CHENNAI: The year was 2020. As a nationwide lockdown confined most people to their homes, Nikhil Pradip, a Thiruvananthapuram-native now based in Chennai, reached out to his school friend Dhananj Shivganesh, a Chennai-native now based in Raipur. Nikhil, an audio engineer, suggested to Dhananj that they revive their old band, which had remained dormant since they completed high school in 2014. Now an anesthesiologist at AIIMS Raipur, Dr Dhananj nodded in the affirmative, and so it was that The Fortune, the band they had started as high school kids, was given a fresh lease of life.
In the two years since then, The Fortune, in its revived version , has produced 17 songs, collaborated with several other artistes in India and internationally, and in June, was featured in Rolling Stone India’s Spotify hitlist, making it one of the hottest names in the indie music circuit. All of this was accomplished in parallel with their professional careers.
The Fortune had its origin in the most unlikely of places — a tuition centre in Thiruvananthapuram in 2012, where Dhananj moved to from Chennai for a brief while, and where he met Nikhil. Trained in Carnatic music for around seven years, Nikhil’s inclination was more towards Western pop, and Dhananj, a grade A certified pianist from Trinity College London, proved to be the yin to his yang. “When I met Dhananj, I realised we had a lot in common in terms of musical taste, and the idea to form our own band came from there. It was also a way for us to stay in touch with our musical training,” said Nikhil.
The initial pairing produced three songs, with vocals provided by Aashiq, another friend. All of their musical influences, ranging from rap to funk and R&B, began feeding into these numbers. By then, they had completed high school and went their own ways; Dhananj would pursue medicine, and Nikhil would go on to pursue engineering. It would be several years before they would meet again, but the two remained in touch, and the band was anything but written off.
“You could say it was the lockdown that contributed to The Fortune’s revival,” Dhananj asserts. “While we remained in touch through all those years and would occasionally ponder over the idea of reviving the group, it wasn’t until the lockdown, when we had very little to do, that we finally decided to act upon our long-time plan.” It also helped that Nikhil was now an audio engineer working for one of the biggest recording studios in Chennai, since he now had a better idea of the technical demands of recording and also could meet a lot of artists.
A fresh slate
In the absence of their old friend, and both of them confessing to not having great singing voices, it was necessary to seek out other vocalists with whom they could collaborate. Here in particular, Nikhil’s exposure to the recording industry proved beneficial. “Another source was Spotify, where I found out interesting artistes and later sent them a message hoping that they would respond,” added Dhananj.
Being a little-known indie band, not a lot of artistes were willing to respond, but their perseverance eventually paid off. From Malta’s Kelly Mancado to Khaino from Italy and Bryan Rios, the songwriter from Venezuela, the duo made their presence felt in the international indie scene. Their latest release, Someone Else Than You, was a collaboration with Vandita Narayan, another well-known vocalist in the indie circuit, and with that they had struck gold, featuring in Rolling Stone India’s hitlist.
The tunes largely came from Dhananj, while Nikhil took care of the mixing and mastering. All of this was accomplished over several zoom meetings, where it would sometimes be the two of them or the duo with whoever they were collaborating with. And they certainly turned the tables on the challenges that the pandemic had thrown at them, and it worked to their advantage.
“The good thing about Covid, I feel, is that a lot more people began taking music and art a lot more seriously, either as a practitioner or as a listener, in the sense that it helped them cope with the distress caused by the pandemic,” Nikhil mentions. And the road ahead for The Fortune? Both Nikhil and Dhananj are open to every possibility; the band could go from duo to trio, or it could expand to include more musicians. But their recent successes have certainly made them a name to contend with, and people in the indie scene are taking note.