Jasleen Royal: Bollywood’s little sunburst
New Delhi: It took singer-musician Jasleen Royal nearly a decade to go from being a reality show contestant to landing an entire Bollywood album. But the 26-year-old, whose soundtrack on Rani Mukerji-starrer Hichki came out last Friday to much acclaim, says she has much to be thankful for.
“It is my first major solo album. When I first read the script, there was space for only three songs. I thought it wouldn’t take too much time and I’d be done in a couple of months. But once they started the film, the number increased to seven and it became a bigger album,” said Royal, who plays multiple instruments, including the guitar, mouth organ, tambourine and keyboard.
A chance encounter with Hichki producer Maneesh Sharma at the Yash Raj Studios, while she was mixing songs for Nitya Mehra’s Baar Baar Dekho, landed Royal her first solo soundtrack. Though she has given hits in films like Dear Zindagi, Phillauri and Fukrey Returns, getting a solo track is a big deal for Royal or any artiste, in an industry that has increasingly begun to rely on multiple composers to put together one film album.
“Hichki being a film with a fresh and relevant narrative, I was keen on having a fresh and young mind for the music,” Sharma said. “Jasleen made me listen to one of her compositions on her phone. The moment I heard it, I knew it was the driving theme of Hichki.”
The composition Sharma heard then ultimately turned into the song Teri Dastaan in the album and Jasleen became Yash Raj Films’s music director.
“When we started, it all seemed very exciting. But as time passed, the pressure started building up,” Royal recalled. “At one point, I was close to a breakdown wondering whether all seven songs would come together, with lyrics and everything. There were times Maneesh would just ask me to take a breather because I tend to be quite a workaholic. And that actually helped, because after that, I had newer ideas.”
The journey for Royal so far hasn’t been entirely easy. A stint on the first season of reality show India’s Got Talent in 2009 landed the Ludhiana-bred singer some gigs, the remuneration from which she started saving up for her first single, Panchi Ho Jaava, that won her the award for Best Indie Song at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2013. Other popular singles like Maye Ni and Din Shagna Da followed before Bollywood beckoned with Sonam Kapoor-starrer Khoobsurat (2014) for which Royal sang the melancholic Preet.
“I don’t see any difference between film projects and non-film work,” Royal emphasized. “When Panchi came out, Irrfan Khan called me over to his house, where I met the Shivaay team. They called me to their office and I met Mr. (Ajay) Devgn. After Maye Ni, I met Anurag Kashyap and the Phantom team. Din Shagna Da, on the other hand, was picked up by Anushka Sharma for Phillauri. So everything is linked, it’s not like my indie music career is separate from my Bollywood career. Even when I’m working on films, I’m working as per my sensibility. It’s not like I’m a sellout and need to make more commercial movies. You make your own choices. Until now, I haven’t worked on anything that has made me dumb myself down.”
The last bit may sometimes prove to be a challenge though. Royal recalls having gotten all kinds of briefs, including “shaadi ki situation pe ek gaana bana do” (compose a song for a wedding situation) or “aisa gaana bana de jo rickshawallah bhi sunega” (come up with something that even the lowest common denominator will like) or “come up with something catchy like Paytm karo” (the ad jingle she composed for the online payments app).
“A music composer or singer-songwriter is not going to know what you have in mind in terms of a script. Once you’re able to describe that and the characters to them and the kind of mood and tonality you’re looking for, I think people like Jasleen are very quick to pick it up,” said Baar Baar Dekho director Nitya Mehra, who refers to Royal as a sunburst—you pop her into your mouth and she bursts. “The beautiful thing about her is the rawness she brings, plus this unique voice that she has. With a voice like that, I didn’t have to do anything in terms of production.”
Royal, who is one of the few female composers in India at the moment, doesn’t know why more women have not taken to the field.
“I don’t really get why, maybe it’s because there aren’t that many people to look up to. It’s not like females can’t make music but maybe it just doesn’t occur to them, it’s just a matter of not realizing. As a woman, I don’t get taken less or more seriously, it’s all about the merit of your work,” she said.
The singer-songwriter who is currently working on Zoya Akhtar’s musical drama Gully Boy and Sunny Deol’s directorial venture Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas introducing son Karan, admits having come a long way.
“I don’t know what has changed, things are very gradual here. Like I’m getting feedback for Baar Baar Dekho now, so I think only when I’m on to the next project will I get feedback for Hichki. Things don’t happen overnight but I’m sure they are changing,” she said. “I live a better life, I have a dog. Two years ago, I was living away from home, not caring about meals, today I have a cook who lives with me. I have a proper studio at home which I’d always dreamed of. These little things make you realize there is something going right in your life.”
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