How Dubai rocker Nikhil Uzgare of Point of View found his niche in Bollywood
The 43-year-old father emerged suddenly, singing in Hindi, as the voice in Bollywood cop thriller Irada’s title theme
Twenty years ago, Nikhil Uzgare sat down for a meeting at Mumbai’s Zee Music Company, and braced himself for bad news. Over the proceeding weeks, the aspiring singer had recorded a batch of songs to audition for the label, which he hoped would be his gateway to Bollywood fame. Despite sparking interest, the promised recording contract never materialised.
The then-23-year-old had sat in numerous similar rooms over the past year, and this, he decided, was to be his last humiliation.
“Being in India, by default your first step is to try and get into the industry, which is Bollywood – and that is money, recognition and credibility,” says Uzgare. “It comes with a lot of perks, and like any kid, I wanted in – I wanted to make it big.
“I had my hand burnt by Bollywood in 1997.”
This final brush-off prompted the singer to turn his back on the commercial side of music making for good, instead following his gut into the murky world of underground rock, a path which eventually led to fronting Point of View, the hard rock band that reached 30,000 new pairs of ears supporting Guns N’ Roses in Dubai this year.
Singing entirely in English and defined by monstrous, distorted riffs, few fans of the UAE-based act could have imagined the earlier career goals of its lead singer.
Yet today, Uzgare, now a 43-year-old father, seems poised for his teen dreams to finally come true. This year he emerged suddenly, singing in Hindi, as the voice in Bollywood cop thriller Irada’s title theme.
He followed this remarkable rebirth last week with the surprise Indian independence day release, Vande Mataram. Penned in the 1870s, India’s national song was made famous in the modern era by a now-classic anniversary re-interpretation sung by Bollywood music director A R Rahman 20 years ago, who formally blessed the release of Uzgare’s stripped-back, acoustic take.
“Of course, when you do a new production of a song like that, recorded by A R Rahman with 20,000 instruments, you are always going to get hate mail,” says Uzgare with a laugh. “But at my age, I do not care.”
Uzgare’s new direction was inspired by a fortuitous encounter. Also the founder of concert promoters Rock Nation UAE, in late 2015 he booked a Dubai gig for Bombay Vikings frontman Neeraj Shridhar, a popular playback singer who has graduated into producing soundtracks for Bollywood films as music director. At an after-party, he asked Uzgare to jam and liked what he heard. “He said he really liked my voice and would like to work together,” says Uzgare. “A lot of people in Bollywood say a lot of things, and don’t follow them up – he did.”
Recognising the gravelly rock tones that helped put Point of View at the heart of the UAE’s underground scene, Shridhar asked Uzgare to sing lead vocals on a Hindi rock tune he was working on, which later became the theme for Irada. Since then, the pair have recorded several more tracks together, which are currently attracting interest in the swarming “fish market” of Bollywood’s soundtrack industry.
“There are 30,000 singers in Bollywood. They are all talented, have all studied music, but they all sound the same eventually,” says Uzgare. “I have a different kind of voice, which puts me in a niche. That means I will never get 30 songs a year, but I might get five songs a year that will really stand out.
“This is my inroad into Bollywood, 20 years later.”
But whatever the future holds for Uzgare in his homeland, he is far from turning his back on the band he founded 12 years ago, shortly after moving to the UAE. Point of View are preparing to unleash a new album this year, the long-awaited follow-up to 2012’s politically charged debut Revolutionize the Revolutionary, to be proceeded by a slick, catchy new single next month, titled Just Like Me.
Described by Uzgare as “trendy but still heavy”, the as-yet-untitled LP promises a fresh radio-friendly sound. “We will always be non-commercial at heart,” he says. “It is about tricking people, by putting out the non-commercial in a more commercial fashion. You have got to go with the times, without compromising the essence of your sound.”
Much of the new sheen comes courtesy of recently recruited guitarist Arsh Sharma, who supports sizzling six-string virtuoso Royden Mascarenhas in the quintet’s ranks. Known as the driving force behind Delhi’s industrial electro-rockers The Circus, Sharma also runs Fuzz Studios in the Indian capital, where much of Point of View’s new album has been recorded.
The new album will notably feature a guest solo from the band’s renowned celebrity admirer Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, the former Guns N’ Roses guitarist who has flown over to join Point of View onstage in the UAE on four occasions, and was a featured special guest on the band’s 2013 tour of India.
This long-running association with the American musician meant Point of View were widely tipped to support Guns N’ Roses in Abu Dhabi that year – a gig that fell to rockers Jay Wud, while Thal instead appeared onstage in a POV T-shirt. The call up to support the legendary rockers at Dubai’s Autism Rocks Arena in March might have felt like a fitting reward, but ironically Bumblefoot was no longer there to see it. Guns N’ Roses’ ongoing, blockbuster Not in This Lifetime... Tour starred top-hatted icon Slash back on lead guitar for the first time in 23 years, a historic reunion that helped make the tour the highest grossing show of 2016.
“Supporting Guns N’ Roses is the hottest ticket in the world right now – it came to us on a platter, we did not even have to ask,” says Uzgare, with just a hint of hubris.
“For us, it was more than the joy of being on that stage – we felt the acknowledgement for being the band we have been for the past 12 years. We have worked hard, paid our dues, we have done everything possible as far as the UAE is concerned. We have always been on top of our game, but have always kept missing opportunities. That is not going to happen anymore.”
Vande Mataram is out now on YouTube. Point of View’s new single, Just Like Me, is out next month. For more on the band, visit www.facebook.com/pointofviewdubai
Updated: August 21, 2017 09:04 AM