Show business has a reputation of metaphorical scraped knees and bruised bodies before freedom and fandom. Nikhil Uzgare, who’s signed on to Universal Music MENA as the first artist on their Hindi music roster, knows of the rocky road only too well.
Uzgare just debuted his first single ‘Inteha’, which roughly translates into ‘the last limit’, and to him the timing seemed perfect. After all, it is also testament to his own journey that crackled bonds of tradition, broke through the gates of expectation, and finally began to reflect a self-identity that wasn’t so conventional.
However, the path began as many do – on a well-worn road. Uzgare, who is 47 years old, explains why his career began with a stint in Microbiology. “Back in the early 90s every Indian kid was expected to be a doctor or an engineer or something that was academically credible. My dad’s a leading HIV consultant and I wanted to be a doctor, too. That didn’t work out but I chose to pursue pathology. There were very few options. The internet did not exist. Science, arts, commerce or engineering was our destiny. [I] took up microbiology as someone told me that [it] was a super interesting subject and was also told that the batch of 91 had disproportionate male to female ratio, in favor of women.
“Well, none of it was true,” he jokes.
From lab to stage
However, it was around this time, he found his passion: Music. “ [I] grew up around music thanks to my dad and mom. Had LPs of classics like ‘Baiju Bawra’, The Ventures, Nat King Cole, Jim Reeves, ‘Mughal E Azam’, Harry Belafonte. [I] even learnt tabla [for] five years. But my college years got me hooked onto rock music as I had loads of friends from the North East. Most of them were uber-talented and shredding guitar solos, from Black Sabbath to Led Zeppelin, in their sleep.
“That's when I realized that I wanted my music to be strong. I needed to feel the raw energy. It was an adrenalin rush and still is. So you could safely say that my college years were a turning point for me when it came to music and being a musician.”
That tangle of elements blooms in Uzgare’s tunes. There are notes of rock and beats that recall the 80s and 90s. His debutant song in Bollywood film ‘Irada’ in 2017 that had this same mesh of influences proved a hit and pushed him into the limelight. He went on to open for Guns N’ Roses, for the Middle Eastern leg of their sold out ‘Not in this Lifetime’ reunion tour.
The next year, he wrote his break-out single, ‘Inteha’.
Talking about whether between gigs, from his first steps into UAE – back in 2003 – and now, if a low point ever tempted him to head back to microbiology, to give up the dream, Uzgare retorts: “Never. I don’t give up ever.”
The can’t-quit attitude led him to his current coveted spot. “[Universal MENA] signed me onto the Hindi roster. I am their first sign up. My job is to prove to them that [original] Hindi music does have an audience. My job is also to fly the flag of Indian original Hindi music high and be its face for the Middle East,” he explains.
The best part about the deal? “Your music stays with you, unlike other labels where you sometimes stand to lose ownership to your IP and content. The guys at Universal are very supportive, “ he says.
Support is important, especially during the time of pandemic, where one may find all business plans have gone to mud. “My business has gone for a toss,” he says, adding, “But have managed to hustle. The music has kept me sane. No regrets. That's life.”
He’s got 25 originals, he says, in the bank, so why is ‘Inteha’ the first release? “The song theme and lyrics seemed like it matched the current situation we are in with the pandemic. So we thought why not release this first. Besides I personally think that it's a great song with great sound,” he says.
The year has brought a need for revival, of challenging limits and re-determining what’s possible. This is the year of ‘Inteha’.