If Naseeruddin Shah were a young actor today, one suspects his choices would likely have reflected sensibilities similar to that of his son, Imaad Shah. A scrawny kid who entered the industry on the back of fine acting pedigree, Imaad Shah has featured in Q’s eccentric Tasher Desh, among other films, and is back on the big screen with Agneya Singh’s M Cream, a stoner indie. But unlike his thespian father, he is not just an actor who prefers under-the-radar choices, he’s also a musician.
One half of Madboy/Mink, a popular electro-funk band he formed with actor-songstress Saba Azad, Imaad Shah has finally released a solo musical project. His latest EP Boy evokes the groovy nature of his collaborational work, but bears still a solitary sentiment. He spoke to Scroll.in about the isolation in his musical process and his directorial ambitions.
The aesthetic of Boy is very different from that of your music with Madboy/Mink. How do you explore this different side to your creativity?
This music has been living with me for a while, and I’ve given a lot of hours to it. This stuff I’ve been doing involves a fair bit of isolation, study and experimentation. I have a deep respect for the traditional methods of producing, tracking and mixing a record. Though having said that, I feel the modern studio has given young musicians like me a laboratory-like space where what you do is limited by your imagination alone. Of course, in the old days, the pioneers and the greats made mind-bending music and created musical forms from scratch in spite of what some people would perhaps today call limitations. But I guess the mission is to use this new freedom to expand the vision and palette of recorded music as we have come to know it today – and doing that needs a healthy balance between collaborating with musicians you respect, and spending long hours alone. Working with Madboy/Mink and the band is an earthly joy and working alone as a producer is its own space voyage and they both help keep me somewhat sane.
The sound of Boy is extremely futuristic. How did it come to be?
There is an interesting documentary or sonic + visual collage about the birth and early days of electronic and synthesizer-led music in Britain called What the Future Sounded Like. I’ve always loved the thought behind that name and felt that the intersection between future and past is an interesting place. The late ’50s/early ’60s was the Space Age and the art deco futurism of that time was the height of predicting the deep future. Of course now, that style and imagery seems positively ’60s and old school. But at the time, it was the imagery of the imagined future. Take, for instance, the anti-gravity scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Our imagination as near-sighted mortals is often more interesting than the way reality actually plays out. I’ve always really loved Sun Ra’s space music, the way Theremin sounds were used to depict space, early synthesizer pioneers, Exotica music like Forbidden Island and The Enchanted Sea and Stereolab’s Space Age Bachelor Pad Music.
There is something groovy about Boy, but it’s also mellow in its harmonies. Is that an extension to your solo work process?
Much as I love the raw power of it, I’ve also always loved the gentle, understated side of soul and funk music. The inherent but not overt sexuality really speaks to me. Things and thoughts are always brimming just under the surface and it encourages the listener to reach out just a little bit more. Songs like Inner City Blues and Sign o the times are actually super angry and politically charged but cloaked under this subtle and sensual singing and production style which is, for me, beautifully disarming. Songs like that can move the listener to tears while she’s unable to stop dancing. That for me is something to aspire to.
You first entered public consciousness as an actor who was irreverent towards the industry clichés. Do you still hold that apathy to the industry’s overt commercialisation?
Apathy is probably not the right word. I think I’ve realised with time that the only way to be a focused film actor in our country is to not be culturally or politically idealistic – or rather to not have too many ideals concerning things beyond your immediate line of work. And that’s why I can never be one. I’ve refused a lot of acting work of every variety over the years, and when I was a little younger, because of passionate and idealistic notions. That’s not to say that I don’t love the craft. I practice and study it every day and always have. I feel that I could do justice to a lot as an actor, but now my agenda is to begin making my own films, and I know once that starts, it will be all-consuming.
You played a young adult battling existential questions in Dil Dosti Etc. Is that something you still seek to answer, through your work and your creativity?
I think it’s interesting and quite amazing how every member of the audience looks at things with their own eyes. I suppose sexual and existential questions are somewhat intertwined at a certain stage, which is why that film is strangely, actually bizarrely, popular. I suppose existentialism can be seen as the pastime of the privileged classes. As Brecht’s lyrics say, “Food is the first thing, Morals follow on.” As for now, I’m at peace with a lot of that. I understand that natural existence and biological evolution is the only truth, and that science is, in fact, beauty. There’s no greater miracle than the intricate web of life forms that surrounds us. I’d like to think of myself as a committed rationalist or agnostic, and help myself and the precious few around me to pass their time here, more meaningfully and, yes, more sensually.
Your next movie M Cream is geared for a July release. Can you tell us about your role in the movie?
The film has been shot and made by a team of very passionate, very young people and I’m most curious to know the general reaction in India. It features the Himalayas in their full visual splendour and tackles some interesting ideas. I play an arrogant drunk.
You often veer towards characters who are at the epicentre of the contemporary narrative. Is that how you see yourself too – a fairly influential member to culture?
I don’t really spend too much time thinking about myself. I think artists or creators of any kind would do well to look at the world around them more closely rather than be obsessed with themselves. Megalomaniacs and self-centred people have often made great art, but then again, the beauty is always in acute observations. At this point, all of us in the independent music world are sort of defining the path as we go along, often making the rules ourselves. It can be tough, but it’s a liberating feeling. And definitely, when the wider audience starts to respond with their body and soul to your work, it’s a great sensation. But for me, the focus is very much on the work itself – not the potential validation that work gets you. That’s a sure-fire killer of creativity.
What next on your plate – movies, theatre, music or a bit of everything?
I’ve been working on some short film pieces I directed a while ago, that are coming to closure. I also aim to go back to my songwriter/lyricist roots this year with a small album of Hindi/bilingual songs, which were written long ago and need to be released. I’m scoring a small film, and producing music for picture is a big immediate passion and very much on my agenda. We release two Madboy/Mink EPs this year, and my Madboy concept album Sounds from Earth and Space should be done soon too. I’m also chipping away at the preparatory and song analysis work for an intimate stage musical I direct that will start rehearsal this year with some of my favourite Indian singers. A Madboy/Mink full length album is slotted for early next year.