Up close with the Khanabadosh man..

Mohan.1Its not everyday that you get to see someone who leaves a high-paying job to go into music, a world of uncertainties. Well, Mohan did just that, and quite a good decision it turned out, considering his current repertoire includes – apart from Agnee‘s songs, SEL‘s chartbuster from London Dreams, Khanabadosh, soundtrack for Samsung Guru’s latest ad series, and a couple of songs with Amit Trivedi for Onir‘s upcoming movie I Am. We decided to catch up with Mohan and know more about the man. And here is what we found.

Before we go into the interview, a BIG thank you to our dear friend Swetha without whose efforts this interview wouldn’t have happened. This post dedicated to her! 🙂

Your profile on Agnee’s site says that you belong to a

family of Carnatic musicians. Can you tell us about your

musical upbringing? Carnatic vocals, Hindustani vocals,

mridangam, guitar.. how did you manage to master all of


My mother (Smt Vasantha Kannan) is a Carnatic musician (she sings and plays the violin) and my sister (K Srividya) also plays the violin and sings. My father (Sri S Kannan) runs a musical organisation dedicated to Carnatic music and my uncle and aunts and grandparents all play an instrument or sing.. so yes, it definitely IS a very musical family. 🙂 I started learning the mridangam when i was found banging tin cans in the house at the age of 5 or 6, and my parents sent me to learn from Sri S Sekhar, my Guruji who taught me everything i know (and a lot more that i probably couldn’t grasp at the time) about music. It was great fun learning the mridangam, and I really liked it. Surprisingly though, I never thought it cool to sing at the time because all the women were doing it around me, and it sounded manly to play the mridangam. A decision I definitely regret now! On the subject of mastering any of these instruments or the vocals, am sure I’m a VERY long way off from that, just enjoying music and composing and singing and playing! (Quite humble that, coming from a man who has won the Best Mridangam player of the year thrice at the Chennai Music Festival, and been awarded with the prestigious Palghat Mani Iyer award!)

After doing an MBA from a place like XIMB and landing a dream job like Deutsche Bank, it

takes courage to leave all that and go after your passion. What prompted you to take the


Well, every bold step really looks quite stupid, naive and maybe a little TOO gutsy when it’s taken.. but I’m glad it’s worked out and I have the luxury of being able to look back at that decision and say “Thank GOD!”. 🙂 I have to admit, there were times when I thought it wasn’t such a great idea… the comfort of a nice fat paycheck does take a while to get out of.. and by the time i really started missing it, we had already been signed on by SONY BMG and it wasn’t a situation anymore! The one person who made me change to music was (and will continuously be) Koco, our lead guitarist and co-composer with me on the band. He asked me to come jam with him one day and then we started composing.. and before we knew it, we had songs that we wanted to release.

Was Agnee your first musical initiative, or were you part of some other ensemble before


Koco had asked me first to come jam with this band called Sankara (our first venture together really). Sankara was a band of guys from Pune who were all part timers in music but brilliant composers and super musicians. Anoop, the chief composer of the band, Sid on bass and co-composer and Varun on drums formed the band and Koco joined and roped me in too. In fact, Sadho Re, Kabira and Ujale Baaz were all part of the Sankara repertoire, and Ujale Baaz was completely composed even before I joined the band! During this time, Koco and I also had a band called Change of Plan with super singer Monica Dogra, ace guitarist Randolph Correa (of Pentagram fame) and Arijit (who was also part of the first Agnee line up). Monica and Randolph then went on to continue as Shaair and Func, and are a super band today. We still scream our lungs out when we go to their shows.. they’re great.
Then of course, we formed Agnee (Koco, Arijit and I) and went on to release our first album…

How did Agnee come about? Why the name Agnee? Are you connected in any way with

the 80s band Agni? And how did you get signed by Sony BMG in your debut itself,

something of a dream for every band?

Koco was a part of the band Agni from 1987 and he was chief composer for both their albums (Wind dance with fire and Mrityunjaya) and of course the lead guitarist of the band. When we formed this band, we thought of a million names, but the one that we finally decided on was Altamus which is a flower that is known to have spiritual healing flowers. SONY BMG heard it and said it sounds like “Al Qaida” and we realised it was a valid point and thought of some more names. None of them really had the ring that Agni had to it, and Koco said, let’s check with the previous band members of Agni (Uday, Ross, Bharat and Bell) to see if we could use the name.. and they all said yes. So we decided to keep the name Agni but changed it to Agnee just to signify a new sound, new music and really, a different genre of music.
Sony BMG was surprisingly easy to approach, easy to speak to and GREAT to work with. We’d gotten our deal signed within one month of recording a demo (one that took us 1 and a half days to record) and that was pretty much a feat by itself. We were just lucky and probably a case of right place, right time I guess. What was extremely encouraging was that EVERY label we went to said yes to release the album and the best deal (and the quickest) was from Sony BMG. So yes, it was a dream… still is.. we’re just happy to be living it!

