Jonita Gandhi: Alia Bhatt’s voice has a hint of vulnerability!

Meet the singer who recently lent her voice to Kahan hoon main and Implosive Silence, the two beautiful tracks from Imtiaz Ali’s Highway’¦

The new singer on the block recently made her entry into a place that’s invariably throbbing with life – Bollywood. Very rarely do you see newcomers getting a chance to work with big talents right in their first project. But Ms Gandhi has got off to a flying start. After working as a playback singer for the title song of Chennai Express, she landed another meaty assignment with AR Rahman, an offer she obviously couldn’t refuse. Meet the singer who recently lent her voice to Kahan Hoon Main and Implosive Silence, the two beautiful tracks from Imtiaz Ali’s Highway…

How was it working with AR Rahman; singers usually kill to work with him?

To put it briefly it was a dream come true. I have always wanted to work with him and had no idea it would happen so soon. Initially I was extremely nervous, but after meeting him I realized he is very down to earth and relaxed; the experience was very comfortable. He is an expert at vocal direction and I learned a lot from the entire experience.

Any interesting anecdotes while recording songs for Highway?

The day I was called to record Kahaan Hoon Main, I was extremely unwell. I had food poisoning and was throwing up all day. Until the moment I left for the studio, I was contemplating on whether it would be wiser to ask to reschedule or to take my chances and go for it. But I went anyway and up until the point of recording I was just going in and out of the bathroom. Mr. Imtiaz Ali and Rahman sir both directed me for the recording, and had no idea until afterwards that I was unwell… but I think it worked to my advantage. I have the bad habit of overthinking the song/lines when I record, but that day I was able to leave the singing up to my natural instincts!

Anyone who inspires you from the Bollywood music fraternity?

I think there is something to learn from each and everyone in the industry. I am particularly inspired by people who try to think out of the box and are able to explore various genres while staying true to themselves; people who don’t care too much about being “commercial”. I think AR Rahman is an example.

How did Bollywood singing happen?

I moved from Canada to try my luck at playback singing about a year ago. I worked hard to network and share my demos and samples with as many people as possible. I had a good online view count for my youtube cover videos with Aakash Gandhi, which definitely helped showcase credibility. Nowadays a lot of the industry names are active on social media and anyone is able to reach out to them. Similarly, I shared my online work with Vishal-Shekhar’s engineer at the time, who showed them my work. I was instantly given the opportunity to sing for Chennai Express when I went in to meet Vishal for the first time.  

The title song of Chennai Express was fast and pacey, while the Highway numbers are intense – you think any musician who wants to make a career in B-town has to be essentially versatile to survive in the industry?

In Bollywood specifically, I think you definitely need to be versatile. As a playback singer, your role is similar to that of an actor; you need to be able to play various parts and stay true to the characters being portrayed in the songs. The accent, delivery style, emotion, dynamics – all these are variables which differ from song to song. As a playback singer, you never know what kind of song you’ll get called for next! I personally take pride in practicing various genres and styles. Being versatile is important not only in Bollywood music, but also in independent music, as it helps you reach out to a larger variety of audiences. On the other hand however, there are plenty of singers who develop a brand and are called only for a particular type of song. They become the “go-to” singer for a certain style. This also works well for several artists, but I think for longevity in the industry, versatility is key.

Any unpleasant experiences since you are a fresher in the industry?

I haven’t had to deal with any major issues in the industry as a newcomer other than a few taunts or condescending remarks from big egos. But being a fresh face, that too from another country; I’m mentally prepared to handle anything. I haven’t even thought much of it to be honest, because it’s part of the gig no matter what industry you’re in.

Even Alia has lent her voice to one of the songs ‘soona saha’, what do you think of her singing style?

As easy as it may look, it is not easy to record a song – that too for the likes of such big names as AR Rahman and Imtiaz Ali. Alia’s voice has a hint of vulnerability which matches well with her character Veera in the film. For a non singer, hats off to her! 

Do you think working with Imtiaz Ali and Rahman is going to open many doors for you?

I honestly don’t know. I am just glad I got to sing a song that I really like and connect with.  Whatever this leads to is out of my control. I’m glad I’ve been given the opportunity to showcase a style of singing which I think would be new to film music audiences; a style that isn’t what Bollywood music lovers would be used to. The tremendous positive feedback both of my songs are receiving might foreshadow new career opportunities in the future, but let’s see!

Any other film assignments in the pipeline…

Unfortunately I cannot confirm anything but within the coming months I’ll definitely be sharing new work, be it film or non-film. Stay tuned!

Is there anything you would like to change about the whole process of the way songs are composed in Bollywood?

That’s a tough question to answer because everyone has a different process. Of whatever I’ve seen, there is no set procedure when it comes to the making of a song, nor do I think there needs to be. It’s a creative process. That being said, one complaint I have, as a newcomer perhaps, is that sometimes singers are not compensated for their time and effort when recording for a film song, whether their voice is kept or not.

Are you a film buff? Are you waiting to watch Highway?

I’m not really into movies as a pass time, which I know is a big recreational thing here in India, but Highway is definitely on my list to see. Not just because of the songs I’ve sung for it, but the movie itself seems to have a very intriguing storyline based around the psychological phenomenon called ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. Being on a new life journey myself, I feel a unique sense of connection to the movie. It’s a film with an awesome cast/crew/team and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

There are so many new musicians around, there’s Shalmali Kholgade who has created quite a name for herself. Is there anyone who you consider tough competition from the industry?

We are all unique in our own way and I don’t really like to look at it as competition. It’s a large industry and there is enough room for everyone. In fact, I feel there is a lot to learn from my contemporaries in addition to the more established artists in the industry. We all bring something different to the table; we are all here to sing and perform to the best of our abilities and I hope everyone gets a fair chance to shine.

Check out her songs from Highway


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