How Lendrick Kumar Became Indie’s Go-To Music Video Director

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The filmmaker behind some of the most bizarre and unpredictable videos in independent music reveals how he interprets and captures an artist’s vision.

“It started as a joke,” says Bangalore-based filmmaker Lendrick Kumar of his career as a music video director. He has released several videos since 2020, working with artists such as Parimal Shais, Hanumankind, Tribe Mama Marykali, JBABE and The F16s. In total, these videos have been viewed up to 185,000 times on YouTube.

But, in spite of his early success, Kumar conceals his identity. He doesn’t reveal his face or real name publicly. “When I am anonymous, I am not bound by any industry standards, I can go as crazy as I want with my ideas,” he says.

The freedom is like a breath of fresh air for Kumar, who spent years making corporate films, where every move was dictated to him. His work at the time was “depressing,” and he spent most of his free time playing video games and listening to songs by American rapper Kendrick Lamar. “His words moved me, motivated me. So, I flipped his name and used it for my gaming account,” he says. The pun always made people laugh. “And I thought this would be my name if I ever made something on my own.”

Almost a year later, his quirky pseudonym is the first thing that pops up in conversations with musicians, with whom he stays for five days while working together. “I am a complete stranger to them, so the name is also a good ice-breaker before we sit down and discuss what can be done,” he says. He considers it crucial to visit the artist and find out how they want to be represented. “Because if you think about it, music doesn’t need a video. It works fine on its own. But if you’re going to shoot something, it has to reflect the artist’s vision.”

In the videos, Kumar often weaves together fragments of conversations between himself and the artist. “They tell me stories… like how they once wore a dress while performing. And I am like, ‘Hell yeah, that could go in,’” he says, referring to the music video for the single ‘Punch Me In My Third Eye’ by JBABE, vocalist and guitarist Josh Fernandez’s solo project.

The video, released in July this year, flips the idea of arranged marriages among urban Indian youth on its head. What starts as a simple meeting between a girl (played by Preeti Yadav) and a boy (played by Josh Fernandez), who are accompanied by their respective parents in a typical Indian setting, spirals into chaos when the girl asks the boy, “What do you like?”

Kumar got the idea from watching his friends who used to be “players”, not only agreeing to arranged marriages but also putting on a the act of being a “nice guy” in front of the girl’s family. “I remember telling one such friend that if the girl could see inside his head and know who he really is, she would never marry him,” he says. The video is one of Kumar’s best-received, and has brought a lot of attention to both him and the track. “That’s the power of the visual medium,” he says. “We live in an age when even a good reel can make you famous.”

Fernandez, who is also the frontman of indie-pop quartet F16s, agrees. According to him, artists need to present themselves as an “audio-visual package” in today’s time. “Whether it is live shows or music videos, visual language to any music makes a world of difference,” he says. But, mainstream production houses charge up to Rs 40 lakhs for a making a music video, which an independent artist simply cannot afford.

This is where Kumar’s strength lies. With his conceptual and subliminal approach to making music videos, he overcomes the barrier of budget easily. For the shoot of ‘Punch Me In My Third Eye’, he turned Fernandez’s home into a studio, and everyone in the house into the cast and crew. Yadav designed the set, and Fernandez sourced props. “We pulled everything together in one day, and I figured it was the best way to run a set,” he says. “Everyone understands the budget is small, and thinking creatively becomes the only solution.”

Kumar’s spontaneity and DIY-style was shaped by the circumstances of his early career. Last year, just before the nationwide lockdown was announced, he got a new roommate: DJ and music producer Parimal Shais.

While they were stuck at home, Shais suggested using his music production skills and Kumar’s filmmaking abilities to create a series called Curry Chatti Beats. It involved calling an artist to their house, recording a song and filming the process in one day, and posting it on social media. “I told Lendrick we could make do with whatever equipment we had and not worry about quality,” says Shais. “I just wanted people to see how we normally make music. We chill, have drinks, have fun, and enjoy ourselves.”

The series led Kumar to meet and work with rapper Hanumankind, aka Sooraj Cherukat, who had a profound impact on him. “He encouraged me to be myself and always supported me,” says Kumar.

One time, when a shoot didn’t go as planned, the two took a lunch break to eat biryani and drink beer. And Cherukat suggested they film the moment. “We set up a chair. There was no song. We played some random music, and I just told him to eat the biryani and make it enjoyable,” says Kumar. Later, Cherukat composed the track ‘Beer and Biryani’ to go with the video. “I realised that this could also be a thing. You can make a song for the visuals,” adds Kumar.

The video’s simplicity inspired Fernandez to team up with Kumar on ‘Punch Me In My Third Eye’. Eventually, their companionship spilled over into his band The F16s and culminated in the video for ‘Easy Bake Easy Wake’, the second single from their latest EP Is It Time To Eat The Rich Yet?

Kumar’s more recent videos, which include collaborations with artists such as RANJ and Rudy Mukta, involve larger landscapes, elaborate costumes and make-up, and use drone footage, but his fascination with understanding the inner lives of musicians remains. He keeps a collection of tapes that document his five days spent with each musician. It includes, in Fernandez’s words—brainstorming and ideating sessions, yoga, pet sitting, cooking, gardening, brunches, early mornings, late nights, beach days and interior decorating diplomas—all of which Kumar hopes to incorporate into a feature film one day.