You might know her as the girl behind the DJ console during IPL ‘14, shaking a leg with Navjot Singh Sidhu and spouting shayaris as effortlessly as she set the mood with her music.
For the little girl with a troubled childhood, an air hostess who aimed even higher, and, eventually, a woman taking on an old boys’ club, quite literally – her journey from being Paroma Chatterjee to DJ Paroma has been turbulent but equally rewarding.
As she saddles up for a tour of a lifetime across the United States, she reflects upon all the tough decisions she took in order to trail-blaze a path that few women have walked before.
No time to stand and stare
There was rarely a peaceful moment in the Chatterjee household, as Paroma’s father was a compulsive alcoholic. So, she along with her mother and brother would live in a constant state of anxiety about their father's behaviour.
This even took a toll on her academic life, and she managed to sustain till the 12th grade but felt a pressing need to get a headstart in supporting her parents financially.
Without putting much thought into it, she signed up for a diploma in hospitality and aviation, and within a couple of months, was appointed by an airline for her first job.
“The first few months were exciting, but it was not what I saw myself doing in the long run. I was over it in five years – in fact, I stuck around for that long only because my salary gave me a sense of security,” she states.
In the pursuit of happiness, she quit to try her hand at retail, and became a supplier of denim – but this line of work also kept her interested only for about three months. This was followed by a stint in client servicing, which also met a similar fate.
“Flying with those irregular rosters, working at fixed hours or a desk job was not meant for me at all. But since I had already experimented with three different fields, I couldn't afford to be wrong with my choice once again for sure,” she says.
Third time lucky
Unlike the first few times, this time around, she took some time off to do some soul-searching and found the music ‘within’, as a result. It was something she had grown up with and had always been interested in.
“I fancied the profession of a DJ ever since I started partying, which was very early in life. I figured – I was the age, had energy and passion on my side, why not try being a DJ? And I just did not want to be a decked-up woman behind the console - I wanted it to be a package showcasing my talent along with how I shall carry myself,” she says, of a simple yet resounding epiphany.
A quick online search told her what it took to be a good one, and who she was up against once she made it. “My mother was even more worried than me, not about the profession but the financial uncertainty,” she recalls.
She took an intensive four-month course from an institute in Mumbai, under Bob Omulo, who she says, was a stellar mentor.
Twenty-four at the time, she was raring to go – albeit with a disclaimer granted to her by her guru. “Bob clearly told me - once I got through the exam, I was on my own. And I will never forget that, because that is when I figured I can't be dependent on anyone and take control of my own destiny,” she says.
She played by one staunch principle – if you’re good at something, never do it for free. “I knew I had to start earning from it right from the beginning, so, for that, I needed to be bloody good,” she says.
A strategic start and a grand finish
A month after she finished the course, she was hired as an assistant DJ by a four-star property close to where she lived.
“They did not have too many regular clients, but my motive was to get hands-on practice as I couldn't afford owning players and mixers at home. So, there I was, from a salary of one lakh a month to a measly four thousand,” she recounts.
While she had access to their equipment, she recorded some live sets, which she put up online and promoted among the limited followers she had at the time.
“I also remember encashing my LIC policy for my first photoshoot. I never had godfathers in the industry to help me with gigs. And most of the time, taking favours means doing it for free which I was totally against,” she says.
Just eight months into her job, she got her first freelancing gig on Christmas eve in Chennai – and there was no looking back.
“Seven years back there were hardly any women DJs as compared to the number of men, which was indeed challenging – but it’s not about male or female DJs anymore. As long as the audience gets the music it demands with power-packed energy from the artists, it’s all there. I will not deny the fact that a female DJ does add some glamour – but talent speaks beyond everything,” she says.
Paroma’s set is a mixed bag; she’ll surprise you with Bollywood and UK Bhangra smack in the middle of commercial and Hip Hop. “Everybody makes remixes, tries to look their best, and uses social media - and I did the same. What’s different is maybe the style. I loved interacting with my followers, and until this day, I prefer handling my own social media network,” she says.
It was this persona she had created on social media that caught Sony’s attention as a prospect for IPL Extraaa Innings in 2014. She became their official DJ in the studio for about 45 days. “They put me in the frame many times, interacting with the hosts and guest cricketers. I have some videos on my YouTube channel too - spouting shayaris, dancing with the cheerleaders and more. In no time my fan following tripled on all platforms,” she recalls.
Soon enough, Zee’s Sa Re Ga Ma Pa and Lil Champs came calling in 2016 and 2017 respectively, where she was invited to be a jury member, by Wajid of famous duo Sajid- Wajid, and Eric Pillai. “Being on these shows helped me transform from Paroma to “DJ Paroma,” and people started identifying me through my stage name,” she says.
Having done several official remixes for big music labels like Sony music, T-Series and Zee music, and even being the Indian brand ambassador for V-Moda and UDG Gear all contributed to her fame and fortune – even as sceptics emerged second-guessing her climb every step of the way.
“So many people – women even – would make nasty comments on social media like, ‘I don't deserve to be there and that I get gigs because I play for free, etc.’ But I cut out the noise,” she says.
Her New Year resolutions include getting back to the piano lessons she had left halfway in 2017, and even practising her Roland Hand sonic percussion, to eventually introduce it in her performances.
She is off to the US in March for a 12-city tour, which, for the rising star, is nothing short of a dream come true.