With the broadcast of Kripa Unplugged, the acclaimed show’s first season marked its own history as a part of Terai Television’s, as well as the nation’s premier musical show. The involvement of veteran musicians featured in the program would not have been a story to remember had it not been for the painstaking efforts of its production team. And with Season II ready to air, Kripa Unplugged is finally ready for prime time.
Starting from 1st August, 2013 and concluding on 1st March, 2014, the first season of the show was shot in a stretch of a year and crossed all the four seasons that left the production members with scores of memories. “As we look back, the ensemble of the musicians on the videos help us to remember the kind of weather that we faced during the year- long project,” says Shanta. “There was even a time when our cameramen had to wear helmets during shoots in winter,” she adds.
A total of twenty-five sets of musicians became a part of the first season. Four of the shows featured well-known local bands whereas the remaining twenty-one were prominent solo singers with Kripa’s back-up musicians on the set.
“The first season started with little expectations and ended up yielding a massive response,” says Shanta. With some of the singers singing covers in Nepali, English and Hindi, along with their originals in Nepali and English, the show not only showcased new talent and re-introduced the veterans, but also helped to revive the classics.
The shootings of each of the series were held at the terrace of the building where the studio is located. It is the studio’s adjacent portion of the top floor of the building where its office is. “In contrast to the venue, the visual output was very good,” says Samir. On this, Aman adds, “My sixteen years of experience in broadcasting media productions was put to the test when I had to work on the set for the show.”
Once the show aired, the viewers had a chance to know the featured musicians better as their workouts in the new studio (Kripa’s former studio is also located in the same building) during the recording sessions were also shown. “Recordings for the show were done via multiple tracks inside the studio, but even so, all of the members of the individual musical groups were made to perform at the same time,” says Jha. This situation however, was a lot different than what the second season had in store for the musicians.
Amongst the 25 shows of musicians who became a part of season one, the last three programs featured very young individuals, whose online views and comments is proof in itself that their presence was strongly felt amongst the viewers. In contrast to the age groups of the previously featured musicians, they were all teenagers. “At first, we were a bit anxious as to how these singers would perform during the shoot and the recordings,” says Shanta. Her level of excitement while describing their performance showed that these finale shows of the first season were worth cherishing. “But everyone was taken aback when they acted quite normally on screen and made their studio debuts without any musical flaws,” adds Nepali.
The production team has re-united for the making of the second season of the show. This time, all of them had agreed to do something different. The first thing that defined this change was the switch in the shooting venue: Studio 4.
The new location is in Bhaisepati. The reason was ultimately the need for a bigger and better place for the shootings. Likewise, the audio recording had to be done in a different way: right at the settings. This was particularly due to the ideological pressure from the fans, critics and the desire of the production team to achieve something much conventional and honorable. “At this time, Kripa Unplugged was directly compared with the likes of MTV Unplugged, Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement by the viewers. Hence we had to deliver something that met the standards of these international programs,” says Adhikary.
The shootings started taking place from 16 July, 2014. It was a ten- day shoot where twenty-six musical performances had to be covered. It featured 16 bands and 10 solo singers. And so it did as the production team wrapped up their equipment on the 25th.
Studio 4 is known as a shooting friendly studio hall that has featured famous programs of Nepal Television and Kantipur Televison. But for Samir, the case was different altogether. “I must confess that I had a tough time setting up the microphones and the amplifiers in a precise manner for the best live recording output that I could manage,” he says. The reason was simply the tinned roof and the reverb prone floor cum walls which result in bad acoustics.
In turn, Jha’s plight and the need for proper adjustments of the setup also affected the shooting crew. As a result, Aman sought the cinematographer Pramod Karki’s advice. “Ultimately, the musicians were segregated into different islands, and the props were later on adjusted accordingly,” Adhikary recalls. These ideal islands created a considerable space amongst the musicians, thus eliminating the unwanted noise, feedback and reverb that would have otherwise been a nuisance during the recordings.
Likewise, the latest in audio technology - in Nepal’s context - were used for the recordings. It incorporated a 24 track multi-recording system at the sample rate of 48 kHz with 24-bit digital audio resolution. “When my band had performed as backup musicians in KTV’s Taal in 2004, we could only use an 8-channel mixer and process sound in a sample rate of 44.1 kHz with 16 bit resolutions,” says Little Star Shrestha, who is the second season’s on-set live recording audio expert and founder of Little Star records: the official co-sponsor of the show’s second season.
