The printer who loves to Rock ‘n’ Roll

Born on 3 April 1974 in Kolkata, Mrinal Dhote is the third generation that helms the reins at Bharat Lithographing. The printing company was started by his father Surendra Dhote, whom he dotingly calls ‘superman’. But printing is not his only love. Mrinal is a passionate guitarist and part of a rock and roll band called Blue Mist and strongly feels that “guitar playing is a connect between the head, the heart, the soul and the fingers – the best connect wins!” Much like printing a perfect print job as any scholar of print technology would point out. This is his story

27 Nov 2018 | By PrintWeek India

The parable of a master printer 
Born in a family of printers, I grew up in a house where the residence was on the first floor and the factory on the ground floor. My dad always motivated me and made me fall in love with printing. So I would occasionally work night shifts in the factory. 

As a youngster, I scored an order for a calendar in Singapore. I had no idea about how or when will I be able to complete the order. Plus, there was no advance payment. Yet, I took the plunge and in 15 days, the calendars were duly printed, fabricated and packed and loaded in two containers. This was the defining moment in my learning experience at Bharat Lithographing. 

Bharat Lithographing is a place where I spent most of my childhood — it’s huge; it has stories and it’s a legacy. Today it supports more than 1,000 families directly or indirectly, including ours. I consider it to be an institution. Every day is a new circus at work and at times I feel, I’m the headmaster of a primary school. But we collectively rise above to the challenges. The press is probably a reflection of the city we are in. Kolkata has a heart, a soul, culture, and most importantly the sweetness of rosogolla, which reflects in the daily life. The same gets reflected in the printing industry too. 

True, the conventional trade of print is dying in Kolkata, but creativity is keeping it alive. Although I would like to point out that the printers in Kolkata need to change their outlook towards printing. They have to value, love and respect commitment and quality. 

3,000 shows and counting
I’m a self-trained musician. I tried learning from the greats in Kolkata but it did not click. Friends, who were also musicians, guided me and led me on the path of exploring rock ‘N’ roll. I studied in St Lawrence High School in Kolkata. Friends saw me strum a guitar and asked if I would like to join the school band. I was thrilled. We played for inter-school and inter-college competitions where the winners would be rewarded with cash. It’s with this cash that we slowly began to build our base of equipment. 

I have fond memories of being naughty, mischievous, fun loving, a great athlete and a rock and roller. I have made heaps of memories which I relive by revisiting my alma matter. I remember being obsessed with the song Wake me up before you go by George Michael when I was in school. My band Blue Mist completed 25 years in 2018. Together with my band members – Dean Martin as the vocalist, Darren Manuel on drums, Carlyle Highland on keyboard, myself on the guitars, and Sugata Palodhi on bass guitars – we have managed to do over 3,000 shows or gigs as we like to call it in the music community. Once we did a live show at a concert in Kolkata with an audience of over 10,000 people. The stage was a makeshift creation with two trucks joined back to back and all four sides open. That has been our greatest show yet. It was after this show that I could claim that on any given day I would prefer doing a live show over cutting an album. 

Thorough professionals in a fun band
In some ways, a jamming session where we improvise with the music is similar to a live show performance. We are thorough professionals. We do a basic homework and land up at our jam session and polish the songs and do the fine tuning through rehearsals. When you love what you do the results reflect in your work and for me our band is a supreme good example of that. We are a fun loving band. It is fun and rock and roll all the way. For us, there never was a breakthrough gig. It has been a gradual and a steady growth. We have climbed the ladder with every gig we did and each of it has been a learning experience. 

We have created loads of memories that describe the two above mentioned aspects of our band – fun and rock ‘N’ roll. Like at one of the gigs before it was about to begin, the sound guy messed up my guitar sound on stage. I could not hear what I was playing and kept strumming for two songs. Till one of my band mates told me to tune my guitar. At that moment, I could have committed suicide. It was so embarrassing that I swore I will never compromise on sound and always check the tuning of my guitar before hitting the stage. Then there is this other memory wherein I wore a pair of torn jeans and a black round-neck t-shirt to a formal gig where everyone was dressed in a suit.

And then there was this time when we saw Elton John and Billy Joel face to face live in Melbourne and it blew my brains away. When it comes to rock ‘N’ roll, I am probably a different person. And my mindset is different too. I feel blessed and thankful that I am able to perform alongside my talented friends. On the other hand, it also scares me that tomorrow I might not be able to play. So I treat every gig as the last gig of my life. And inadvertently, it becomes a dream gig for me. 

