The Greatest Pretender: Korla Pandit, music’s most magnificent fraud

The Greatest Pretender: Korla Pandit, music’s most magnificent fraud

Dead 2 Rights: A Folksy Down-Home Blog

Joe Blevins

A few of Korla’s two dozen albums. You might notice a recurring visual motif on the LP covers.

“For wisdom is better than rubies, and all things to be desired are not to be compared unto it. We bring you musical gems from near and far, blended into a pattern of glorious harmony, a program based on the universal language of music. It is our pleasure to present to you…”

Korla Pandit spoke not a word when he was on camera. He just wore a bejeweled turban, played the organ… and stared. That was the extent of his act. It was all he needed — the shimmery tones of his music, the vague evocation of the Far East, and that indelible Mona Lisa countenance with its piercing dark eyes and intriguing half-smile. It was a potent combination which carried him along for nearly half a century. And yet, Korla Pandit never really existed at all. It depends, I suppose, on your definition of “existed.” Either way, his story is one of the most implausible and oddly inspiring in the history of popular music.

I first encountered Korla Pandit without any clue to his identity or knowledge of his past. Portraying himself, Korla made a memorable cameo in Tim Burton’s 1994 film, Ed Wood. In the scene, notorious director Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Johnny Depp) is holding a wrap party for his 1955 sci-fi/horor anti-epic, Bride of the Monster. The wild celebration, attended by Bela Lugosi and the other oddballs and grotesques who orbited Wood, is held in the meat-packing plant of the film’s major backer, wealthy rancher Donald McCoy (Rance Howard). While the carcasses of slaughtered animals hang from hooks all around them, the revelers are treated to a suggestive dance routine performed by Wood himself, costumed as a harem girl. Korla Pandit, immaculately attired in a Nehru jacket and the ever-present turban, accompanies him on the organ with a composition called “Nautch Dance,” referring to a seductive style of dance popularized in early-1900s India…

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