Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Hitting it off

Luke Kenny started out as a dancer, went on to become a VJ for Channel [V] and is now a Hindi cinema star. Sneha May Francis catches up with Bollywood’s most unconventional actor to talk about his rise to fame.

ong silky locks, a thin lanky frame, pale complexion and a passion for all things musical don’t necessarily make for a quintessential Bollywood hero. But the musical wizard called Luke Kenny shocked critics by effortlessly waltzing his way to cinematic glory. He may not be in the league of the Khans, but he’s definitely created a niche for himself, proving that he’s more than just a pretty face.
Where most people translate their passion for music into merely storing their favourites on their iPods or spending fortunes on CDs, Luke channelled his love into a full-fledged career. He started off as a Channel [V] VJ, moving up the career ladder with a show of his own – the extremely popular Luke’s After Hours and finally taking on the role of the head of music programming and artist relations for the channel.
His Bollywood journey, however, wasn’t as easy. He didn’t hit the right notes with his debut Bombay Boys, a tale of a rock band. The setback, however, didn’t dissuade him from taking on the mantle of a filmmaker with 13th Floor. The film didn’t turn out lucky either, so he leapt back to what he did best – playing tracks for Channel [V].
It wasn’t until Abhishek Kapoor tempted him with Rock On!!! that he decided to take the acting bait again. The movie turned out to be a super hit, making rock music – something absolutely alien to Bollywood ears – a sudden rage in B-town. And the success has paved the way for Kenny’s Bollywood resurrection. We caught up with the outspoken artist before he embarked on the Dubai leg of the Rock On!!! concert to talk about life, music and cinema.
Tell us about your Rock On!!! experience.
"Rock On!!! has been one of the most exciting, fulfilling and exhilarating experiences. It’s rare when filmmakers choose to make films that are so courageous. And to put me into the mix, despite having access to some of the biggest stars… All that has been motivating and interesting for me as an actor and as a believer in quality cinema and a consumer of great stories."
Both Bombay Boys and Rock On!!! revolved around music themes.
"It’s probably the only similarity. Whenever there’s anything to do with music, I’m probably the first person that comes to mind because of my intrinsic involvement with music. Actually, for Bombay Boys, he [Kaisad Gustad] picked me after watching me in a play, not playing music! And when Rock On!!! came along, the music link helped."
How did Rock On!!! happen?
"It actually came out of the blue. It was just a normal day at the (Channel [V]) office when I got a call from Excel Entertainment about Abhishek Kapoor’s interest in me. After chatting with him for a while, he tells me that he wants me to audition for the film. I go ahead. Then a couple of weeks later he gives me another call saying he’s keen and that we should have another chat to finalise things."
You had to cut your hair for the role.
"Abishek explained the poignancy of the role and the reason why it needed to be done that way. I could see where he was coming from. So what’s a little hair here and there? Even though my hair was like my image, my trademark, so to speak, I knew it would always grow back again!"
Can Bollywood headbang?
"Well, there was scepticism! But Hind-rock had already seeped into the consciousness of the Indian music listener. There were bands like Strings, Euphoria and Jal. But Rock On!!! wasn’t trying to do ‘Indianised’ notes. It’s plain rock ‘n roll beats with Hindi lyrics. Once you watch the songs in context with the film, it goes to a different level, that’s why it worked."
Is the Rock On!!! soundtrack pure rock?
"I get asked that a lot. First of all, what is rock? Does rock mean loud and distorted sounds? The Beatles are rock but they were one of the biggest pop bands ever. So, if music fits a particular mindset, I think that’s what constitutes rock. When rock music came about, there was a phase of music being played because of the American conservatism in the ’50s. Then there was a bunch of people who put together the antitheses of the soft melodious sound, which was the hard jagged sounds, and that’s what became rock. So anything that gives the antithesis to a trend is probably what I’d consider rock ‘n roll. Rock On!!! music definitely fits that bill."
So you guys actually perform now?
"So many people want to see the band, knowing that the band is just four actors. I think it’s about recreating the whole experience of the film, outside the film."
Do you really play the keyboard?
" I did learn to play the keyboard for the film. Earlier, I could find notes and melodies. But for the film I got systematic training, because Abhishek was quite keen that we all learnt to play our instruments. It would be cheating the audience if we didn’t do it."
What were your co-stars like?
"The jamming sessions were fun. It’s where you actually grow as a musician. We rehearsed as much as possible before every shoot, every song, so we could develop our body language. I’ve probably performed more on stage with my band in college than the others, which definitely helped. They just had to react to my body language."
What’s next for you?
"I’m the most unconventional Bollywood actor. With more and more unconventional stories, I guess more opportunities will come my way. There have been a couple of scripts that have been sent to me, but there’s nothing that I’ve signed yet."
You’re a mix of Irish, Italian and British...?
"It’s an interesting cocktail. I’m the original Shantaram! Without the conviction, though."

Little known facts about Luke Kenny

* 1989 Kenny starts his career as a solo dancer. Later joins actor Arshad Warsi’s dance team as an associate choreographer
* 1991 Drops out of college to play the role of Jesus in a musical interpretation of The Passion Of The Christ
* 1993 to 1995 His journey as a DJ begins when he accepts a position at Channel [V] and becomes India’s first male Indian VJ
* 1998 Works as the head of music programming and artist relations for Channel [V], a post he held until 2008
* He recently signed on as contributing editor for a new magazine, Rolling Stone India, writing columns called LukeBox and Gig-A-Bites

(Published in e+, Gulf News August 20, 2009)

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