From the suburbs of Kolkata to the bustling city of Mumbai, the journey to being one of the most popular YouTube sensation has been nothing short of adventurous and enthralling for Amika Shail. The songstress, who recently made her debut into playback with the film Wedding Anniversary, has struck the right chords to be the star she stands today. Over the years, her perseverance and dedication have put her on the stage of several reality shows, steadily paving her way into a string of live shows across the globe. And, this is not it. The diva is all set to sizzle on the silver screen, making her debut as an actor with ‘I am Roshni’ this year.
Overwhelmed by the course of things shaping her fate in the industry, Shail owes her acclaim and musical aptitude to her gurus and the undaunted support of her family. A musical voyage that started at the age of five, Shail has undergone relentless holistic training in Hindustani classical music ranging across dhrupad, dhamar, rabindra sangeet, etc.
“For Bengalis, music runs in their blood and I inherited the art from my mother, a post graduate in Hindustani Classical herself. Though I’ve learnt Bengali adhunik and Indian classical to hone my skills as a singer, light melody is a personal favourite as it complements the texture and quality of my voice. Rabindra sangeet seems a Herculean task till date, given the complexity of its notes and rhythm and the perfection it demands from a singer. I have somehow always messed up with the tunes,” smiles the Kolkata lass.
Hailing from Uttarpara, a suburban town in Bengal, Amika has enjoyed a humble upbringing with mother, a teacher at a government school and father employed with a pathology lab. A docile kid, Gitashree, as she was formerly known, enjoyed being indoors, stringing the musical chords and humming the lessons learned. “I loved solitude, and hence, didn’t have many friends. However, I was close to my cousins in Tollygunge and visited them often, Durga Puja being a prime occasion. We went pandal hopping, covering as many as we could in a day. It was a feat to have covered the maximum number of pandals,” she quips with a glint in her eyes.
Sharing interesting episodes from her days back in school, Amika laughs out adding, “One incident itched fresh is that of me beaten up by one of our teachers, Ahin Sir, for no concrete reason. Till date, I wonder what made him punish me that day”.
The Early Exposure
Amika first confronted the glitterati at the age of 12 as a participant of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Lil Champs. From small shows in the vicinity to a national stage, the leap was both petrifying and exhilarating for this lady who made it to the top 10 of the reality show. Sharing her first encounter with blaring lights and a massive stage, the 25-year-old says, “My mom registered my name for the auditions and it remains the biggest turning point of my life. Not only did it give me overnight stardom in the locality but also infused confidence that I could pursue a career in it. I went on to grab decent positions in other shows such as Star Voice of India and Chote Ustab as well. This had people approach me for big banner shows in the city and I got earning”.
Reminiscing her bygone days as a performer in Kolkata she quips, “All shows in Kolkata are memorable as they heralded my journey. There was this one incident where I was singing ‘Piya Tu ab Toh Aaja’ and didn’t realize that a man from the audience had come up on stage dancing. It was when the crew came in to pull him down that I noticed his presence. It was hilarious and remains memorable”.
Tough Times And The Way Forward
It was the lack of opportunities in playback singing in Kolkata that drew the singer to Mumbai. An overnight discussion with parents seeking their support and an acquaintance helping her with a temporary accommodation in the city marked the beginning of her struggles in the industry. Amika got enrolled as a music teacher with a private school to support her expenses while the evenings had her attend auditions and crack connections with composers and music directors. However, the hectic schedule took a toll on her health, compelling her to quit the job. With darkness looming around, it was a sudden call from Mohit Chauhan’s team that turned the tables for the aspiring singer.
“I was running out of both time and money as my parents had given me two months to try my luck in the city. Mohit Chauhan and his team were looking for a female singer to be a part of their one month concert in the US and I luckily caught their attention. The show gave me a huge financial boost, firming my grounds in the city,” recalls a nostalgic Amika.
Our conversations with the prolific singer moved onto to her tryst with reality shows, the success of her singles and her stepping stones into the industry. Excerpts:
What kind of support and grooming do reality shows extend to singers?
Reality shows don’t help much in professional singing and it’s completely on your talent to sustain in the show. The grooming, however, helps in the long run.
Do you feel reality shows have been bombing the current television, narrowing down chances of winners in real?
Earlier reality shows were a fresh dose of entertainment for both the audience and participants. Also, participants were well trained and had strong grounds in music. However, today the impact is diluted with many non-singers stepping in. This apart, the high concentration of such shows has reduced the interest of audiences as well.
Your first experience at a recording studio:
Though I did record a few title tracks for television soaps in Kolkata the exposure in Mumbai was unsurpassed. The first jingle I sang was for an ad for Ujala at the Famous Studio in Mahalaxmi. I literally had goosebumps on entering the studio and when I got paid for it, the joy was unbounded.
How did you plan the first single ‘Meri Hasraton Mein’?
I was doing a series of cover songs on Youtube when I planned to come up with a single. Keval, a close friend, did small compositions and I approached him for this. He did the lyrics, programming, and music and the recording was done in a humble home setup followed by mixing.
The challenge, however, was in shooting the video as I was clueless on whom to approach and what would the budget be like. Getting to record labels to release the same was another hiccup we faced. It’s sheer luck that I got a message from Suresh Thomas, owner of Crescendo Music, for a project and when approached he agreed to release my single. It all seems such a fairytale, today.
How did ‘Ittefaqan’ in Wedding Anniversary come your way?
I sang various demos and scratches for composers and had done the same for this film a year before its release. It was in January this year that I got a confirmation from Abhishek Ray, the composer that they were going ahead with my voice. That was a moment of reckoning as I felt my years of struggle to pay off.
How different is it composing for individual singles and one for films?
Playback is challenging as the industry today is flooded with singers. Also, with auto tunes doing their magic, many artists have been venturing into playback, intensifying the competition for us. Getting that one track that kick starts your journey is like a dream.
Singles are easy as it is onto you to decide the timelines and other factors. There’s no dependency on composers or other bodies.
You have your film coming up. Was acting always a call or something you wished to explore?
Acting was coincidental. I was visiting a record label for a music video, which had discussions around a film floating alongside. Ironically, they were looking for a character that befitted my persona, and hence, offered me the role. The hidden desire to face the camera was shimmering in front of me and I grabbed it. I also have a song in it.
- An unforgettable performance: In Star Voice of India, I shared the stage with the legend Lata Mangeshkar and sang one of her songs.
- One aspect of your heritage city you cherish: Victoria Memorial, its beauty is enchanting.
- A hilarious prank call you’ve received: My cousin had once modulated his voice and approached me for a show over the call. I’d taken it quite seriously, discussing on the venue and remuneration. It’s when he laughed out that I realized I was fooled.
- If you wake up in the body of someone else, who would you make a pick and why: Taylor Swift, as I wish to become a singer of her stature.