From Washington to LA to Mumbai to Kolkata, how singer and entrepreneur Amanda Sodhi is chasing her dreams in a challenging industry
Singer, lyricist, and entrepreneur Amanda Sodhi is chasing her dreams and how! After moving from the US to India, she has scored music for a prominent web series, and also started Pen Paper Dreams, her own venture. Her never-say-die attitude keeps her going in the face of challenges.Tanvi Dubey
“Everyone has the option of giving up - I keep telling myself, aaj nahin, kal, aaj nahin, kal!” (not today, but tomorrow)
Lyricist, singer, voice over artist, and entrepreneur Amanda Sodhi’s belief that there is light at the end of the tunnel has kept her going.
Whether it was the lack of support from her family who disapproved of her choices or moving continents to pursue her dream only to be met with negativity, rejection and sexual harassment, Amanda refused to give up or give into pressure.
She has penned the lyrics for two songs for the popular Netflix series, Made in Heaven, and also for the hugely popular numbers Puppet Life, I Don't Write Sad Songs Anymore, Takiye Pe Sar that she composed and sang.
She is also the founder of Pen Paper Dreams, a platform that promotes creative self-expression. She co-wrote a feature film called Life! Camera Action and has written and directed two short films- The Dance of Death and Through Bloodshot Eyes. That’s not all. She has recorded thousands of voiceovers and worked as a freelance model and actor. Surely, Amanda Sodhi wears diverse hats.
However, her road to success hasn’t been smooth.
Washington DC to Los Angeles
Born and raised in Washington DC Amanda grew up watching Hindi films and listening to her father’s Indian music collection. As a child, she knew she wanted to pursue a creative career in either music or films in Mumbai.
“Although I didn't learn how to speak Hindi until later in life and had never visited Mumbai, it was something I was very certain about even as a child.”
Poems, songs and stories came to her naturally. Though family wasn’t very keen on her pursuing a career in the arts, she managed to be part of the school choir for a few years, and even enrolled in a few kirtan classes at the local gurudwara for a brief period of time.
In 2011, Amanda moved to Los Angeles, and kick-started her career. Her family wasn’t too happy.
“Moving from Washington DC to Los Angeles was a huge step, since my family was not very supportive of this decision - it was the first time I really stood up for myself,” she says.
In LA, she recorded for the background score of an indie film called 5 Souls. She also wrote music reviews for Planet Bollywood in which she made it a point to speak at length on the lyrics and this caught the attention of Prasoon Joshi, renowned Indian lyricist, screenwriter, poet and marketer. He asked her to translate his lyrics into English for his anthology, Sunshine Lanes.
Soon, her work was getting the desired attention from the media and a move to India was the next logical step for Amanda. She was working for an advertising agency at the time and she decided it was time to quit.
A little afraid to face her family, she left newspaper cuttings of all her media mentions in her drawer and texted her mum about it.
I didn’t want them to know from anywhere else. I wanted to be the person to tell them. Once I did, I felt no need to continue in LA and made preparations to move to Mumbai.
A life-changing moment
Mumbai may have been the city of dreams Amanda was looking for to make it big, but the beginning was not what she hoped for. She didn’t know anyone from the industry and a few experiences left her scared. She also invested money in a band and released a few videos. Things did not materialise as planned.
Amanda says of the initial experience, “From an ex-boyfriend stealing my business to other artistes conning me on musical projects by taking money and not delivering, to facing sexual harassment, to being ridiculed and called talent-less, I've seen them all.”
”At one point it even began taking a severe toll on my health. I began hating music and started feeling extremely anxious every time I'd open my mouth to sing,” she adds.
But the proverbial “every cloud has a silver lining” came true in her case. Music virtuoso AR Rahman’s single tweet changed everything for Amanda.
It helped silence all the negative voices in my head. It was the most amazing moment of my journey, because it helped me regain my self-confidence.
From city of dreams to city of joy
Though the tweet gave her a much needed boost, her career was still not picking up the way she wanted it to.
“Despite having successful songs under my belt, appreciation from the likes of AR Rahman, positive media coverage and knowing so many people within the music scene, my career in music was simply not moving forward. To make matters worse, the amount of sexual harassment I was facing made me feel as if no matter how hard I tried, I wouldn't be able to get ahead, beyond a point, solely based on merit. I was debating whether I should move back to the US or if I should try another city in India, before leaving the country. Life is too short to stay put in one place zabardasti if you're unhappy.”
In 2017, Amanda moved cities, to Kolkata, and steadily things picked up. The web series by Zoya Akhtar Made in Heaven happened, and life on earth was suddenly looking up.
Music for the web
While music director Sagar Desai was searching for a Punjabi lyricist for the web series, for Made in Heaven, he looked back to the lyrics Amanda had shared with him while travelling from Kolkata to Darjeeling-Kalimpong
She says it was a serendipitous moment. “I was unaware he was looking for lyrics for Made In Heaven. These lyrics ended up as Musafir. On yet another trip to Gangtok, while sitting in a cafe I received a message from Sagar that he needed lyrics for another track for the same series and so I sent him something based on the scratch for Jiya Jaye."
Persistence and faith
Moving to Kolkata seemed just right for Amanda. The artiste is busy with multiple projects and one of her own, Pen Paper Dreams, to which she devotes time over the weekends.
I started off with postcard workshops and then branched out into creative writing workshops, poetry workshops, copywriting/content writing workshops, open mics and even online classes. I've conducted over 60 events across six cities, so far, with people of all age groups attending them. In the future, I really hope I can take Pen Paper Dreams to schools, colleges, offices, hospitals, retirement homes, jails and more.
She has also been writing scripts for web series’ along with a friend and pitching them to production houses. “They are called Naive Rejected Indian and American British Confused Desis - so I'm excited to see if either project takes off at some point. I will release another single end of the year. I plan on joining more theatre groups after the monsoon season, so I'm excited to get back on stage. Also, there's a book I've been working, I hope I can complete the first draft over the next few months, too,” she says.
The challenges continue but Amanda is unfazed.
“I face challenges every single day, whether it is finding the energy to juggle 50+ hours of non-creative client work and then squeeze out time for artistic projects and Pen Paper Dreams, dealing with people who have no ethical compass, staying calm when facing constant rejection as an artist because you're not willing to take certain "shortcuts." The only way I keep going is through persistence and faith that everything will one day make sense in retrospect.”
Well, tomorrow is always another day.