Having started out as a part of a girl band, a rarity in mainstream Indian music, Anushka Manchanda has always been a strong proponent of girl power. The Viva alumna admits she didn’t give much thought earlier, but as she gained experience in the industry, she also realised that it was necessary to take a stand against everything that was problematic and gender biased. She has said no to songs because of their derogatory lyrics, and turned down offers from fairness cream bands.
“As I became more sure of the kind of person that I am, it became easier for me to identify what I don’t want to do. Pehle mereko nahi farak padta tha itna. Some years ago, a fairness cream brand approached me for a voiceover for their ad. I said I am not in town on those dates. A few months ago, the same brand approached me again, but this time I didn’t take the easy way out. I explained to them my reasons of not doing it and they thanked me for my honesty. Earlier, I used to say I am not available, but now I think they should know that something is not okay,” Anushka says.
The honesty has also come at a price. Anushka has lost a lot of work for being outspoken. “Now when I get called to a studio, I ask if I’ll get paid for my session, even if it’s just a token amount. Because these days everyone knows, you go and sing the song but you don’t know if it is going to be finally used. So I ask for some kind of remuneration for my time, and I have lost a lot of work because of that,” she shares.
Anushka says that she can probably afford to speak up now, but she doesn’t expect the same courage from struggling singers. “Once you start raising your voice, you become unpopular. I myself didn’t want to ruffle any feathers earlier. I didn’t want to have any friction with the music directors, because I wanted to be called back to work. But now I don’t regret doing that. That’s also because I have created work for myself, I have a studio of my own,” she says.
“Imagine if you’re a young singer in the studio, you’ve gotten called in, and now they tell you that you have to sing a song has some derogatory lyrics. What can you say, at that point, in a room full of musicians? The ones who are more secure in that sense, will be louder. Singers like us who have been around for so many years, if we actually raise our voice and our voices become louder and stronger then maybe those young people will not be put in that position,” she says.
In an attempt to raise her voice and put focus on more gender related issues in the music industry, Anushka has joined the #HERmusic campaign initiated by IPRS (The Indian Performing Right Society Limited). The 37-year-old singer, who has delivered hit songs in films like Golmaal, Dum Maaro Dum and Race 2, says that her journey has been easier because she came from a reality show that formed the band Viva.
“My outlook towards the industry has changed over the years. When I came, I didn’t know anything and I never wanted to know, I didn’t ask any questions. It was during my time in the industry that I realized that, you know, okay, there are things that happen a certain way. I think I have been far luckier than most, because I came into the industry as part of a reality show, which already established who I am. Which meant that I didn’t have to struggle a lot to get promoted,” she says.
While the music industry is still largely male-oriented, Anushka reveals that when it comes to live shows, female singers get preference, but for all the wrong reasons. “From my personal experience, when we are getting booked for shows and invited to perform, they prefer to have female performers. They will ask you if they can see you dancing and can there be all girls, but for all the wrong reasons. I used to hate it when this used to happen. Once I included boys in my group on purpose, because this is not what girls are for. You want girls only for a corporate event, but that’s not the purpose of a dance group,” she says.
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