MTV Coke Studio Season 4 went on air yesterday, March 1. Armed with a tonne of experience and the skill to take the audience on a journey, Nishant Nayak, Director, Coke Studio India shares his story with Pandolin.

Nishant Nayak with Sivamani

Nishant Nayak with Sivamani

Tell us about your journey into becoming a director

I grew up on MTV music videos and always wanted to make them. I studied in St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai and was involved in music as I played the keyboard for the college band. I thought the best way to be able to make music videos was to work for MTV. For me MTV was a place where videos were made. I was lucky to land an internship there as soon as I finished college. But soon I realised, they didn’t MAKE music videos. However I became the in-house gopher and worked with big directors. The first show I worked on was MTV Bakra as production assistant where my job was to carry & log tapes at the shoot.

I worked on multiple projects there, shot a couple of interview shows and the entire one year experience helped me understand the different ways of shooting and handling stars. Through this I earned the trust of a lot of seniors, which is very important for beginners. After that, I worked with Channel V where I got to direct. My boss, Deepak Dhar, who was with MTV earlier, was heading Channel V when I joined. I worked there for six months and learnt a lot.

Did you have any formal training in direction? 

I went to the US to do Masters in film and television. I did an internship with MTV New York in a division most hated called ‘Standard and Practices’. But what it taught me, was attention to content detail and these slipped in to my work later on.

How did MTV Coke Studio happen?

After I came back from the US, I decided to look for mainstream opportunities. I had maintained my network with all the ex – Channel V and MTV crew but the channels were completely into reality TV. I did a lot of small projects at the time and then decided to join NDTV Imagine. Here I got a chance to understand the relationship between advertising sales and content. I was made to work with the Content Head and learned how ratings affected content on a day-to-day basis. I had always been an out-of-office person but this was sitting at a desk and dealing with ratings and pitches. So though it taught me a lot I knew that I wanted to direct. So I set up a small proprietorship called ‘Black Balloon’. After I left NDTV Imagine, I thought people would flock to me but no one did. This pushed me to do a lot of experimentation on my own. I thought it was important to keep doing things even at the cost of making mistakes but moving forward. This prepared me to be ready when any job came up. I did a lot of corporate work and consciously stayed away from mass entertainment TV. I wanted to get back into music but MTV was too much of reality shows.

A good friend of mine, Samira Kanwar, who was with Babble Fish Productions was working on The Dewarists. I saw the series and was impressed by how it had been filmed and graded. The production house had nailed it. She called me for Sound Trippin Season 1. I was overjoyed. Here I was getting to do what I really liked and it was a good starting point. I was fortunate to work with a really motivated team. The production house has an uncanny ability to pick up people doing inspiring work. Sneha Khanwalkar is extremely talented. The show had all the right ingredients. I did that show and mid-way through the show realised that if there is space for something like this related to music content, that’s what I want to do.

While I was working on Trippin, MTV approached me for Coke Studio. I was highly skeptical because the first season did not do so well. Coke Studio Pakistan had set a tall benchmark in terms of good music content so the standards were high. I worked as the Creative Director for Season 2 and put together a team to come up with interesting content, behind the scenes documentation, while supervising the look and the vibe of the show. It was a huge success from a storytelling point of view but it did not work stylistically for me. What that experience taught me was that the next time I do this, I would have to direct the multi-cam set up. MTV still had faith in me because the season and the content worked decently well. I really respect that and am grateful for it. I asked them if I could direct the next season of MTV Unplugged (Season 2) and not just be the Creative Director and they said ‘if you feel you can do it, do it’.  I was the Studio Director as well as the Creative Director. I can’t tell you how much I loved it. It was a big success and tremendous learning. Each and every detail including how a particular light fell on the musician to what kind of detail the clothes had was focused on. We shot with AR Rahman and he was very happy because it had an arena feel to it.

Coke Studio Season 3,which followed, was all about reinventing and changing the pattern. I think so far it has been the best season.

Unplugged 2_2

What other shows have you worked on?

I have directed shows for Fox Life, Nat Geo, the latest season of Fear Factor for Colors etc. What works in my favor is the marriage of good content and great presentation. You always get good content but how you design it visually is important. That’s where I put a lot of my artillery.

You have directed music videos for independent musicians and worked with more alternative styles as well. Have you always been into unconventional forms?

The whole music video thing took off with Sound Trippin. It was a tremendous on-ground experience. I got calls to do music videos because of that. I did a music video for this artist called Nucleya and tried some technical gimmickry with hi-speed and an interesting graphic palette while telling a narrative. The artist wanted to make a political statement. I also did two ridiculous Punjabi videos that got an unreal number of views.

Your favourite episode that you directed on Coke Studio so far? Why?

I think this new season. It’s been a real challenege now that we have a a benchmark. To raise the standards within the budgets and make it look fresh. The Amit Trivedi episode was supposed to be a 12 p.m. shoot but the singer missed the flight and landed at 9 at night. We shot from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. It was a gamble for us on the set to pull it off. But everyone was really happy in the end and it was a memorable shoot.

From last year’s experience I enjoyed Clinton Cerejo and AR Rahman. They believe in sonic scale and have to have many musicians on stage with an orchestra. So you suddenly have 24 people instead of 12, so we really need to think about execution logistics and how to make the shots interesting. It’s challenging but at the same time a great creative experience. It’s also a great listening pleasure with interesting artists singing. Being a piano player myself and so every time there is a break I run out of my control room and go play.

Are there any movie projects in the pipeline?

Not as yet. Advertising first. I have always been the one to watch ad-breaks and wanted to do them. I know how important brands are and I want to tell their story differently. So I also work on figuring out brand through digital and TVC initiatives.

I did a couple of TV commercials for Bacardi towards the end of last year, from script to execution. I want to do a lot more with the 60 seconds, develop a narrative style and then look at movies. A director is someone (the technical and creative chops aside) who knows how to manage people, align them with your vision and learn to get out the best in them. That’s my approach on any project. I got a call from a big Producer for a music fiction film. I could have done it but it’s too early. I currently happily exist in a hybrid space with people coming to me for single camera short-format work, TV shows, events. So it’s a pretty happy mixed bag right now.