| 21 Feb 2024
MTV was initially reluctant to air a Marathi song: CEO Sagarika Music

MUMBAI: To enter an unknown territory and to conquer it, is what real success and thrilling stories are about. Sagarika Bam, a Bengali, raised in Mumbai, studied in a convent school, went on to change the face of Marathi music industry. A daughter to cassette manufacturer, Sagarika would help her father in the capacity she could.

“My father had a small plant, where we used to manufacture cassettes for music labels. We used to produce one lakh cassette and CDs for labels like Universal and Saregama. It was a manufacturing plant and we had nothing to do with content creation. Slowly, my father initiated in content creation, but for Bengali music,” she says.

Sagarika, a finance student, would monitor the on-goings at the plant. Later, post her marriage, she was not as actively involved and it was during her maternity time, she realised that she needs to do something. “I couldn’t have stayed unoccupied more. It was a little frustrating. That’s when I decided to do something creative. I had zero experience of content creation and didn’t know how to go about it.  I am a Bengali, raised in a convent school and lived in a cosmo society, so my knowledge of Marathi was very limited. However, I thought that everyone is in Hindi and I too going there would make no difference. So, I decided to get into Marathi music,” reveals Sagarika.

She entered the field and got into it head-on. “I had the required logistics at home with the parent label Sagarika Music. Slowly, I started listening to Marathi music, trying to understand the music and language. Appa Wadhawkar, a well-known musician in the Marathi fraternity helped me lot and so did the owners of the erstwhile music store Rhythm House. I would meet them and take their recommendations and suggestions.”

Being on her own, of course, came with its share of challenges and roadblocks. “The first problem, when we thought of doing something new was getting talent. We had famous artists and access to them, but they were too committed to give the time required to make something new.”

After a detailed study, Sagarika made a headway with the popular track Aika Dajiba. This track was path-breaking for Marathi Industry in many ways. “We were doing many covers or remixes, but nothing original. That’s when, Vaishali Samant came up with a thought that she wanted to do something of her own. And then Aika Dajiba happened,” shares Sagarika, CEO, Sagarika Music.

She continues, “Second problem was selling the product. Aika Dajiba is the first non-film Marathi music to be aired on MTV. We knew people at MTV, due to our network as a parent company. But they were reluctant to air a Marathi song. However, once they did, after lot of chasing from our end, the response was overwhelming. Not just that it ended up being nominated at MTV Asia awards and became a Platinum disc.”

That song opened many doors for Marathi Music and is the face of many firsts “It was first Marathi Non-Film song that was shot abroad too,” adds Sagarika.

After having launched many voices, careers of many singers, Sagarika is the most respected music label in Marathi industry. The label survived the renaissance period of the music industry at large. “Smaller labels found it difficult to survive the change of CDs to digitisation. Nobody knew what was happening. We had to re-learn and unlearn a lot of things,” she remembers.

Observing the past, she says, “The change brought two main aspects. Technology and Content. Technology wise things just degenerated. Music industry went through a bad time. Also, because streaming culture was still evolving in the West and India was grappling with many issues. It took at least 4-5 years to take a grasp of happenings.  Even after the streaming culture has evolved, people in India don’t really want to spend.”

Content wise, though, things changed positively according to her, “Initially, it was more of folk music. Things changed positively. We did an album with Swapnil Bandodkar called Radha hi Bawri, which catapulted to soaring heights. We also did an album with Ajay-Atul, Bedhund. The album was first made in Hindi, but didn’t get expected response, so we re-made in Marathi and was a smash hit.”

Her next gradual step was of course movies, and their first Marathi movie was Aga Bai Arrecha, again a success. “The song Cham Cham Karta Yeh Badan, featuring Sonali Bendre was chartbuster. It changed the perception about Marathi music on national level. “

A question not to be avoided is about the influx of reality shows and their products, and she shares her firm view, “Now quality differs. We have launched and worked with many reality show winners like Shreya Ghoshal, Avadhoot Gupte, Swapnil Bandodkar and many more. But, it was a happy coincidence that all of them were good and successes. I never judge an artiste if he or she is from reality show background. We are currently working with an artiste called Suhit Abhyankar and he is not from reality shows. His work is great and is getting appreciated. Now there are many shows going on.”

About the current scenario of the music industry at large, she says, “We don’t lack production or content. What we lack is perception. And that is mainly happening because, historically, popular music in our country has been majorly driven by films. In the West, Beyonce is bigger than Tom Cruise, because they have an independently functioning music industry. Here, we are still using films as a medium to promote music. A singer also thinks that giving playback to a movie is the greatest achievement. In a movie, songs aren’t the priority, story is. So, there has to be more of independent music and acceptance to it.”

She predicts future for next decade and concludes, “Short format culture is here to stay at least for next 6-7 years. The content will change according to the taste and preference of the end consumer.”