Mohan Kannan: The remake trend is bizarre, but gives original musicians an opportunity to shine

By Bryan Durham - March 6, 2020

Mohan Kannan: The remake trend is bizarre, but gives original musicians an opportunity to shine

There are reasons one fell in love with Indian rock band Agnee in the 2000s. But regardless when you did, your love for their sound won’t really diminish. Whether it was at i-Rock or when they created the MTV Splitsvilla theme song Aahatein (or even the MTV Roadies theme) or when they made their Bollywood debut as music directors with Dil Dosti Etc.

The breakaway act that emerged from the band was the lead vocalist Mohan Kannan, a powerful voice heard in several Bollywood films since (the last one being Wahi Hain Raste from Panga).

Here are excerpts from our conversation with Mohan Kannan…

The music scene in India has changed quite a lot since you started making music. Do you think this change is a positive step? 

In the non-film industry, things have dipped first and then improved again. When we launched Agnee in 2007, we were among the last few to be featured on TV and radio and right around 2008, TV and radio stopped playing non film music. That led to a huge dip in prospects for musicians, but thankfully in the last couple of years there have been a lot of platforms for non-film music to be released too.
In the film industry, things are a little weird right now. We have gone from a single music director doing all the songs in the film, to multiple music composers doing one song each (which has its own share of problems, as each composer wants to create that one song that will be promoted, so all we hear ends up being item songs or love songs or Punjabi songs or some variant of these) and now we have this bizarre trend of remakes, where labels and film makers want to just put old wine in a new bottle and expect people to love them. And, strangely enough, it seems people do love these, and the labels and film makers continue to release remakes.
I see all of this as an opportunity for musicians to shine. Today, it seems almost just enough to release an original song, and people will see that as a miracle, and even if the song is average, chances are people will just be happy to hear something they haven’t heard before. Hopefully, we’ll end up using this advantage in a good way and actually release our best work now! 
With Agnee, we’ve actually done our own tributes to a few old wonderful songs and we’ve tried our best to maintain our originality on even these.. we know people will either hate us for it or love us for it, but we’re glad we haven’t just re-sung / re-performed the songs as they originally were. These songs will also be out this year and we’re eager to see how audiences react to them.

Why don’t we see you in Bollywood as often as we’d like to?

I’ve actually sung over 50 songs in Bollywood in the last 10 years since I started singing for films. Many of these songs are in small films, but are wonderful songs and I’m proud and happy to be part of them. In terms of a big release, I’ve sung Wahi Hain Raste for Panga and I’ve also sung the song on the motion poster of Laal Singh Chaddha (composed by Pritam and written by Amitabh Bhattacharya). I’ve sung a few other songs for Amit Trivedi and other composers and these will be out sometime this year. 
I’m also going to release a lot of solo material this year, songs I have composed and sung, both in the film and non-film formats, and I’m looking forward to that.

You exclusively perform with Agnee so now when we see your Bollywood live shows, will there be other collaborations from Bollywood? 

There will definitely be collaborations on the Bollywood shows, but the focus is on creating a larger-than-life (or as I like to call it “Larger Than Live”) experience with sound, lights, visuals and performances with story telling on these shows.

Is Mohan Kannan a better composer or a better singer? 

I really hope I’m equally good at both. I enjoy both equally, and there are different bits of me that come to the fore when I sing and when I compose. I hope I don’t have to choose ever and can continue to do both ☺

What inspires you everyday to make music?

Just music is enough to inspire ☺.. I’m always surrounded by musicians and I can never get enough of that.

What did you have to keep in mind while singing for Panga?

Wahi Hain Raste is a super melodic, emotion led song, composed brilliantly by Shankar Ehsaan Loy and written as brilliantly by Javed Akhtar Saab. Whenever I record with Shankar, I honestly don’t have to do much, I just have to follow his direction and things fall into place. In fact, he is probably the one person I’ve dubbed who has consistently brought out things in my singing that I didn’t know I could deliver, and it happens each time. I’m sure every singer who’s worked with him feels the same.. he’s a masterclass in how to handle a dub. I’m just glad I’m part of this lovely composition.

How is your bond with Pritam?

Pritam is a friend and a super fun guy.. he’s one of those guys it is impossible to dislike (and there are very few of them). In fact, in his team, he also surrounds himself with people like that. Amitabh Bhattacharya the lyricist, Shadab Rayeen the sound engineer, Pritam’s assistants like Arijit Singh, Tushar, Akash.. each one of these guys is first and foremost a nice human being and then a super talented individual. I’m not even getting into Pritam’s talent (or the talent of all of these people I’ve mentioned).. the amount of hits they’ve delivered is enough to showcase that.

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