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Exclusive Interview: Singer Antara Nandy talks about her playback debut in Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan

Antara Nandy, the 22-year old Calcutta girl is on a high after her playback debut with AR Rahman in Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan:

Payal | Kolkata |

Once a participant of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Li’l Champs, Antara has been among the top 10 on AR Rahman’s YouTube reality show Arrived. Antara recently made her debut playback with PS-1 song Alaikadal and sang it in four languages- Tamil, Telegu, Hindi and Kannada.

Born in Assam, studied in DPS Ruby Park- Kolkata, the internet sensational singer Antara rose to fame during the lockdown with her balcony concerts that went viral overnights.

The Statesman spoke to Antara about her unconventional musical journey, association with the music maestro and much more on an Exclusive Interview.
Excerpts from the conversation

1.  Working with AR Rahman is a dream for any musician and you have accomplished it on your debut playback. How much big it was for you?

I remember since I was 3 or 4 years old I used to worship his poster but it always felt like an unattainable dream to meet him in person. I belong to Assam and stayed in Kolkata and then Chennai, the idea of myself getting spotted by him is like achieving the dream. The feeling hasn’t yet sinked in. I am incredibly grateful to him for considering me.

2.  How did your musical journey start?

I was born in Assam and when I was three, my parents identified my singing skills and they wanted me to put under proper training. So we moved to Kolkata and started my training in Hindustani classical music under the guidance of Ustaad Rahid Khan Guruji. At the age of nine, I auditioned for Zee TV’s music reality show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Li’l Champs, which opened my doors to more opportunities. Music became more than just a hobby. I knew I wanted to be a musician.

3.  How you met Music Maestro AR Rahman?

When I was in class 10, I met Rahman sir for the first time. I was learning western classical music in Rehman sir’s music college in Chennai, KM Music Conservatory. On their annual day, I presented an interesting fusion of a western classical piece with a Hindustani classical raga. It caught sir’s attention and right after the show I met him and he congratulated me. Surprisingly in 2019, I participated in a YouTube reality show ‘Arrived’, where sir was the judge and even before the finale happened I got to work with him for my first project ‘Nis Din’.

4.  So you have been in touch with him since then? How this song from Ponniyin Selvan happened to you?

I was singing scratches of songs for Rahman sir. Basically scratches are the rough structure of a song sung as a reference to the original song. Similarly we recorded a Tamil scratch Alaikadal and I thought it was just another rough scratch. After that lockdown happened and two years were gone, I didn’t even remember about the song. Out of my biggest surprise, a few weeks before the release, I got a call from the studio saying my scratch got finalised and I was asked to visit Mumbai and record the same song in three other languages.

5.  How was the recording session? Did you receive any suggestions from
Rahman sir?

I recorded it just like any other scratch without even thinking that it would get finalised. But it was in Tamil, the language I had no clue of initially. Our lyricist dictated the entire song to me and I wrote down the lyrics. I was freaking scared because I had to record it in front of Rahman sir and Mani Ratnam sir and needed to get the dictions right. He explained me the meaning, settings and emotion of the song. I wanted to sing like a Tamil singer and Rahman sir walked me through the whole song, guided me word by word and it turned out to be my fastest recording ever.

6. Was it tough to record the same song in four different languages?

Rahman sir told me that a song is not about getting the notes correct, it’s about hitting the right emotions. And recording a song in languages which you don’t know makes the process even tougher. So it was honestly a difficult task where you have to get the notes right, the emotions have to be in place, the dynamics, the scene everything you need to keep in mind while singing, otherwise the song would become a monotonous piece of melody.

7. From becoming an internet sensational singer to playback in AR Rahman’s composition, how life changed in past two years?

Honestly speaking what I am doing today I never thought I would be able to do. My parents became my backbone and haven’t left any stones unturned to help me get where I wanted to be. In music industry we didn’t know anyone and only had social media to use as a platform. I started posting my music covers and people started showering their love. I am incredibly grateful to them because their immense love opened new doors to us. And definitely my playback with sir is a dream come true and am still basking in its glory.

8.  Your sister Ankita accompanies you in most of your concerts and people laud you as ‘Nandy Sisters’. What was her reaction on your big break?

She has been one of the biggest reasons I am a musician today. She has supported me through thick and thin. I can proudly say she is a better musician than me, her musical sense is much better and her tonal quality is something that I’ve always admired. You won’t believe, there are many things that I have to work hard to achieve musically and Ankita catches it in jiffy. I remember when my song got selected she was the first to break into tears saying, ‘Tomar eto bochorer swapno puron hocche.’ She’s my biggest support. After audience appreciated our balcony concert, they named us ‘Nandy Sisters’ with love and today we perform together in live shows and concerts.

9.  What’s the biggest lesson you learnt from Rahman sir?

Sir is an Oscar winner, he has taken Indian music to the global stage and achieved everything that a musician can possibly wish for. Yet he works harder than anybody I’ve seen. That’s the lesson I learnt from him that you have to keep getting better and you can’t stop working no matter how much success you get.

10. What are your Diwali plans this year? You’ll be in Kolkata so is it like homecoming on Diwali?

Yes! Generally we visit Kolkata every year during Durga Puja but this year we missed that because Ankita was having her exams and my events. So I made it sure to go back to the city in Diwali. I’m working on a project with Ananjan da, son of Pandit Ajay Chakraborty Guruji. So i’ll go and meet them and work on it. We have a couple of shows in North Bengal and meanwhile we’ll manage out some time for friends and family for a fun Diwali and Kalipuja.

11. Do you have any other project in the pipeline?

Ankita and I have co-composed a couple of songs and looking forward to release my originals with my sister. Working on a few other projects as well and I am hopeful that my debut playback will bring in more opportunities because this is just the beginning of my journey. I really hope to get called for work in Kolkata because it’s my place and I so much want to work.