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'A genuinely kind man who, despite his stardom, approaches life as an artist first'

September 18, 2023 09:44 IST
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'We bonded over the fact that we are both from Delhi and he spent a lot of his childhood in the same neighbourhood as me.'

Photograph: Kind courtesy Sanjeeta Bhattacharya

Indie singer Sanjeeta Bhattacharya is among the six women who have key role in the Shah Rukh Khan starrer Jawan.

"I have gained an experience of a lifetime and infinite bragging rights," Sanjeeta tells Senior Contributor Rajul Hegde.

How did the transition from singing to acting happen?

The transition happened quite seamlessly when I received a message from a casting director asking if I'd like to audition for an advertisement.

This was in October 2020 and I was solely doing music. I thought to myself, why not?

The project went through and I did two more ads that month. By December, I got a call for Netflix's Feels Like Ishq.

I really enjoyed acting in long-form and decided to explore it further.

I never thought I'd be acting because all my life, I've learnt Hindustani classical music and Kathak, but never took lessons in acting.

How did Jawan happen?

I was in Kolkata for a show when I got a call from (Casting Director) Mukesh Chhabra sir's office to audition for the film.

I was given the audition script, but wasn't told anything else about the project.

I was told that Helana (her character) is a confident, rebellious, girl. She knows what she wants and is sure of herself.

A week later, I got a call back, informing me that I'd been locked for the role.


IMAGE: Lehar Khan, Girija Oak Godbole, Shah Rukh Khan, Sanjeeta Bhattacharya and Aaliyah Qureishi. Photograph: Kind courtesy Sanjeeta Bhattacharya/Instagram

When you auditioned for the film, did you know you were going to work with Shah Rukh Khan?

When I was finally told that the lead of the film is SRK, I couldn't believe my ears! I almost dropped the phone!

I ran to my parents and told them and they said we'll believe it when you finally are on set (laughs)

Do you remember the first day you met Shah Rukh on set?

Everyone was nervous because we knew of the legend, but hadn't met the man yet.

Our first interaction was a warm bear hug and he gave us forehead kisses.

He welcomed us on set and thanked us for being a part of the film. His humility is astounding.

I have gained an experience of a lifetime and infinite bragging rights (laughs).

IMAGE: Lehar Khan, Aaliyah Qureishi, Shah Rukh Khan, Priyamani and Sanjeeta Bhattacharya in the song Zinda Banda from Jawan.

What was he like on set?

A master of his craft!

He came prepared to the teeth with his lines and sat with the six of us.

I've rarely seen an artist work as hard as him and approach their craft with such novel passion every single time.

He was very easy to talk to and never put himself on a pedestal.

A genuinely kind man who, despite his stardom, approaches life as an artist first.

What kind of conversations did you have with him?

We bonded over the fact that we are both from Delhi and he spent a lot of his childhood in the same neighbourhood as me.

I asked him questions unrelated to films.

We spoke about his favourite coffee, his charcoal activated water and his perfume!

Could you share some anecdotes?

When Shah Rukh sir got to know I'm a musician, he brought in a guitar and mic to set the next day and asked me to sing! I sang one of my original compositions.

The entire mood of the room shifted and they were extremely appreciative.

Atlee sir gave me a compliment that I will never forget. He said, 'The Goddess is in your voice.'

I felt so humbled.

Eventually, I went on to write and sing a Spanish song called Mis Chicas, composed by Anirudh, for the Jawan soundtrack which appears twice in the film -- in the introduction of the Jawan girls and after the climax.

IMAGE: Sanjeeta Bhattacharya, Shah Rukh Khan, Nayanthara, Aaliyah Qureishi, Lehar Khan and Sanya Malhotra in the song Not Ramaiya Vastavaiya from Jawan.

How was Nayanthara on the set?

A force to reckon with. Her experience reflects in her art.

She has such a strong presence and at the same time, she's very loving and sat with us to talk about her experience in the industry.

It's amazing how brilliantly she managed to be there for Jawan while also having two beautiful kids.

Women are so strong and she is a great example of one.

How was your bonding with the other women of Jawan?

I absolutely ADORE the other five girls; they are now like my sisters.

There were times when we'd sit in a circle and say what we love about each other, one-by-one.

We're cheesy like that!

They are the most talented, funny, goofy bunch. We shared our ups, downs and in-betweens, sought advice routinely and fed off each other's energies.

Are you guys in touch with them on a WhatsApp group?

Absolutely! Since the first schedule of shoot began in 2021. The group is called 'Good to go, Chief.'

IMAGE: Sanjeeta Bhattacharya with Director Atlee. Photograph: Kind courtesy Sanjeeta Bhattacharya

How was it to work with Director Atlee?

Atlee sir is a visionary and knows exactly what the audience wants.

He is warm, loving and thoughtful as a person and despite carrying such a massive responsibility on his young shoulders, he made sure we felt welcomed and our characters were done justice to.

For me, the fact that he remembered my singing and asked me to pen down and sing a song for the Jawan has to be the best surprise!

He is a man of his word and I'm forever grateful.

The most unique thing about Atlee sir is that he is able to deliver important moral and societal messages through a very massy film.

Jawan is the best of Indian cinema combining forces from all the regions.

It has something for everyone -- drama, romance, action and most importantly, hard-hitting messages.

It has some of the most enticing visuals backed by Director of Photography G K Vishnu and a solid soundtrack by Anirudh.

Did you expect the film to do so well?

It always had all the ingredients to do well, but what's happening is beyond what I expected. I'm so happy to be a part of this epic journey.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Sanjeeta Bhattacharya

Tell us about your music. You were nominated for a Grammy for Best Global Music Album.

I learnt Hindustani classical music and Kathak for about 10 years since the age of five and went to the Berklee College of Music, Boston.

I learnt several genres during my time there, from flamenco to Balkan folk and Latin jazz.

I was also part of the Berklee Indian Ensemble with whom I recorded the album, Shuruaat. It got nominated for the Best Global Music album at the 2023 Grammy Awards.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Sanjeeta Bhattacharya

You got an opportunity to perform with A R Rahman.

In 2015, we performed at the Boston Symphony Hall with Sir as part of the AR Rahman Meets Berklee concert.

We were commemorating his work as an ensemble and he was getting an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music.

It was also the initiation of the AR Rahman scholarship for Indian students. We rehearsed for that concert for over four months.

It was a grand event and a packed audience of 5,000.

He sang Vande Mataram with us. Recalling that moment still gives me goosebumps.

What's next in the pipeline?

You'll see me next in The Broken News Season 2 on ZEE5.

I'm going on a short tour for my music in October.

I'm also releasing a single called My Heart.

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