Primarily we perform ‘covers’. The time it takes us to prepare for a cover varies from song to song. If a song does not have a guitar solo it takes about an hour but with the guitar solo about two to three hours. There is a myth that I follow as a guitar player: play the song a hundred times and it shall stick in your head, your heart and your fingers. 

I am basically a Fender artist. I have a proud beautiful collection of Fender guitars. (Stratocasters and Telecasters), a Godin, couple of Variax guitars, and effects processors - Fractal AX 8, Axe FX II, Roland Boss GT 1000, Line 6 Helix. Then there are these big daddy amplifiers: Marshall DFX 100 W, Roland 100 W and a Bugera 20W. My music room is a complete fantasy. It is the place where hours and hours of time zoom by getting hold of the nuances of the song or even just a particular phrase of the song. 

Mrinal Dhote’s top ten cult songs

Sweet Child of Mine, By Guns N’ Roses
Boasting one of the most memorable guitar intros in the history of rock and roll.

November Rain, By Guns N’ Roses 
Has been a staple at Guns N’ Roses concerts ever since it was released in 1991.     

Hotel California, By Eagles 
Also known as the sound of an era, its old-school tones perfectly describe the essence of the 70s.

Black Magic Woman, By Santana
A pioneering cultural mashup, it’s actually a cover of a Fleetwood Mac tune, written in 1968 by guitarist Peter Green.

Purple Rain, By Prince
Aptly describes Prince’s ability to fashion the most avant-garde pop imaginable while still making you want to shake your booty.

Smoke on the Water, By Deep Purple
It’s the song forever being butchered in the bedrooms of novice guitarists.  

Roadhouse Blues, By The Doors
Opens up the 'The Doors’ fifth studio LP with the band firing on all cylinders. I think it evolved from a jam session, where The Doors was trying to make the ‘ultimate bar song’ as a joke.

I want to Break Free, By Queen
Topped the charts all over the world.

Summer of 69, By Bryan Adams
When the song reached India, it became an anthem for the youth.  

Nothing Else Matters, By Metallica 
A song for the centuries. Possibly one of the greatest songs of the 20th Century and it still is one of the most played songs in live concerts. This song has the power to move people. A song that was never meant to be released, but later became the identity of the metal group Metallica.


Guns and Roses to Pink Floyd
There is no better phrase in guitar-ing than the intro for ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ by Guns and Roses. Although my favourite album is The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. I would have loved to play the guitar for Michael Jackson. I really appreciate and respect the compositions and arrangements and the guitar riffs. I would have loved to perform alongside him. Having said that, suppose if I were invited to perform at Wembley in London, I would open my act with Highway to Hell by ACDC. And if there is one living legend I would like to meet backstage it would be Eddie Van Halen. But if I were to get stuck on a desert island with a Grammy star it would be Jennifer Lopez. 

I enjoy rock ‘n’ roll and blues equally. Sadly, I don’t like opera or jazz music as I understand none. But if you ask me to choose between Bhimsen Joshi and Bob Dylan, as I was once asked, I would choose both of them. Bhimsen Joshi could bend the musical notes at his will when he would stir up a raga in Hindustani classical music as if the notes were bowing down in salutation. Whereas Bob Dylan crooned his way into my heart with his poetry and philosophy, doled out at the strum of a guitar and the note of a harmonica.
Living my dream
I can proudly say that it’s purely because of music I am living my dream. Unfortunately, the music scene in India has become repulsive with the DJs (disc jockey) and the karaoke singers. How on earth can a person claim talent that belongs to a laptop! Plus, what comes out of it is mostly trance and techno - the kind of music which has one beat forever. I also feel that the American pop sensation Justin Bieber is highly overrated. 
For me, music is peace that emanates from our own personal beliefs. Music is the key to world peace. As Shakespeare says in his play Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, play on!” 

Likewise, I feel why indulge in drugs: do music instead, why have wars: have music festivals instead, life is short: so play on! I am very happy where I am today because of music and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world. I am blessed to have a life that I have with the greatest luxury of my life that I have earned – my collection of guitars and effects processors. 

Music and print
A poster or a CD cover is where music and print intersect for me. Being a printer I have a knack for good posters and CD covers. In my office, I have a corner which I call the music corner where I keep putting up new posters: the favourite one being that of Jimi Hendrix holding a cream colour Stratocaster guitar.