It has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride for Debo Borkotoky, who in a span of three decades has established his family business into a mega empire. His label NK Productions, a King maker of sorts in Assam, has seen it all – a stuttering start with simple humble beginnings, which reached its crescendo during the nineties, to now reach a stage where it has been compelled to diversify to other allied industries in the wake of the fast evolving music industry and stiff competition from national and international labels. The evolution of NK Productions through the past few decades has stood as perfect testimony to the fast transitioning music landscape of Assam.
Having been in the business for the past 29 years, NK Productions started off a family business in the Borkotoky family when they used to produce Bihu albums, besides records of Khagen Mahanta and devotional music albums. Debo took over the reins of the business in 1985, at a time when the physical market was rapidly growing in Assam. The eighties was a defining point as their albums started registering huge sales, with one particular Bihu album selling around 60-70,000 copies.
Although NK Productions major focus area was Bihu albums and devotional albums – both of which enjoyed a lot of popularity in Assam during that time, young Debo also started the trend of introducing contemporary artists. One of NK Production’s major finds was none other than Zubeen Garg, one of the most popular singers in the history of the State and the State’s first export to Bollywood. His debut album, Maya, which was released under this label sold a record 7 to 8 lakh pieces in the first year alone. “We have released records of almost all the popular artistes of Assam. Khagen Mahanta, Bhupen Hazarika – they have all shared a long relationship with us,” says Debo.
Just for the record, NK Productions is the only music label in Assam to have a full professional set up. “I installed a Loopbin system in 1995 and also have three studios with my own dedicated manforce of directors, assistants, technicians and other crew members,” says Debo. Banking on this set-up, Debo also was the first to produce audio and video cds on a mass scale and make it available to the average consumer for sums as low as Rs 12- 20.
Dwelling on his move, he said, “Piracy was a major menace that we had to encounter. We decided to sell our cds for as low as possible to beat the threat of piracy. We also started the concept of making short Bihu video albums where all the songs were weaved around a story. We normally used to produce 15-20 such albums every year during the Bihu season, all of which were much in demand among the public and registered sales of around 15-20 lakh copies every year. One such product, Janmoni, had become a craze and we had to produce it sequels every year.”
However, the VCD craze has also petered out and Debo released only 2 VCDs this year. “After the entertainment channels came up in Assam, the sale of Bihu VCDs totally diminished. People still love to listen to their preferred music. The only difference is that now they won’t buy for it,” he rues.
During the heydays, another strong factor in NK Production’s favour was its extensive distribution network. “We have our own dealers in every major town and city of Assam and we do our own production as well as distribution.” While other national and international labels are now foraying into the Northeast’s folk and devotional music market, Debo certainly has a upper hand here.
While Debo made a smooth transition from cassettes to cd productions, the changeover to the digital era has been pretty taxing. In his words, “Assam is the only State in the country where physical sales continued till the last. While the switch over to the digital era has hit us hard, we are doing whatever little we can to keep pace. For instance, we have uploaded our entire database of songs on the internet and have also tied with all major telecom companies for revenue sharing on song downloads. But the market is not even a shadow of what it was a few years back and we are gradually diversifying into film production.”