I’m sitting in Jasleen Royal’s swanky new apartment and having tea and almonds. Her cute pet Shih Tzu dog Kobbie sits on my lap as we do the interview and listens in… Originally, from Ludhiana, singer/songwriter/composer Jasleen moved to Mumbai two years back after her number Preet from Khoobsurat became popular. Her next notable song was the fiery Badla badla from Badlapur in 2015. But last year proved to be very much her year. She composed and sang the hits Kho gaye hum kahan and Nachde ne saare in Baar Baar Dekho (BBD) and Raatein in Shivaay. “Nitya (Mehra, director) wanted just the sound of the guitar and a natural vibe in Kho gaye… So I kept it minimal,” she says of the BBD song.
Interestingly, the most popular song of her career yet, the soulful Love you zindagi number in Dear Zindagi, happened inconspicuously. In fact, she recorded it almost six months ago, much before the Baar Baar Dekho numbers. “I had forgotten about it because so many people are involved in deciding the final version,” she smiles adding, “I did not realise that it was such a big deal till my friend, lyricist/singer Swanand Kirkire called me and said, ‘Do you realise you’ve sung the title track of a Shah Rukh Khan-Alia Bhatt film?’ That’s when it hit me.”
Jasleen participated in the first season of India’s Got Talent (IGT) in 2009 when she was only 18 and ended up being one of the semi-finalists. She reveals that her professors in her college in Delhi started taking her seriously post IGT. “They used to throw me out of class since I was so much into music. They’d ask why my hair was so unkempt. I was not a typical B.Com Honours student,” she smiles. She next caught attention when she won the Best Indie Song award at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2013 for her number Paanchi hojava, based on a poem by Shiv Kumar Batalvi. “Paanchi hojavan and even Maye ni (her later collaboration with Swanand Kirkire) were composed keeping in mind how I was feeling at that point of time and how I viewed the world then,” she elaborates.
For Jasleen, it all started when her brother was taking keyboard lessons in school. “He taught me the Happy Birthday and the rhyme Twinkle twinkle little star partially on the keyboard. I kept at it till I figured out the whole tune,” she recalls. “There was no internet back then, so I’d visit cassette shops to check out the names of the composers of albums I liked,” says the 25-year-old Jasleen of her early curiosity towards music. “I craved for a guitar and a keyboard but I didn’t want to burden my parents. So I taught music, English carols and choir singing… all that I had learned in my convent school. That’s how I earned money to buy instruments,” she shares. “My parents have always been supportive. Mom just called me to say ‘your Love you zindagi song is playing everywhere’,” she grins. She reveals her Punjabi family is a big fan of the Deols. “We’ve grown up watching Dharmendra’s movies. We have a soft corner for the Deols. When I recently met Sunny Deol, my dad was ecstatic. My parents are happy I’m composing for and singing for the film Phillauri, which stars Diljit Dosanjh. He’s a big star in Punjab,” she says.
Ask her if she needs to compromise on her Indie music sensibilities in commercial Hindi cinema and she says there are pros and cons to it. “People are looking for new sounds, new experiments these days. So far I’ve not compromised on my sensibilities… maybe because I started off composing with poetry and understand deeper emotions. But now I’m told that some words need to be simplified. I fear that quality shouldn’t get lost,” she opines. She insists Indie musicians foraying into Hindi films is not a new trend. “AR Rahman also started with Vande Mataram, Shankar Mahadevan did Breathless and Vishal Dadlani was part of the band Pentagram. I draw my inspiration from Rahman. I’m his crazy fan. I also like the music of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Lucky Ali and Rabbi Shergill. In recent times, I enjoy Amit Trivedi and Sneha Khanwalkar’s work,” she says.
She makes no bones about reaching out to directors whose work she admires. “I don’t hold myself back. If it’s a no, it’s a no. So what? But there’s also a possibility that the meeting could lead you to something. You need to keep trying,” she says with candour.
The young girl has finally come home to life in Mumbai. “I don’t like going back to Delhi now. I get bored there. Life in Mumbai is cool. People can happily stay alone… away from home. The vibe is liberal and chilled out,” she confides. “Here one gets to meet different people and do great work. Shashanka Ghosh (director of Khubsoorat) once told me, ‘Mumbai is one place where you can have a magical conversation with a stranger out of the blue… while walking on the street’. I like the fact that I come across more people who are creatively inclined towards literature and music,” she smiles.
Jasleen is excited about Anshai Lal’s Phillauri for which she’s composing and singing one song, Shashanka Ghosh’s Veere Di Wedding and a couple of other projects. “Rhea (Kapoor) has an amazing music sense. She knows exactly what she wants. She pushes you into the right direction,” she says of the Veere Di Wedding producer.
While Jasleen is told that 2016 was her year, she confides she wants this year to be hers as well. “I’ve amazing projects lined up for 2017. I want to stay busy, keep working all day and create good songs. I like to exhaust myself by the end of the day and sleep peacefully,” she trails off.