/ Bollywood Rock 'n' Roller

Bollywood Rock ‘n’ Roller

Jul 22, 2013

Anushka Manchanda on singing for Bollywood, being in a rock 'n' roll band and loving them both

Anushka Manchanda first burst into the spotlight way back in 2002 as part of Viva-an all-girl band that came about through Channel V's music reality show, Popstars, and sang catchy pop songs in Hindi. While Viva didn't last long-the band split up after two albums in as many years—Anushka went on to become the most successful among all five of the Viva girls. After a brief stint with Channel V as a VJ, she started singing playback in Bollywood. And then last year, she announced her newest project, Shkabang—an English electro rock outfit starring some of the best musicians on the Indian rock scene today. We spoke to Anushka to find out how she manages to live these multiple lives.

You are now in a place where you are comfortably straddling the almost polarly different worlds of Bollywood and rock simultaneously. How do you manage that?
I never thought it was possible to be a rock 'n' roller AND be a credible Bollywood artist at the same time until I met Vishal Dadlani (of Pentagram, Vishal-Shekhar). Shekhar and Dadlani have done some killer music for films and Pentagram is one of my favorite bands of all time. I think the important thing is to not lose yourself. It's necessary to respect the people you work with, but not to conform to the so-called norms of these industries. You do what you love to do and do it in the best possible way you can. I love my work, and I guess that's what's important, whether I'm singing a Shkabang song or something for Pyaar Impossible.

Do you prefer one over the other?
I can't do without either. Just can't. I was born to be on stage, and whether I'm singing in Hindi and doing the matka-jhatkas that I've grown to love or singing in English and losing the plot with Shkabang, I enjoy them both.

If you also consider your beginnings with Viva, there have been three distinct Anushkas. So who is the real Anushka?
(Laughs) That's possibly true. I went from a metal-head to an Indi (Indian)-pop singer (blasphemy in my teenaged head) to being a playback singer and then becoming part of an electro rock 'n' roll act. I feel like this is truly me . . . a restless person who needs to keep doing new things constantly. Today I feel whole, having been accepted by the Hindi film industry and being able to write and perform music with my band.

How easy or hard was it for you to break into Bollywood? Do you have a Bollywood/music background in your family?
I have been blessed. Really. My first Hindi song, "Golmaal" (from Golmaal) was completely unexpected and went on to become a hit. I walked into a club one day and heard it playing and saw people singing and dancing to it. That's when I realized that I wanted to do this. I had to work hard. I wasn't a very good singer when I started. While I was growing up, I trained to play piano and picked up some guitar on the way but never sang. So it was an uphill climb. Slowly music directors started to notice that I was more confident in the studio and I got more work. My parents constantly played rock 'n' roll music at home and have the most awesome collection of LPs, and my brother is a guitarist with (Mumbai metal band) Reverrse Polarity. So everyone at home is into music.

Your next big release will be Kites. Are you looking forward to it?
The song I've done for Kites is not a typical Bollywood track. I'm barely singing any lyrics, and most of the track is just music. It's got a long buildup and you can almost see Hrithik (Roshan) dancing when you hear it. He was there when I was dubbing the track. Such a cool guy. He knew all these technical terms and was very clear about what he wanted. I had a good time dubbing the track.

What else is in the pipeline when it comes to Bollywood?
I'm looking forward to Ayesha which has Amit Trivedi as the music director. He's awesome and I love the stuff I've done for him. There's something I've done for Pritam and a track for Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's next movie besides others. The waiting always kills me! I can't wait for my songs to hit the airwaves!

You also acted in Dulha Mil Gaya that was released earlier this year. How was the experience of acting?
I had a blast! I knew the crew, got to prance around in my bikini on a beautiful beach in Trinidad, and got to hang with cool people in the Caribbean. Fardeen (Khan) was a doll and Mudassar (Aziz), the director, is one of my oldest friends. It was a party!

Are there any more movies that are coming with you as an actor?
Nothing anytime soon. I'm still focusing on my music and taking things as they come.

Who are your inspirations when it comes to Bollywood playback singing?
I LOVE Sukhwinder's voice and his singing. He's awesome! I'm also very envious of Sunidhi (Chauhan). It's amazing that she is so versatile. As far as inspirations go, I am inspired by the people I work with. I feed off their energy and throw it into the song I'm doing. So it's always different with every song I sing.

The other Anushka is the singer with Shkabang. What is Shkabang all about? How did it come about?
Shkabang is a bunch of musicians who want to have fun on stage. All of us are credible musicians in our various genres and bands. We're also friends, so it makes sense. We played a gig just for fun last year, and had such a blast we decided to do this properly as a band.

Who came up with the name Shkabang? What does it mean?
We wanted a non-serious name that didn't categorize us into any particular genre, something that was fun, something that bounced. A friend suggested Shkabang and we loved it instantly! It doesn't mean jack . . . but it bounces. (smiles)

How would you describe the music of Shkabang?
We're pretty elastic as far as a genre is concerned but I describe our music as electro + pop + rock + bubble + dance music. We have songs like "Asshole," "I Like Crazy," "Powertripper," "Aeroplane" and "Fight." All of them deal with different subjects.

I believe you are now working on the debut album with the band. How is that coming along? When can we expect it to be released?
This is so annoying . . . the fact that we're all so busy and can't meet often enough to do more. We should be ready with an album by the end of the year, but it's going to be a fight. We want to have a bank of 20 songs so we can pick the best ones and put them in the album. We're getting there slowly!

Is making music as a career much easier now than when you started off?
When I started out, reality television and talent hunts were still a new concept in India. I happened to be a part of the biggest one (Popstars), and that worked for me because people knew me. It was easier for me to approach music directors for work but I still had to work really hard to gain some credibility as a playback singer. It took a while to happen. Today there are plenty of reality shows and it's easier to find and make contact with music directors and production houses. You can be super talented but you need an opportunity to show it off, and that's the key. With all the shows now, it's possible.

You did a collaboration last year with John Forte Jr. How did that come about?
It was very random. I was in New York on work and met him in the studio through a friend of mine. He heard my stuff and was very open to doing some stuff with me. He's a Grammy-nominated producer who has worked with the Fugees, so I was super excited. I was part of one of his videos as well. It was good fun.

Any other interesting collaborations you're working on?
I get to collaborate with music directors all the time when I'm dubbing songs for them. Besides that, I'm going to be doing a track with Ashu (Ashutosh Phatak) very soon and maybe something with Reverrse Polarity. Let's see!

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician? That "Hey, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life" moment.
I was just going with the flow when I got through the contest and became a part of Viva. I was young then, and didn't really think much about what was going on. Everything happened so fast. Then once the band split, I started doing shows on my own. My first playback song released and everyone started calling me the "Golmaal" girl. I would get on stage with this new confidence, and slowly I realized that this is what I was born to do . . . perform and entertain. And that this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life.



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