Much before rock n’ roll in India was reduced to entertaining crowds of barely a few hundred in high-end pubs, it was a grimy tale of life on the road. In the 1980s and ’90s, bands would travel for days on end for the opportunity to tame wild crowds of thousands all over the country. Jumping into overcrowded trains with bundles of equipment and getting stranded on unknown highways was as much part of the deal as trying to coax out a roar from sub-standard speakers that would really get the fans going.

Sadly, that chapter and the characters who participated in it are fading away with time. On July 4, another one danced off to the great concert hall in the sky. Prabir Chandra Mukherjee, founder of Calcutta’s now-defunct rock band Shiva, succumbed to cancer. Aged 67, he is survived by his wife and two children.

PC, as he was known to all, first flexed his musical muscles as the lead guitarist of Great Bear, the pioneering rock band formed in Calcutta in the late ’60s. At a time when many other outfits were playing trendy pop music, Great Bear was playing more visceral tunes – and even had a couple of originals at a time when most other bands were content to play covers.

One of Great Bear’s originals, appeared on the Simla Beat compilation album in 1970.

Mukherjee, recalls Great Bear’s drummer Nondon Bagchi, “was experimental and daring with the guitar” – but he “wasn’t a wild guy”. That role was played by vocalist John Brinnand. At the Simla Beat battle of the bands contest, “John was whipping chairs with a belt. The crowd went wild and we really enjoyed ourselves!”


By 1974, Bagchi went on to form another legendary band, High with Dilip Balakrishnan. Mukherjee focused his attention on creating Shiva in 1976, which would become one of the most influential rock bands in the country.

Shiva’s first line-up had PC Mukherjee on guitar, Jeffrey Rikh on drums and vocals, Pom Lahiri on bass and Tony Braganza on keyboards. As the years passed, the band went through several changes in its line up.

Shiva’s immense popularity was a result of its ability to captivate crowds with honest, powerful musicianship. Even though it played covers, a few originals made their way onto its sole eponymous cassette released in 1989. Primarily a live band with the ability to create magic on stage, Shiva didn’t perform note-for-note renditions of the originals – instead, it. belted out its own takes on the songs.

“The energy on stage was phenomenal! If the vibe was good, we would just go man!” said bassist Lew Hilt, who was part of Shiva for 17 years. “Even if the solo was just for 16 bars, we would go up to 100 bars… cooking it up.”

Mukherjee’s contribution to this mighty sound was solid, old-school guitar playing. While his long-haired bandmates went mad on stage, the clean-shaven Mukherjee would let his guitar do the talking. Heavily influenced by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, he favoured the robust power of Gibson guitars.

However, he was far more than just a guitarist. Realising that he wouldn’t cut it only playing music on stage, he essayed the role of a manager-cum-agent much before this was a recognised role. Before the group gathered to rehearse at Mukherjee’s house on Manohar Pukur Road in the evening, he would religiously make the rounds of various clubs, companies and probable sponsors on his bike in the morning to try to get gigs.

From signing up performances to organising tours, arranging lodging and transportation, obtaining the necessary permissions and handling payments, Mukherjee did all behind-the-scenes work. With nearly 70 gigs a year from late ’80s onwards, Shiva made it seem possible to make a living playing rock in India.

“Nondon and I used to joke that if there was a Nobel prize for selling a band, it would go to PC Mukherjee!” said Hilt. “We earned a lot of money and had very good times. We were the most travelled band in the country – played just about everywhere.”

Hilt added: “PC organised tours for which we would be on the road for almost a month sometimes. We travelled by road and rail mostly. For the North East tours, we would fly to Guwahati and board a bus on which we would do the entire tour of different states. PC would send two guys ahead to check the lodging and facilities. He was very thorough.”


Guitarist Amyt Datta, who played with the band from 1988 to 1993, credits Mukherjee with taking the Calcutta rock scene national with Shiva. “It was a mega band!” said Datta. “This generation hasn’t seen the magnitude of the gigs we used to do. Even for dance shows, the entire ground would be full.”

He added: “We played gigs outside town most weeks. We needed to be physically, mentally and emotionally up there to deliver. I don’t know if musicians nowadays can take the rock n’ roll on the road, physically.”

Mukherjee was instrumental in introducing Kolkata to acts such as Rock Machine (now Indus Creed) and Gary Lawyer from Bombay and 13 AD from Kochi. Indus Creed’s former keyboardist, Zubin Balaporia, remembers Mukherjee as being Shiva’s driving force.

“Both Shiva and Rock Machine had two guitar players,” Balaporia said. “PC pointed out that when they shared guitar parts, they figured out who would play where, but we didn’t! Such an observation could only come from a mind which had great musical intelligence.”


More importantly, Mukherjee also introduced Kolkata to something it was lacking dearly – state-of-the-art sound equipment. In 1992, Mukherjee rented four pairs of three-way stacks, a couple of mixers, graphic equalisers and four used amplifiers from Delhi-based Dhawan Stagecrafts and started his own audio rental company called Friends of Shiva or FOS.

Before this, equipment had to be imported for big shows. Today, FOS has grown into an empire that handles major shows across eastern India. “PC da established the profession of sound engineering here, opening up new career options for educated youngsters,” said Subhayan Gangully, a sound engineer who worked with FOS from its early days till 2014.

Shiva in Imphal in 1984.

Unfortunately, entrepreneurial success came at the cost of performance. Mukherjee receded from the stage. But the discreet legacy of this versatile pioneer will linger in the memory of fans and, of course, of his family. His son, for instance, recalls that throughout his school life, Mukherjee never failed to drop off and pick him up from his boarding school in Kalimpong, 600 km away.

One can only wonder where Shiva would be today if Mukherjee hadn’t quit music. Said Bagchi, “He had all the hallmarks of a good guitarist but he gave up playing way too early.”

Shaswata Kundu Chaudhuri is a freelance journalist from Kolkata who is interested in music.