DJ Pram answers the door on a Tuesday night dressed in a black suit with silver embroidery and a thick, gold tie pulled snugly around his neck.
His 1-year-old son, Om, teeters behind him dressed in an even more dazzling outfit than his father — traditional Indian garb, down to the pointy jutti slippers on the toddler’s tiny feet.
As Pram, whose real name is Pranav Ojha, makes his way to the small office where he and his wife, Priya, operate their business, Rang Entertainment, the boy follows, perching himself beside his father’s desk as if waiting for something. Some kind of cue.
The smell of a warm, spicy dinner fills the Ojha house, which is located in a quiet Lakewood Ranch neighborhood and contains all the predictable trappings of a young family with a child, except of course for the DJ booth by the front door.
If it weren’t for the booth and Pram’s office nook — with its walls and shelves lined with professional wedding photos, sweet-16 portraits and promotional party DVDs — you’d never guess the 28-year-old, mild-mannered Maryland native was one the area’s hottest DJs.
“This is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” says Pram, who got his start as a DJ working small house parties around Washington, D.C., when he was still in high school.
His first professional gig, at age 17, earned him $50. He worked six hours on a small cruise boat as it tugged up and down the Potomac River. From there, he moved onto the club scene, spinning classic-rock hits by Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, The Rolling Stones and David Bowie at a 1970s-themed bar in Virginia.
“I got into Indian music after I married Priya,” Pram says, pausing to add that he was 20 years old when he got married and that the union was arranged.
Pram recalls he asked Priya two questions when they met: Did she want to get married and did she know how to cook?
She answered yes to both.
Pram had no idea his wife, born and raised in India, was a performer. They had known each other for 15 minutes before they tied the knot.
In 2003, the couple moved to Lakewood Ranch. During the day, Pram worked as an optician at Lens Crafters, and on the weekends, he deejayed private parties, often bringing Priya along to help loosen up the crowd with her enigmatic and tireless dance moves.
“She dances like crazy,” he says of his wife. “I guess I got lucky.”
He slides a DVD into his computer; a music video from the Hindi comedy, “Partner.” In the video, men in wraparound shades and gold chains dance and sing to Bhangra music — a genre of fast-paced dance music popularized by Bollywood soundtracks — while women in belly-baring tank tops and mini skirts writhe to the beat.
At non-Indian parties and weddings, Pram will play these videos in conjunction with the music so that people can get a sense of the culture.
“Mixing Indian music with rock and hip-hop is a challenge,” Pram says. “It comes out good if you line it up properly. It keeps people going.”
His ability to blend Indian techno with American hip-hop and club mainstays is what makes Pram different from other DJs. He doesn’t just play Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack.” He plays “SexyBack” mixed into the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” mixed into composer A.R. Rahman’s “Jai Ho,” from the movie “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Pram’s party mixes are infectiously danceable, as evidenced by the packed dance floor at this year’s Bollywood-themed Orchid Ball, at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
“That’s the main difference, I think, between American and Indian music,” Pram says. “Indian music is full of energy. It creates an atmosphere. You don’t have to dance to it a certain way. You can throw your hands up in the air and just go like this if you wanted.”
To demonstrate, he throws his hands in the air. Om, in his glittery slippers, finally gets the signal he was waiting for and bobs in place. Even Pram’s mother, Jyotsna, and Priya appear from out of nowhere and discreetly bounce to the beat.
A single mother, Jyotsna cashed in her tax return when Pram was 18 years old to help pay for her son’s first set of equipment. She now lives with the family and watches Om whenever the couple has gigs.
Pram stops the music and cues up a new DVD. This time, it’s of a 1,000-person wedding he deejayed recently in Clearwater that was so extravagant, it featured Cirque du Soleil performers.
As the camera pans the reception, Pram comes into focus. As expected, the DJ is in the middle of the dance floor, in the thick of the crowd. He clutches a microphone while pumping his fist in the air.
“I’m always in the middle of the crowd,” he says. “I like getting ’em pumped up. The more people I see on the dance floor, the happier I am.”
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected]