We all know, breaking into the ironclad bastion of Bollywood, as an artist requires part luck, plenty of perseverance and oodles of talent.
Toronto crooner Jonita Gandhi, 24, it seems has what it takes. Little wonder then that her name appears as a playback singer in half-a-dozen Bollywood songs already.
On a recent spring-like day, I sat with Jonita and chatted with her on her musical odyssey, the glamour of Bollywood (hardly, it’s all work), homesickness (it’s real) and the life of a rising playback singer (apparently, it’s a waiting game).
Not many people are privy to the fact that way back when she was 7; Jonita had scrawled her dreams and flung it into the universe via her diary. This journal— which would go missing only to be found again every couple of years—had sporadic entries.
So, few weeks ago, when the Toronto native came home from Mumbai, her parents suggested she take an inventory of her room and toss out the stuff she no longer needed. The spring-cleaning unearthed the cherished journal.
“I want to be a singer,” the affirmative words, it appears, were written when Jonita was seven. Dozens of pages later as the childish penmanship became more assured, as did her single-mindedness.
“I am 16 and still not famous,” she rued during her teens. “When will I be famous?”
She and I chuckled over the desperation of those heart-felt pleas.
As Jonita connected with her younger self, I couldn’t help marvel at how her dreams had indeed translated. Not too many can revisit their childhood musings and realize—gleefully—that they are indeed living it.
So far, the Western University alumni, has proved her mettle with hits such as the title song of the blockbuster hit Chennai Express, Kahaan hoon main (Highway), Implosive Silence (Highway), Eai Ki Prem (Bangali Babu English Mem), Aabhi Jaa and others.
As a singer, Jonita’s versatility can be credited to her training in western classical singing and other musical influences she imbibed growing up in Canada.
Her talent was nurtured and encouraged at home because Jonita’s father, Deepak’s passion for music refused to be silenced as he pursued engineering in Russia and later during his struggles as a new immigrant in Canada. Also, Mandeep, her brother plays the dhol and mom Sneh is the glue that holds the family together.
“Once I graduated, I decided I would try singing full-time for a year and then see what happens,” Jonita told Toronto Desi Diaries. “My debut (in Bollywood) happened on the spot. I was visiting the studios of music director Vishal Shekhar who was at that time working on the title song of Chennai Express. Vishal Shekhar had heard my online work and knew what I sounded like. He took a chance and asked to me try a scratch.”
So, Jonita lent her voice to the song—which included the dulcet pipes of South Indian icon S.P. Balasubramanium. After her recording, she was told the final decision on whether the track would make it into the big screen rested with the film’s leading man Shah Rukh Khan, director Rohit Shetty and the producers. The song did make it and Jonita’s singing prowess found a springboard.
There’s this interesting story of how Jonita’s music struck the right chord with Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan.
Here’s how it all happened. Even before she set-off for Mumbai, Jonita had build an impressive online portfolio. Her collaboration with pianist Aakash Gandhi (no relative) and flutist Sahil Khan was groundbreaking. The talented trio basically stripped popular Hindi/Punjabi music of all its layers and created melodies that were uncluttered, organic and simplistic.
Couple of their YouTube videos went viral and one landed in the hands of the CEO of Balaji Films who tweeted the link with note on how impressed he was. Turns out, Amitabh Bachchan (who was following the CEO) heard, agreed and re-tweeted, “I completely agree.”
So, for a Toronto gal to get nods from not one, but two Bollywood heavyweights—Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan— means Jonita Gandhi is going to croon her way into the hearts of millions, soon.
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