Yashraj Mukhate on the fickle nature of internet fame and desire to create music with longer shelf life
Yashraj Mukhate, who became famous after his comical viral mix 'Rasode Mein Kaun Tha', on how internet fame has altered his social media habits, his love for Tamil show tunes and shifting focus on original work.
Anyone who has spent enough time mindlessly scrolling on social media all of last year is acquainted with Yashraj Mukhate’s ‘Rasode Mein Kaun Tha’ clip, a comical take on a dialogue from an equally comical and cliched Hindi soap Saath Nibhana Saathiya. An irate Kokilaben (played by Rupal Patel) investigates a damning act of domestic neglect — one of the daughters-in-law, Gopi bahu (Gia Manek) or Rashi (Richa Hasabnis), had placed an empty pressure cooker on the gas stove. She screams the place down, demanding an explanation, “Rasode mein kaun tha? Main thi, tum thi, kaun tha? (Who was in the kitchen? Was it me? Was it you? Who was it?).
The 24-year-old Aurangabad-based musician/producer picked this moment, remixing it into a snappy rap that is set to electronic beats. The video gained viral status in August last year, and overnight, triggered a torrent of memes and Instagram reels (RIP TikTok). Mukhate found the video while he was randomly scrolling on Facebook (There are innumerable hilarious Saath Nibhana Saathiya highlights circulating on the Internet. Remember when Gopi bahu washed a laptop with soap?). But he chose this particular clip for Kokilaben’s rhythmic dialogue delivery. “Musically, unlike my other videos, ‘Rasoda’ has a very basic chord structure, a basic chord progression, and basic programming. There’s nothing much happening music wise,” Mukhate tells me over a Zoom call from his home studio.
He's one of the many Internet entertainers like Ronit Ashra, Ruhee Dosani and Niharika who have garnered a large following in a brief span of time. “I had no expectations that it would go beyond a point that people will recognise me,” he says.
But now Mukhate has over 4.5 million YouTube subscribers and 2 million followers on Instagram, and has reached a comfortable space where he can pursue projects that truly interest him. Sure, the mashup meme videos get him traction, but they don’t really scratch his creative itch. “I don’t want to be remembered as the guy who just makes catchy tunes.”
A few months ago when Mukhate was still new to the game, the fear of being typecast and losing out on new audiences invariably persisted. “Now I’m stable enough to experiment,” he explains. Mukhate does not wish to let internet trends dictate the kind of music he makes, instead he hopes to push out work with a longer shelf life. In between the meme videos on Instagram, Mukhate often posts covers of his favourite songs; then in January he collaborated with Rekha Bhardwaj for an acapella cover of ‘Insaaf’ (from Meghna Gulzar’s Talvar), and has even worked on a couple of Marathi numbers. As for sustaining himself during the pandemic and even prior to it, Mukhate has always has been working on background scores, jingles for ads. And now that he is recognisable face, even brands are approaching him for endorsements.
However, there’s a flipside of instant fame, you never know when it's going to blow up in your face. The widespread attention his mixes get has often sparked the question: “Why is he relevant?” Though he has never been subjected to vitriol or incessant trolling, Mukhate accepts that this catch comes with the territory. “People keep asking, ‘Why is this mix being talked about so much? Why is it playing everywhere? So overrated.’ A few months ago I was underrated and suddenly it’s the opposite. I don’t know how that works,” he remarks ruefully.
This attention has made him hyper-aware of his online persona, significantly altering his personal social media habits. "I feel like I’m being watched all the time," says a bemused Mukhate. Or you could make an anonymous account, I suggest. “Of course,” he laughs and raises two fingers to the screen, “I have two. I scroll for memes and reels all day, everyday.” As a creator, he says, the content feels a little pressure to keep his feed limited to his work. “When I had a smaller audience, I used to post little details about my day, what I ate, what’s happening in my life. Not anymore. If so many people are visiting my profile for a particular experience, I only want to give them that.”
Music was introduced early in life, with songs from '60s and '70s Bollywood constantly playing at home. Mukhate's father, a businessman with an avid interest in all things music, was the one who bought him his first-ever keyboard, taught him how to play, and encouraged his ever-growing interest. “The piano you see in the frame was gifted by him too,” he points at the instrument, set against one corner of his studio’s wall.
As a teenager, he discovered the Dev D soundtrack, composed by Amit Trivedi. That’s when his connection with music deepened and he actively changed his listening approach. — dividing it into layers and focusing on its individual parts. Mukhate also has a fondness for Indian regional music, especially Tamil show tunes. We gush over the brilliance of composer Santhosh Narayanan, who Mukhate discovered after watching R Madhavan's Saala Khadoos (the Hindi version of Irudhi Suttru). "I listened to the album and thought to myself that this is different from the usual. I tracked his work, all the original songs of that film and his entire discography."
Armed with a similar passion, when he was much younger, Mukhate dove into acquainting himself with elementary details of music production, and with some amateur mistakes along the way, finally mastered the art. “When the Internet came in and I had access to YouTube, I started looking up my queries. I didn’t even know the term music production. I used to look up ‘How to make a song” or ‘How to make music’. My initial searches used to land me to the website that talked about that topic,” Mukhate tells me. This story, though, isn’t unique. We are all products of a digital age. What’s interesting is the musician has been regularly sharing a “Music Breakdown” series on his YouTube, where he breaks down the different elements that make any popular song, even his own mixes.
Learning and relearning the know-hows was a solo process. “I worked alone and learned alone. I used to record (a song) and listen to it in my car and it used to sound horrible,” he says, but tips from YouTube and music forums, and his own feedback helped. Even now, Mukhate prefers to work alone, and is a self-proclaimed homebody, even before the pandemic: “I love doing things that require me to stay indoors. I hate leaving my house, there have been times when I haven’t even stepped out of my house’s threshold in weeks.”
Mukhate may be the next big thing; in a recent interaction with Film Companion, AR Rahman lauded the musician for breaking rules of conventionality and creating space for his own art. So what's next in the pipeline? Mukhate, though cryptic about the projects, says, "There have been talks going on with some big production houses. Nothing has been confirmed yet but I’m hoping for good news."
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