After winning a musical reality show and belting out award-winning hits, Neeti Mohan is amongst the most sought-after names in the music industry.
Take us through your initiation into music.
My musical journey began at a very young age on frequent travels with my parents from Delhi to the Iskcon temple in Vrindavan. I used to get mesmerised by Lord Krishna devotees dressed up wearing garlands, saris, playing mridangam and singing and dancing in front of the God. They used to look so happy and lost in their own world. So I started dressing up in my mom’s sari just like them and started singing bhajans with them. And I started performing like that in my house and school. Then I went to a boarding school in Pilani, Rajasthan, where I repeatedly heard A.R. Rahman’s songs in Roja, Bombay, etc. and singing became a serious hobby. I started winning prizes in school and inter-school singing competitions. I don’t come from a musical family, but I was a natural when it came to music. I was always ready to go on stage and perform. I learnt Hindustani classical for 10 years and after Channel V Popstars, there was no looking back. My classical training taught me how to approach a song in different octaves. When I was a child, the idea of coming to Mumbai and becoming a singer was a far-fetched one. But today, I’ve come a long way. It’s been a long journey—singing in a band, singing jingles, singing for TV show title tracks, performing on stage and then finally graduating to becoming a Bollywood singer. It feels great!
How did Channel V Popstars and Aasma happen? Are you still in touch with the other band members?
I have to give full credit to my parents for my start in the music business—they exposed me to a lot of good music and even got me a music tutor when I was in college. My journey to where I am actually began with India’s first music reality show—Channel V Popstars. The process was very thrilling—I auditioned for it full of nerves just as any other passionate aspirant would, but I whizzed past this. I cleared all hurdles and went on to win the show. That’s how the band Aasma happened too. Being part of this band was a turning point in my life—my parents had forced me to audition for Channel V Popstars in 2003 after seeing the success of the former band Viva. They put their faith in me and I’m glad I won. Being part of one of the most famous bands in India got me three albums and overnight fame. The success of our song Chandu Ke Chacha also got me to move to Mumbai for good. Singing in a band also introduced me to Western music—I learnt how to sing harmonies, parts, duets, and all four together. To answer your question, yes, I am still in touch with all the band members; they were there at the start of my journey and this acts as a foundation for a great friendship in the long run. I learnt a lot from the talented Jimmy, Sangeet and Vasudha. I literally formed a family with them in Mumbai, when I was away from my own. Channel V Popstars gave me a headway into the industry and, after that, I went on to do stage shows, playback and concerts across the globe. Thanks to God’s grace, it’s been an upward journey!
Who has been your biggest musical inspiration/influence?
I have been musically inspired by a lot of people, one of them being the indomitable A.R. Rahman who inspired me to be a singer. My parents have always been supportive of me and my three sisters and there was no other way that I could have been able to make it here if it weren’t for their support.
You flaunt a lustrous mane—what’s your secret to maintaining your hair?
My beauty secret has to be my grandma’s practice of oiling the hair twice a week. I generally use a mixture of almond, argan and jojoba oil. If I’m at the salon, then I indulge in the Moroccan treatment. I strongly believe that eating right also is very essential to maintain the shine and volume of your hair. So I steer clear from excess junk food, which is nothing but poison for the hair as well as the skin. Also, it’s very important to cleanse your hair often and avoid the use of too many chemical products.
How do you define your signature ‘popstar’ hair statement?
I believe healthy hair is a statement in itself. I enjoy sophistication and simplicity in style. The more you experiment with your hair the more you damage it.
Any make-up tricks that you’ve picked up from beauty experts that you’ve worked with over the years?
Plenty! For starters, defining and highlighting brows is a quick way to elevate your look as this will instantly make you look well put-together. Highlighter on your cheekbones, bridge of your nose and Cupid’s bow is the ultimate photo-ready secret. Use tinted moisturisers with luminescent particles or light-weight foundations if you must. Remember that overly made-up skin is a one-way ticket to looking a lot older that you are. Stay away from nude lipstick and matte bronzers if you have dull skin as these make you look lifeless. Instead, opt for a red or pink shade and apply this on your lips as well as the apples of your cheeks to brighten up your look.
What’s your way of working around bad hair days?
I generally tie my hair up in a pleated bun. I accessorise with a bandana or a scarf. Sometimes, the side parting also works for me when I have a leave-in conditioner on.
How do you manage to look great despite a busy schedule? Do let us in on your fitness regime.
My fitness mantra is about focusing on feeling good from the inside. Exercise does not have to be time-consuming to be effective. I engage in a 30-minute planned exercise everyday either at the gym or at home with my personal trainer. I alternate between cardio and aerobics, strength training and weight lifting. Eating healthy and nutritious food also goes a long way in promoting good health. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a price, dinner like a pauper. That’s my motto. I decrease fat consumption, practice portion control, eat high fiber and fresh foods, avoid large meals, eat slowly and on time and don’t overeat when I am stressed out. I eat four meals a day. My intake always consists of lots of fluids, steamed veggies and fruit assortments. I prefer home cooked food, even when I am on set, and ensure I get adequate sleep.
Coming back to your career, you’re now working with The Voice, India. Tell us about this experience.
The Voice is such a beautiful experience. I feel that life for me has come to a full circle. I participated in a reality show, performed in front of judges, won a reality show and started my career. Now it’s like I am on the other side of the stage where I will be seeing kids walking on the stage and performing in front of me. It makes me feel about two things very strongly. Firstly, I look back at my own journey and feel very grateful. Secondly, I am very thrilled to be a judge on The Voice because I think I have always liked the mentoring part; I have done that for my sisters and I still do. This is my second season with the show and I am very thankful to everyone at Endemol and &TV for having me on board. I hope to be there for the third season too!
What new projects are in the offing this year?
I’m working on some new singles where I’m trying to experiment with my sound. I’m also doing a lot of gigs these days. I have a few film projects in the pipeline. I’m also looking at expanding beyond music into lifestyle spaces and maybe an international collaboration as well this year.
(This interview first appeared in the April 2017 issue of HAIR & Beauty magazine.)