Jonita Gandhi: I thought the gibberish of ‘Arabic Kuthu’ in Beast would get replaced

Jonita Gandhi on the success of ‘Arabic Kuthu’ from Beast, the adulation she receives from Tamil cinema fans, and her acting debut
Singer Jonita Gandhi
Singer Jonita Gandhi

Shreya Ghoshal, Sadhana Sargam, Shashaa Tripati… Tamil fans seem to have a special place for non-Tamil singers who care to get the language’s pronunciation and diction right. Let’s just say we are readily impressed when an ‘outsider’ takes pains to speak our language. Jonita Gandhi is the latest beneficiary of this outpouring of love.

The Indo-Canadian singer started as a YouTuber before foraying into Bollywood with the title track of Chennai Express. She quickly became a frequent collaborator of AR Rahman for Tamil songs like 'Mental Manadhil' (OK Kanmani) and 'Idhu Naal' (Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada). She has also collaborated with the likes of D Imman, Yuvan Shankar Raja, and Leon James. However, it is her work with Anirudh Ravichander for 'Chellama' (Doctor) that has brought her an impressive fanbase. Now, the duo has made another sensational hit in the form of 'Arabic Kuthu' (Beast), a song that is breaking records on YouTube.

In this chat with CE, Jonita opens up about the success of the collaboration and the experience of singing the hit song.

Excerpts from the conversation:

Was it strange to see the gibberish lyrics in ‘Arabic Kuthu’?

I thought those words were provisional! I thought they were trying to get the tune, melody, and flow right with them. I thought they would be replaced by real words. Later, I realised they were sticking to the gibberish (laughs). They tried putting in real words, but the song didn’t sound as good as it does now.

What do you make of the response to ‘Arabic Kuthu’?

The day the song was released, my phone kept ringing. It’s just crazy. There were memes about the song everywhere. The meme culture in Tamil cinema is quite something; I haven’t seen anything like it in other industries. I wasn’t sure why there were so many memes. And why was I in them? It all happened so fast. That’s the energy Anirudh brings with his music. And of course, there’s Thalapathy Vijay, who is killing it with each film.

How do you set about getting the Tamil right in your tracks?

Honestly, I rely on the people around me. Anirudh is very particular about this, and very patient. He explains each word. In fact, the whole team—including me—stands for patience and hard work. We make sure we get everything right. Also, I have been recording Tamil songs for a few years now. So, I am now picking up the Tamil words faster.  The process is different for each song. I have had experiences where I have showed up at the studio and learned the lines. For other songs, I get the lines in advance. I begin work on it before the recording—and this process, I prefer. This means that I have one less thing to worry about in the studio. I like to get everything right.

How does your upbringing in Canada impact your singing?

Irrespective of where you are brought up in, you are always going to have an accent. Getting a language right is a lot about unlearning and learning, and has everything to do with the patience and eagerness of an individual. 

Fans seem to have taken a liking to your presence in the promos as well

I am overwhelmed by the response really. People are being generous. It is heartwarming that they like my voice and my little cameos.

Is there pressure to be part of these promos?

A lot of thought and hard work is put into the making of these songs, and it feels good to play my part in promoting the song. When it all works out, that is like the cherry on top. However, no, I don’t feel compelled. I do this because I enjoy the whole process.

What’s happening with your acting debut, Rowdy Walking/Talking Strawberry Ice Cream?

I have completed my portions, and I think the film is in post-production. I am not sure because I have been really busy with 'Arabic Kuthu'. Unlike what everyone thinks about the film though, it is not going to be in Tamil. It’s an English film (laughs)

Should we expect to see more of you on the screen?

Honestly, I don’t know. I am open to opportunities, but at the same time, I am careful about the projects I pick. Let’s see what the future holds. 

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