By Surbhi Gogia
The famous Break-up song girl, Jonita Gandhi has made a special place right in the heart of Bollywood
Jonita Gandhi, known to the Indo-Canadian community as Toronto’s Nightingale, was born in New Delhi, India and moved to Toronto as an infant, growing up with strong influences in Canadian culture while maintaining a close connection to her Indian heritage. A young and promising new talent, her name has taken music lovers worldwide by storm. Hundreds of thousands of fans across the globe came to know her through her YouTube presence but it was not too late when her voice was well received in Bollywood.
Jonita began performing on stage at the tender age of 4, and managed to pursue an exciting musical career along with academic excellence. She completed her BHSc. Having grown up listening to and learning a variety of musical styles, Jonita has become a true experimentalist in her art. She enjoys opportunities to try new styles and sings in different languages and format like sufi, Bollywood, Western Classical, RnB, Pop and Soft Rock just to name a few. She has sung not only in Hindi and English, but also Punjabi, Bengali, Tamil, German, Italian, and French for live and recorded performances. She has been trained by the Conservatory of Music in Western Classical singing and now studies Indian Classical music while in India.
In January of 2012, composer, artist and pianist Aakash Gandhi ignited a collaborative effort between three talented musical personalities; it brought together the trio of himself, flautist Sahil Khan, and Jonita Gandhi with vocals on Aakash’s YouTube channel 88keystoeuphoria. Their cover of Pani Da Rang has been viewed by over 5 million people worldwide, which initiated Jonita’s international fan following and helped her gain recognition from prominent Bollywood personalities including Amitabh Bachchan, AR Rahman, Salim Sulaiman and Ayushmann Khurana.
In 2013, her online presence culminated in her first Bollywood break: the title track of Chennai Express by renowned Bollywood musical duo Vishal-Shekhar. She has collaborated with several other YouTube artists including ARJUN for Can’t Forget You/Tujha Bhula Diya, which gained over 2 million views in its first month. Jonita’s own YouTube channel not only showcases her collaborative works, but also live performances and TV features, including her appearance with her band on Kappa TV’s Music Mojo, and her performance on MTV Coke Studio.
The year 2016 marked a year of award nominations for Jonita. The Breakup Song brought her nominations for all of the prestigious awards of Bollywood in the Best Playback Singer (Female) category, but it was for her song Gilehriyaan (Movie: Dangal) that she won the title at the Mirchi Music Awards.
In an interview with Desi Today, Jonita talks about her wonderful journey to the world of Bollywood.
DT) Tell us something about yourself, childhood and growing up days in Canada? What did your father and mother do?
JG) I spent practically my entire life in Ontario, Canada. When we first moved to Canada, we lived initially in the town of Malton on the west side of Toronto. When I was a teenager, we moved to Brampton.
Growing up, my parents had their hands full between raising my brother and I, and running a small electronics business. Both my parents have always been extremely fond of music and so I grew up with a lot of music playing around the house – that’s where it all began.
DT) Canada is a multicultural a country of immigrants, did you ever feel isolated while growing up. Because we hear lot of stories about South Asians being bullied? Priyanka Chopra is a big example.
I was bullied a bit when I was growing up, but it wasn’t only because of being South Asian. It was more because of a certain ‘ugly duckling’ phase I went through, haha.
DT) How did you start developing interest in music? Have you got any formal training in music?
Apparently I’ve always loved music because I used to sing and dance around the house since I was a toddler. I just didn’t know it until my dad realized there was something there and started sending me to classes. I’ve taken western vocal classes while growing up, as well as some Hindustani classes here and there. In University I also took Western Classical vocal classes, and some Hindustani classes in Mumbai once I moved.
DT) You are a health science student. How did you select music as a career?
Formal education is really important to me, so I made sure I graduated with a degree (or in my case, two) in hand before giving music as a career a shot. I didn’t know whether it would turn out to be a career, but I am grateful that it did!
DT) Before you entered Bollywood, you had made your presence on Youtube? How did social media help you crack mainstream? How has social media changed the way we look at music?
YouTube gave me an unexpected opportunity to reach the eyes and ears of people across the world, including the Bollywood industry stalwarts like AR Rahman and Salim Merchant. Thanks to social media, we now have the ability to share our music with people around the world and interact with our audience online, rather than just those around us attending our concerts.
DT) Can you tell us about your first break in Bollywood? Was it difficult to crack your first break in Bollywood?
Yes, it is difficult to crack your first break anywhere! In Bombay it’s no different. But hard work and perseverance pays off.
The title song of Chennai Express was my debut Bollywood song. A friend of mine was the sound engineer at Vishal-Shekhar’s studio at the time and I was visiting him one night at the studio and ran into Vishal, who happened to be working on the track that night. He asked me if I wanted to try recording a few lines. I swooped up the opportunity, with no expectations of course, and was thrilled when I found out my vocals were being kept in the final track.
DT) You have worked with top music directors now, how was the experience especially working with AR Rahman?
It’s always such a wonderful learning opportunity. I have discovered so much about myself as a singer and about my voice and skills through the process of working with him.
DT) Tell us something about your most famous Break-Up song, how did that happen?
The Breakup Song happened over a long period of time. I had to go into the studio a number of times to record, because it took a while for them to lock the final structure and lyrics. It was really fun though because it’s such an emotive song. I really had a great time singing the song because I could really be my dramatic self behind the mic for a change.
DT) Now you have 2 homes, Indian and Canada. When you started interacting with Indian music professionals, was if difficult for you to adapt to the work culture? How did you work things around?
It was a little tricky because things are quite different in both countries. For instance, the work ethic is really different and that took me a little while to adjust to. But I’ve always taken the approach of evaluating a scenario before deciding how to act or react. Slowly, I got used to how things work in India simultaneously.
DT) What is the difference that you see in the Indian youth and the Indian Canadian youth?
Because of the differences in culture and the educational system, there are naturally some differences between youth in both countries. Other than obvious things, I don’t find it much different!
DT) We have so much about #MeToo movement in Bollywood, did you ever feel it?
Fortunately I’ve never really faced any such situations, and I am grateful for that.
DT) Your advice to youth who want to make career in Bollywood.
I would advise youth to try to focus on what’s in their control rather than what’s not. A big part of working in the Bollywood industry is acknowledging that not everything will be in your control, and you may need to find ways to satisfy your creative needs in the independent space as well! Be open to it all :).
And now time to know you more!
Your favourite past time: Netflix and Chill, or hang with friends.
Favourite city in Canada: Banff
Favourite food: Avocado
Favourite Actor: Can’t pick one!
Future Project: New single out soon! Stay tuned for ‘Humraahi’