One of India's oldest rock festivals, the Independence Rock (I-Rock) Concert, has finally come to Kolkata and is rocking city crowds. Its founder Farhad K Wadia has lofty ambitions and says he hopes to wow international audiences by 2010.
It's been 23 years since the concert first kicked off in Mumbai and now eight Kolkata bands are battling it out since July 31 to win the prestigious event. After performing at pubs here, the winner gets a platform to give concerts across the country - called the 'Victory Lap'.
So what took I-Rock so long to come to here?
"Although this is the 23rd year of I-Rock, it's actually the second year we are doing it anywhere other than Mumbai. We added Bangalore and Delhi in 2007 and this time it's Kolkata and Pune. The choice was not entirely random. We are aware of the growing popularity of rock music here and feel it can become our thrust city," Wadia told IANS.
I-Rock gives budding musicians and bands a platform to showcase their talent and helps them make it big in the industry. Some of those who have benefited from I-Rock include singers like Shweta Shetty, Sunita Rao and bands Brahma and Agni among many others.
Asked about I-Rock entering the international circuit, Wadia said: "I-Rock will go international in 2010. Till date we have consciously endeavoured to keep this a platform for Indian talent and have often refused international musicians who wanted to play here. But for our 25th Anniversary in 2010, we have planned a large international act."
The I-Rock founder went back 23 years in time and recalled how Indians were not that interested in rock music back then.
"At that time I used to play for a Mumbai-based rock band called Mirage and there were hardly any promoters who organised shows for us. In fact there were very few concerts - one of them was at St. Xaviers' College festival 'Malhar'. But soon the college principal banned rock concerts at the fest. I then came up with I-Rock as an alternative," he said.
But the journey was not easy for Wadia.
"I-Rock survived floods, bomb blasts, three court cases, police and censorship hassles, and closure of our main platform - Rang Bhavan in Mumbai. Till date we have a pending case at the Supreme Court. But the journey has become a little easier since there is a wide acceptance of rock in India."
While some people objected to their music and lyrics, the government did not allow the concert to take place in 1993, the year Mumbai was shaken by serial blasts that killed 257 people.
Wadia is all praise for the present generation of musicians. He pointed out that bands nowadays played more original music and were accepted faster by music buffs.
"Why only bands...musicians from all genres have a better chance of getting their music heard and distributed via the Internet, which is faster than selling and buying cassettes and CDs. This has made them more committed and confident about playing their own music."
On a global scale, how good are Indian bands?
"There are many Indian bands like Rock Machine, Indus Creed, Pentagram and Zero that are better than Western bands," he replied.
And I-Rock is always innovating to attract more audiences.
"We are making innovations every year by trying to reach out to more Indian cities and people. This year, for the first time the concerts will be available across India on the pay-per-view platform of Tata Sky," Wadia said.