youngest of them all was Prabhakar Mundkur, the keyboardist and vocalist. At the time, he was an essential part of the Savages and reached great heights in their midst, but where is he now?


Mr. Mundkur, aged 71, now lives in an apartment in Mumbai. Having achieved huge success in music, he now dabbles in it from time to time. Aside from his musical career, he is a veteran in advertising and a prolific writer, His career during the '60s was quite different from the latter part of his life. A trip down memory lane revealed a journey filled with humor, drama, and excitement.


What first inspired you to go into music, and eventually, Rock N’ Roll?

Actually, there was an influence of Indian classical music in my family. My mother was a classical singer, and my first instrument was the tabla. My hands were so small that they had to create a tabla specially to fit me, like a mini tabla, and my hero at the time was Thirakwa, the greatest tabl ji at the time. Then, when I was ten, I had to go to Delhi, since I had bad eyesight, and my mother wanted a natural cure for it, and we ended up staying with my uncle. He used to listen to Western music, both classical and what might be called pop in those days, though I’m not entirely sure what kind. I took a great liking to it, and when we went home, I said, “Amma, I really like that kind of music!” So, just to surprise me, she went to the HMV shop and bought me a 45 RPM, which is a single song on both sides. It was a vinyl version of the Beatles song ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand'. So I put it in the gramophone, heard it, and it was like magic for me. I fell in love with it. 


When, and how, did you begin learning to play your instruments of choice?

So, I decided, later on, that I wanted to play the guitar, and on my thirteenth birthday, I told my mother that I wanted a guitar. She told me, “You’re not serious about anything. You took up the table, you gave it up. You took up the harmonica, you gave it up. Now, you’re going to take up the guitar and give it up. I’m not buying you a guitar.” Then, it so happened that I managed to collect 165 rupees from gifts from aunts and uncles. I took a bus to Furtados, and I bought one myself. But I thought, how do I learn it myself? The clerk told me about a book: Nick Manoloff’s guitar method, so I bought that too, for 10 rupees. I travelled from Dhobi Talao to Shivaji Park on the bus, with my guitar in my hand, and I shocked my mom. From there, assorted friends taught me bits and pieces on how to play the guitar. Somehow, I rapidly progressed and got better than them.


As part of ‘Savages’, you also played the keyboard. How did you get into that?

I had a huge house, around 3500 square feet, and one of my friend’s brother was moving into a smaller house, and needed a place to keep his piano. He said, “You have such a large house, can we keep it in your house for two years?” So we kept it. By that time, I had a band that I was playing guitar with. On my mother’s insistence, I began training in Western music on the keyboard by day, and spent my nights with my band, playing pop music on my guitar. Finally, I discovered that the keyboard is not really my instrument. My passion was more for this beauty on the wall. [He points at his guitar, hung from a peg in his living room]


How did you become part of the Savages?

When I was thirteen, those were the days of rock groups and so on. I, a classmate of mine, and another boy who’d been failing in school started our own band, which we called the Creepers. We did our first show, but we didn’t have a manager, or an adult willing to guide us. We did it all on our own, and we hired our own equipment, and went head first into our first show. It was a big success. In two years, we became quite popular. By the time I was 15, ‘Savages’ was this enormous, big, popular band in the country. They heard of us, and said, “Listen, we like you. Apply for the Savages.” We were interviewed, auditioned. It was quite frightening. We passed the test, me and my friend Hemant Rao, and we joined the Savages.

Then: The Savages in action. Source: Mr. Prabhakar Mundkur

Did your family support your decision to become a musician?

Reluctantly, I think. You know how it is, with tradition and religious families. Clearly, we are not very comfortable with Western music culturally. There was a bit of resentment especially because I was the only child, the only son, and all their hopes were pinned on me. Here I was, going and doing shows in restaurants, living, according to them, a bad life, coming home too late at night. Later on, they were very understanding. Still, it drew some adverse comments from Aunts and Uncles. They would say, “Look, their son goes off and plays somewhere in the night”. [He chuckles] You must understand that today, it is a respectable profession to be a musician, but back then, it was considered low class. Everyone had to be an engineer, an accountant, this, that. Now, fifty years later, so many new things have opened up. Music did not fall into the category of respectable professions.


You were 16 when you first joined the Savages. Did your age cause any difficulties with the band?

Actually, no, it didn’t. The people around me were older than me. I was the baby in the group. Even the friend who joined with me was three years older. But, you know, those days…we tried to pretend we were older than we were. To get into the more mature places with my band members, I would borrow my mother’s eyeliner pen and try to draw on a moustache with that.


Eventually, why did you leave the band? What does your life look like now?

My parents asked me, do you see yourself being a musician when you’re old? The truth was, I didn’t. So I left the band, and set off to find a real job, as they say. I became part of an advertisement agency. At the same time, the ‘60s was the age of the gig. From the ‘70s, recorded music took over, and the real money was always in recording the music for movies and such. We used to perform at restaurants. The people were there to catch up, converse, and the gig just faded into the background. The fact was that we weren’t truly being listened to. That's why I walked away from being a musician at the time.  As for my life right now, its good. I still dabble in music. It's an on again, off again relationship with music. Every time I  leave it for a while, I get sucked right back in, especially in lockdown.


Do you have any advice for the new generation pursuing music?

I’d say, tread with caution.


Mr. Mundkur talked fondly of his time with the Savages. Even after so many years, records created by the band are still being sold, he proudly mentions. Though music is only a hobby at this point in time, he is undeniably passionate about it. Now, he is a mentor for young and aspiring musicians. As a student studying music, Mr. Mundkur is a person I look up to. Not only his experience, but also his thought provoking insight is what sets him apart.


Written by Saachi Khandeparkar

Saachi wrote this article as a participant of the Media-Makers Fellowship's April'24 cohort.

This article was adjudged the 'Best Profile' created in Week 1 of the program.


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