Bollywood singer Nikhita Gandhi on being AR Rahman’s student and giving voice to Deepika Padukone
Playback singer Nikhita Gandhi has proven her versatility with her choice of songs, and for someone who has a range of songs to her credit, she has also marked a first in the industry.
When you hear Bollywood number, ‘Kuch toh hai tujhse Raabta’, it probably reminds you of the stunning Deepika Padukone who sings the song in the film. But listen closely, and you’ll hear the voice of the new Bollywood sensation in town - Nikhita Gandhi.
With multiple feathers in her cap - including famous numbers like Qaafirana from Kedarnath and Aao Kabhi Haveli Pe from Stree, the 28-year-old singer has now launched a single - ‘For Now’, in an attempt to promote Indie artistes.
Ask her about her life and the singer loves to say that her story is not ‘masale-daar’ as she had a very ordinary childhood.
Best of both worlds
Born and raised in Kolkata, Nikhita did her schooling in La Martiniere, Calcutta. As the only child to her parents who were dentists, Nikhita says she was much like Harry Potter’s know-it-all-nerd character, Hermione Granger.
“I was a rank-holder in class and I would try everything else in school too, from sports, to dance to music. I wouldn’t say I was an overachiever but I was a popular child in school. I was a weird combination of nerd and the kid who was into extracurricular activities. I was very studious, but not due to parental pressure,” she adds.
When she tried her hand in sports like basketball, badminton and football, Nikhita discovered that she was more of a sprinter.
With a Bengali mother and a Punjabi father’, Nikhita believes that the background and the culture she was raised in, made her the person that she is today. Every Bengali child learns dancing and singing and it was no different for her. Nikhita was trained in Odissi and Hindustani-classical music, right from her childhood.
Talking about what actually led her to playback singing, Nikhita says her interest in music began with her friendship with the famous pop and jazz musician Usha Uthup, who was their family friend.
“One important lesson that I learnt from Usha aunty was how important it was to be grounded and how to be a good human being, before anything else,” she says.
Nikhita did her first recording at Usha’s studio. Once she finished school, she followed her parents' footsteps and went to Sri Ramachandra University in Chennai to study dentistry. But she found herself lost in the city. “I felt very out of place and was looking at applications at the Berklee College of Music, right from the first year itself,” she says.
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When IIT Madras held a college fest in the city, Nikhita found that her college was not participating in it. At the spur of the moment, she decided to bunk classes and participate in the fest. She performed Canadian singer Avril Lavigne’s song – ‘I’m with You.’
After the performance Usha advised her to apply for KM Music Conservatory – AR Rahman’s school of music, in Chennai.
“You never know who influences you and in what way – that’s the beauty of all our lives,” Nikhita says
Once she had enrolled in the KM Music Conservatory, Nikhita found her ‘escape’ in the new city. By her third year of college, she was involved in Rahman’s choir and music became a predominant part of her life.
Learning from the maestro
"With Rahman Sir, every day and every recording was a different experience. You get to see a different side of him and he is so multifaceted," she says.
When asked what her most memorable experience with Rahman was, Nikhita says that during one of their sessions, after dubbing a few lines, Rahman turned to her and asked her if she knew a particular classical musician. When Nikhita was unable to answer, he told her that sometimes it good to be oblivious - that's when the innocence in one's musicianship comes in.
"He is not just a strong musician, he is up-to date with technology too. I have seen him compose from scratch and that's one of the most beautiful things to witness," says Nikhita.
The Deepika moment
It was during her final year in college that Nikhita decided that she wanted to pursue a career in music. She began travelling to Mumbai, looking for opportunities. One day, she received a call from Bollywood composer Pritam Chakraborty. "Pritam da casually called me and asked me to dub the rough version of Raabta," she recalls.
A few days later, she got another call from Pirtam's studio, asking her to fly down to Mumbai, to re-dub a few lines.
"I stayed there for a few days. It was done on Saturday and the music was released on Tuesday. When the video came out, I knew this is it - and I stayed back in Mumbai," Nikhita says.
And since then, there has been no looking back for the young sensation of Bollywood. After having rapped in Hindi for Manmarziyaan’s Dhyanchand, Nikhita has now taken to Gujarati rap as well.
Outside the world of music
A self-proclaimed foodie – like most Bengalis and Punjabis are, Nikhita likes experimenting in the kitchen and creating her own dishes. "I like being creative in whatever I do," she says.
Nikhita is also a hardware nut. She installs her own mirrors and drawers and paints her own furniture; and often designs her own clothes. While pursuing music full-time, Nikhita has joined dance classes to learn Fem Funk.
"I am just putting myself out there and being the 10-year old version of myself," she says.
Nikhita’s parents have always encouraged her to do whatever interested her and they have supported her all the way.
“We underestimate how instrumental parents are to our upbringing. Parents should understand and give their children the space to grow. My parents told me I should always be dedicated to whatever I take up in life,” she says.
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