2007 was a watershed year for Agnee, so to say. You came out with your debut album and

gave music for the movie Dil Dosti etc.  But why did Agnee not come out with a complete

album post that? It is not even as if you have run out of creative fuel. Frankly, Raanjhan

Yaar Di is too good a song  for a show like Splitsvilla!

2007 was great for us. And thankfully, the years ahead have gone better and better. The decision to release singles and not an album is not about running out of creative fuel (at least not yet). The reasons are simple. We release song by song so that each song gets its due on promotion, airplay etc. Having an entire album out at the same time means at least 2 or 3 of the songs will have to go without videos, and sometimes that means keeping not so good songs on the album as well just to have the required playing time of 45 min. We also have a difference of opinion when it comes to selling a medium and not the product (i.e. Cd’s and cassettes as opposed to the music itself) and therefore would rather give everyone an opportunity to listen to our songs, no matter what the medium. So the decision to release the songs free as well. And as part of the promotion for each song we get the chance to look at different platforms and different methods.. one of which was Splitsvilla for the love song as well as for Raanjhan Yaar Di. Hence the release with the show! 🙂 We will definitely release complete albums, but that will be only to reach those who do not have access to the internet.

It was on the release of London Dreams music there was this widespread search for the

singer named Mohan who sang Khanabadosh. Even among followers of Agnee, not everyone was

acquainted with your name (I myself being among them!). So how did Khanabadosh


Am glad there was this “widespread” search for the singer who sang Khanabadosh.. wasn’t aware of it myself! The song credits were supposed to be “Mohan (Agnee)” but that got missed in the final print unfortunately! 🙂 Ehsaan called me one day and said they wanted to try out my voice for this song just as a test.. I went there and sang the first few lines and Shankar said sing the whole thing now. So I sang it and had a lot of fun doing it. There was a LOT to learn from interacting with Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy.. on small things like how professional they are, how ready with their stuff, clarity on direction, they way they’re fun to be with and still such kickass musicians (or is that the other way around??) :).. so it was a great experience for me.

You seem to be quite busy on the ad jingle scene as well, Samsung Guru being the

latest one. So is music your sole occupation currently?

Music’s been my sole occupation since I quit banking in 2005. And Agnee’s pretty much the one thing I do full time. Singing for films, jingles etc just help as I get to work with musicians I really like (Amit Trivedi is a SUPER musician too) and also it’s a way of increasing repertoire. Agnee is and will always remain my primary.. and is also my sole identity.. the other things are learnings and experiences to enjoy. I don’t actively go out and seek work as a playback singer or for jingles, they’ve all been calls that people have made to me after listening to our album and identifying a sound (the Agnee sound) with my voice.

You have worked with Amit Trivedi? Thats news! Tell us more about it.

I worked with Amit on a couple of songs.. One for this film called Udaan, which is going to Cannes now (the first hindi film in 7 years to be selected in the mainstream category).. And another for this film called Megha (part of 4 short films in the feature called I Am by Onir). Both were written brilliantly by Amitabh Bhattacharya, the first’s a solo song and the second is a duet with the amazing Rekha Bhardwaj. The Samsung Guru ad is also composed by Amit, with lyrics by Gulzar and directed by Anurag Kashyap.. So it’s been fun doing all this! 🙂

What are your current projects-in-progress? And what is the way forward for Agnee and

you as a playback singer?

We’re working on an exciting tour starting May 27th going all over India and it’s a Create with Agnee tour where we’re going to be collaborating with our fans. It’s going to be super fun.. goes on till July 10th. We’re also going to Europe to play in 4 countries there and collaborating with European musicians on some songs. We’re making music for a film called Gulaab Gang, which will be shot towards the end of the year. The future of Agnee is composing, recording and playing live shows.. we wouldn’t change it for the world! We’re just going to try and keep improving our music, have fun doing it, and enjoy meeting other musicians we like and collaborating with them. It’s a fun road.. and we’re determined to enjoy it to the fullest! 🙂 I really have no plans as a playback singer, all my plans involve Agnee.. the other things happen to me rather than me planning for them or having an ambition for them. Hence, will take the playback singing as it comes!
Here is wishing all success to Agnee and to Mohan on a personal front. I am personally look forward to Onir’s I Am now. With Amit Trivedi composing and Mohan, Rekha Bharadwaj et al on vocals that must be some soundtrack!

kirti says:

da theme song is a surreal beauty 🙂 *sigh* love it….