“Are you the ‘Ladio’ girl,” someone asked Nikhita Gandhi recently. This wasn’t at a concert where she was performing or at a shopping mall.
She was asked this question in the canteen at Sri Ramachandra University. The 23-year-old, a student of dentistry, is currently pursuing her internship there. Plate in one hand and books in the other, Nikhita responded with a smile and nod.
The half-Bengali, half-Punjabi has made Chennai her home for the past five years. Besides doing her BDS, she has sung a few hit songs.
Growing up in Kolkata, Nikhita was trained in music and dance since childhood. “I learnt Odissi and Hindustani music. As I was also quite good at studies, I was confused about what I wanted to do.” Her parents, both dentists, solved her dilemma, advising her to study dentistry at Chennai.
Her link with music grew stronger after she moved to the city. She enrolled for a short course at the KM Music Conservatory and through friends got to know about singing opportunities and music competitions.
“Someone mentioned that IIT was hosting Saarang, and I decided to attend it,” she says. “I performed there and won prizes. It boosted my confidence.”
While the mornings were spent attending classes, the evenings were devoted entirely to music. “I enjoyed recording songs,” says the singer, who’s a big fan of Rekha Bhardwaj and Usha Uthup. In 2012, she cut a Bengali album titled Kotha , a re-arrangement of Nazrul Geeti, songs written by renowned poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. “I got many musicians from Chennai to work on this. I didn’t record in Kolkata because I wanted people who weren’t familiar with the poet’s work to be involved.”
She soon bagged her first Tamil song — ‘Modern Kalyanam’ in Kalyana Samayal Saadham – but it was ‘Ladio’ from I that really thrust her into the limelight. “It seemed like Rahman sir was determined to use my voice for the song and that was an honour,” she says, “My voice is husky and low-pitched but the song demanded that I scale high notes.”
Her five-member band, which she put together a month ago, consists of Sajith Sathya, Jerard Felix, Godfrey Immanuel and Joshua Gopal. They’ve already performed a couple of gigs in Kerala and are set to showcase their music in Kolkata later this month. She smiles, “I’ve been part of bands before, but I thought that now is the right time for me to get started with my own, since live performances give me an adrenaline rush.”
Those who attended ‘Hum Hain’, a charity concert, held last year, would remember her open-throated, high-on-energy rendition of Adiye. She says, “When I’m on stage, I am a different person, as I get into the mood of the song. Singing, after all, is about spreading happiness.”