“In reference to the sound resolutions, I would compare this season with the audio output of MTV Unplugged series of the 80s,” says Samir. To explain this statement, he talks about the ‘raw’ and ‘compressed’ sound output, which has ultimately become a credential trademark of this season. It is a fact that a live musical program leaves no room for mistakes. Even if the musicians had made some errors during their performance, there was no way the production team would give them a re-take to correct it. “It’s like watching a band perform live in a concert. So whatever they play onstage is recorded for good,” adds Jha. For the word ‘compressed’, he justifies by pointing out the direct input consoles as well as audio compressors that were being used during the recordings. “I can assure you that there will be no buzzes and noise when you hear the output on your television screen,” he asures.
Besides adjusting the sound settings on the actual stage, the production team also had to meticulously work to dampen the walls and ceiling of studio 4.
“Much of our expenses were used doing just that as it was for the props,” says Shanta.
In stark contrast to the first season’s setup, the new series is much more visually appealing. At the back of the set, a huge Sarangi has been placed. “This is rightfully the world’s biggest Sarangi,” says Nepali. It had been brought from the Nepali Folk Musical Instruments Museum in Tripureshwor for the shootings. On its sides, there are props that are layered with brick designs. On top of it, photographs of legendary Nepali musicians have been pinned like a collage. A placard denoting the show’s logo can also be seen prominently.
On the video, the musicians are seen wearing professional headphones and performing with caution as well as feelings. Some bands like Mukti and Revival and the musical group of singer Nabin K. Bhattarai will be seen playing electric guitars on the set. “It took some nerves to finalize their sound output as we had only planned for acoustic instruments beforehand,” says Samir.
The impact of musicians coming onstage with electric instruments also posed visual challenges for Aman at the same time. “It was definitely a twist, as I had to re-arrange the camera positioning, angles, zooming and framing according to the electric sound output as well as the feel of the performance,” he says.
Staying true to the unplugged theme of the program along with a fine performance were Night and Joint Family International. In fact, every member of the show’s production team praised both the bands during the interview sessions for this story, especially the former. “The musical instruments used by Night and their playing style soulfully complemented our theme of preserving and promoting Nepali folk tradition as well as my pre-concepts of shooting a live performance of an acoustic band,” says Adhikary. Like in the first season, he had carefully listened to the songs of all the musicians beforehand to determine when and whom to focus the cameras on during the shoot.
“I was quite fond of the brass performance along with the usage of the upright bass guitar during Joint Family’s performance,” says Shrestha. This made sense as Little Star himself is a well-versed bassist of his generation. On this second season’s set, he had revealed his ‘Premier’ drums for the first time, which was complemented with a variety of cymbals, fitted in a clamp stand. Likewise, a glass fiber wall was used to prevent the leakage of the sound of the drums so that it was not captured by other microphones being used simultaneously. “The main challenge for me was to adjust the gap and frequency levels between the microphones of the vocalist and the drummer,” says Samir. His hard work paid off in the end, as the recorded sounds of the drums came out just fine.
The first experiments were done with Kripa’s house band: a total of ten musicians, who later on performed for sixteen of the featured solo singers on the set. When they had passed the tests, the final shootings for the reputed veterans took place at the venue. “We really had to work hard for days to learn all the chords, solos and beats for the musicians that we had to work with,” says Almoda Uprety, who is one of the members of this musical group. He was particularly impressed with singer Ram Krishna Dhakal, who knew almost all the subtle musical scores of the legendary singer Narayan Gopal.
"Many had been skeptical of our efforts to produce such a program, but when they saw the final resolution, it was more than what most of them had expected," says Shanta. For the team themselves, it was a notable achievement as they were prepared for the worst. "I think we were able to set a benchmark in Nepal’s local music scenario with this project in the present context," adds Samir.
After the broadcast of its yearlong season one, Kripa Unplugged has become a brand that has so far received massive public approval and a few critiques. Nepali viewers who have been following the program from every corner of the globe have recognized the musicians featured in its sequels as veteran musicians amongst the contemporary of the local scene. Moreover, the musicians who have worked on the sets grew up as professionals towards the end as did those individuals who were involved in season II. But the viewers have yet to see what heights the program will achieve towards the end of its second season.