Neha Bhasin wears many hats. One moment she is your quintessential rock star, belting out her catchy tunes with her band, Cinnamon Gully, only to surprise you with an earthy Punjabi folk number that you might have heard your grandmother sing at a family wedding. Try as much you can to put a label to her music or her identity as a performing artiste, and she will slip through your grip with feline swiftness.
“As an artiste, I have been very adventurous,” says the singer who started her career as one of the five singers of the all-girl pop group Viva in 2002.
After the band’s split after four years, Neha embarked on her solo career and made her mark as a successful Bollywood singer, with hits like ‘Dhunki’ and ‘Kuch khaas hai’ to her name, as well as an exceptional stage performer. “I have sung quite a few Bollywood hits but I neither feel part of the industry, nor fully accepted by it,” she says.
But a nod from Bollywood doesn’t matter, and probably never has. Her debut album, Tabaah (2010), was a success at a time when Indi pop was dying a slow and painful death. It was only too natural that her evocative and feisty vocals coupled with her image of an irreverent seductress would create a stir. For the uninitiated, one of her songs from the album was titled ‘Apple bottoms’, and it celebrated, yes no prizes for guessing, the beauty of the female derriere.
Having grown up writing, composing and performing pop-rock songs, the young singer had no plans of exploring folk music till her music partner, composer Sameer Uddin made a suggestion. “‘Why don’t you try Punjabi folk?, he asked me. And that’s how we recorded ‘Lathe di chaddar’. My mom sent me a voice note and we just put a simple guitar arrangement. The next day, we shot the video of me cycling around in Bandra. We didn’t mix the audio or anything,” she tells.
The song, which stands out for its honest and down-to-earth appeal, amassed thousands of videos in the first few days itself. “It was a big deal for us. We didn’t really plan or promote it or anything. But for the next song, ‘Bajre da sitta, we put more thought and planning,” says Neha.
Watch the video of Lathe di chaddar here:
The singer informs us that she is working on more folk songs. “These are all wedding songs that I have grown up listening to. The good thing is that although these songs have been sung by many singers back in the day, like Surinder Kaur, there is no modern, contemporary benchmark for them. No artiste has explored this music in recent times,” she says.
Watch the video of 'Bajre da sita' here:
Anyone who’s been following Neha’s music journey in the past few years will know that the singer is not one to play safe when it comes to style. During her Viva days, you would spot her in the most daring outfits and innovative hairdos. Her bold, temptress-on-a-couch opening shot in the band’s debut video ‘Hum naye geet sunaye’ remains a testament to her exceptional confidence and comfort in front of the camera so early on in her career.
Since then she has experimented with her look unlike anybody else in the entertainment industry. From spunky shoulder-length waves and a svelte body just a couple of years ago to a striking red bob and a voluptuous full figure that can send men on a testosterone rush, Neha’s love for the unusual is evident.
“I change my look every three months because I get bored soon,” says Neha, adding, “I am a fashion enthusiast and don’t need a stylist to tell me what to wear. I am a big fan of American and European retro fashion. And today, I am more comfortable in my skin than ever before,” she tells.
Genre no bar
Given her music palette, which is getting more colourful by the day, it is hard to define what genre her compositions fit into. “At our gig last week, some people called our music funk-rock; I would say it is pop-rock with streaks of funk and other genres. My band is a big ensemble, with a sitarist, guitarist, flautist, keyboardist, bassist, drummer and myself. So yeah, we are exploring all the songs that I always wanted to perform but had never. It’s a great time to be an artiste in India today,” she signs off.