Fight-or-flight instinct made me perform well: Jonita Gandhi – A big hit as a playback singer and YouTube sensation, Jonita Gandhi recalls her first recording with music composer AR Rahman
This has been an eventful year for Jonita Gandhi, who he features in One Heart: The AR Rahman Concert Film that chronicles the music director’s North American concerts, for which she was the female lead singer. She’s also had two releases — Will You Marry Me (Bhoomi) and Lagdi Hai Thain (Simran) after the hits Chandralekha (A Gentleman) and Yaadon Mein (Jab Harry Met Sejal). Jonita coos, “The songs have been in different genres, which has made it all the more exciting.” However, it is AR’s film that she is thrilled about. “I was terrified of seeing myself on the big screen,” she laughs. “AR sir is always working at so many things simultaneously. He’s able to pay attention to the simplest of things and remembers details so well that it’s shocking. From him, I learnt what I can do as a singer. He gave me songs that were out of my comfort zone,” says she.
The Break-up Song (Ae Dil Hai Mushkil) hitmaker may be one of the most sought after singers in Bollywood currently, but she didn’t expect her career to pan out the way it has even when she bagged Chennai Express with Vishal-Shekhar. “I didn’t know what was happening. Before I knew it, I was standing next to Shah Rukh Khan,” she remembers. “I didn’t even do my make-up properly and didn’t know what to wear,” she laughs. Before Bollywood, Jonita was a YouTube sensation. “I was making the videos to work on myself and not necessarily to enter the industry,” she says. Soon followed Kahan Hoon Main (Highway) with AR. “It happened so quickly! I was called to his studio and a day later, I was singing in front of him. I was terrified. I knew I had to give my best because if I didn’t, it would be over for me, but if I did, then it would lead me to great places. The fight-or-flight instinct made me perform well,” she says.
The power of social media
Born in New Delhi and raised in Canada, Bollywood seemed like a far-off destination to Jonita. It was YouTube that helped her pave the way. It also helped her sidestep knocking on people’s doors to get work. “Growing up, I had heard tales about how singers have to wait outside composers’ studios to give them recorded demos and it was difficult to get face-time. I don’t think I would have been able to do that,” she says. Digital platform, says Jonita, lets her bring forth her own brand and sound rather than being just a voice for actresses. “It gives me a chance to innovate. I can showcase other talents, like dancing, and make more elaborate music videos,” she says.
Her first preference
While social media has proved to be a boon for talented musicians to be noticed, it has also meant stiffer competition. However, that’s not a problem according to Jonita. “I prefer that there’s greater competition than talent going unnoticed,” she says, “There’s enough work — films, concerts, and videos.” Apart from her playback career, her YouTube channel and The Jonita Gandhi Band are doing quite well, too. “We did mashups of Jiya Re-Superstion (Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Stevie Wonder) and Agar Tum Saath Ho-Photograph (Tamasha and Ed Sheeran).” The band has professionally recorded the latter and would be releasing it with a video on her YouTube channel, says the singer for whom the digital platform would always be her first preference.