Jonita Gandhi unplugged

Jonita Gandhi unplugged

The Canada girl who debuted on YouTube is one of India’s top singers, and is working in multiple languages, including Kannada

"Hey Jonita, how are you doing today?”

“I’m good and how are you?" 

“Not too bad. I heard you’re quite tired after the IIFA awards.”

“Oh my god. Yes. I am so used to saying ‘I’m good’ all the time but I’m actually super sick right now.”

That’s Jonita Gandhi for you. No matter how tired she is, she always sounds like the most energetic person around. How does she manage that? Is she one of the lucky few to
never have a bad day?

She says laughing, “I definitely have my bad days but I really like talking to people! My bad days are usually just a bad hour. I just lie down for a bit, take a tablet for headache sometimes, and I’m back to my happy self.”

Optimism is not her only quality. She’s a product of YouTube and she’s proud of it. Hailing from Canada, she uploaded her first song on YouTube at the age of 17, not knowing
that one day she would be working with India’s biggest musicians.

“I love that people are fascinated to hear my story. It felt a unique thing to say that my career sprung from my online presence.”

But she says YouTube isn’t the same anymore — it has changed a lot. “Over the last couple of years, people have realised the power of the platform. They all want a piece of it. It’s
become such a standard way of everyone’s promotion strategy,” she says.

It scares her that talented artistes don’t get their due because of the way YouTube works now. “It’s sad that you can’t tell the fake from the genuine followers. People are feeding in
lots of money just to promote their videos,” she says.

It used to be a big deal when a video hit one million views before, but now it feels like a video doesn’t even exist if it doesn’t have one or two million. People ignore good content because they don’t think it’s worth it, she says. 

Since her discovery on YouTube, she has sung in Bollywood, and Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam films. Jonita made the bold decision to move from Toronto to Mumbai six years ago.

“I’d been to India only for vacations. My parents are from Delhi so they know that lifestyle. But Mumbai was a whole new ball game for all of us,” she says. Her mother stayed with her for three months. “She went back to her life when she was confident I was getting offers and that I could manage on my own. It was honestly a lot to process,” says Jonita.

Even when they aren’t in the same country, her parents are constantly tracking her on social media. “My parents have always been my biggest fans. But some things affect them more
than me,” she says.

She had once posted a photo of herself on Instagram, and that led to a scare. “You know these people who have nothing to do but to comment? Yes, them. So, for this picture, they had written something racist and my parents absolutely freaked out,”she says, laughing. “But I’ve learnt not to take it too seriously.”

Jonita goes to her home in Canada only once in six months or so. “When I moved here, I was excited. I was willing to deal with the hardships which made it easy to ignore the struggles of living alone. But every time I go home and see my parents, I realise that they are getting older and it’s devastating. I feel like I’m losing precious time. It’s scary. You take these things for granted when you’re living with them,” she says.

Rise to fame

From being an unknown face to being recognised on the red carpet, she has come a long way. “The press used to take my picture and ask me what my name was. I was a nobody a few years ago. But now I get to perform at shows like IIFA and have people waiting to interview me; I feel extremely grateful,” she says. Having worked and toured with some of the
biggest names like A R Rahman, Pritam, Amit Trivedi and Sonu Nigam, Jonita says she stays humble and listens to people.

“I know which music director likes to hear my inputs and who needs space before I speak up. I observe and keep my eyes and ears open.” Even though she has a thick Canadian
accent, she sings songs in multiple Indian languages with ease.

She recalls a funny incident: “The other day I went for the premiere of ‘Dream Girl’. I sang the song ‘Dil Ka Telephone’ for the movie. My friend and her friend also joined me that night.
So when the song came on, my friend told her friend that it’s my voice. She was in absolute shock and went ‘iska accent kaha chala gaya?’ (where did her accent go?). It was absolutely
hilarious.”

She hasn’t learnt to speak any of the languages though (she already knew Hindi). “I know a bit of Tamil now after hanging out with a lot of Tamilians. Just to show off my skills, sometimes after rehearsals, I say ‘neenga veetiku poringala?’ which means ‘aren’t you going home?’. I know it’s totally lame! But I think I’m a fun person to hang out with, so why not!” she laughs.

When she’s not showing off her language skills, she keeps herself busy with independent music and movie projects. But she doesn’t want to stop doing YouTube covers. “When I sing for a movie, I don’t get to be the face. I have that freedom when I do covers. I believe that’s what is going to help build my brand,” she says.

JONITA’S TOP HITS

‘Dil Ka Telephone’ from ‘Dream Girl' (Hindi)
‘The Break Up Song’ from ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’ (Hindi)
‘Mental Mandhil’ from ‘O Kadal Kanmani’ (Tamil)
‘Nuvve Nuvve’ from ‘Kick2’ (Telugu)
‘Neenene Hosa Kanasu’ from‘ Niruttara’ (Kannada)

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