Tanvi Rajgarhia aka Jhansi isn’t only trying to bring in Broadway style theatre to India but going global with her ventures

The Lasalle College of the Arts alumni found herself mesmerized by musical theatre early on in life
Tanvi Rajgarhia aka Jhansi
Tanvi Rajgarhia aka Jhansi

A sassy comeback Tanvi Rajgarhia once used as a kid has turned into her identity on stage today. Popularly known as Jhansi, the Lasalle College of the Arts alumni found herself mesmerized by musical theatre early on in life.  As luck would turn out, she is burning midnight oil today to introduce the unique form of Broadway style theatre in India and all set to take off soon to collaborate with a New York based production for a global musical saga inspired by the Mahabharata.

<em>Into the Woods (Singapore)</em>
Into the Woods (Singapore)

How did you find your passion for musical theatre?

Back in 2007-2008 the only way to find out about new TV shows was through newspapers. I remember being absolutely mesmerised by The Phantom of The Opera on HBO, and pleading to my parents to go for a live show when I went to London a few months later. As an 8th grader, I was keen on becoming a psychologist when I grew up, but this show changed my life. Even though my dad snored through half of it, my mother and I loved it and so did my brother. After the performance was over, I walked up to one of the performers who was collecting donations and told him I will be back there as a performer. The conversation turned out to be awkward, but my passion echoed in my brain since then. There was a time during my +2s that I couldn’t sleep at night due to these recurring images in my head, of me doing something huge on stage. Finally, when it was time to apply to colleges I stumbled upon courses being offered in musical theatre across Singapore. The fact that they offer an opportunity to major in performative arts was a huge opportunity in itself, and quite luckily my mother encouraged me to apply for it alongside psychology. I applied to six psychology courses across colleges, and only one in Musical theatre and to my surprise I received the acceptance letter right ahead of my boards. It was at this juncture that I had to decide whether or not to take the risk as I was told by a few seniors that it wasn’t an easy task and Indians had seldom chosen this path before. I am extremely thankful to my parents as they pushed me to pursue my passion and told me I could drop out if it didn’t work out after a year and pursue psychology again. My life changed thereafter.

How was it once you started with the course? Was it any different from your expectations?

Oh yes it was! I was quite apprehensive to begin with as I had no formal training in music or dance, and all my peers there were trained already. The entire experience was nothing I had thought of it to be as I didn’t know what to expect in the first place. Classes would start at 8:30am and go on for 12 hours, and then we would rehearse up till midnight and start over again the next day. Each of the segments was extremely detailed as we had multiple courses for singing, dancing and emoting each. I think those were the most difficult three years of my life, and all of it was totally worth it.

<em>Queens of Comedy</em>
Queens of Comedy

What happened after the course was over? Was it difficult to find your footing once you were back in India?

For six- seven months after my graduation, I was stuck in an absolute limbo. I used to feel completely lost until demonetization happened and it struck me that this was the right moment to start solo. I took the scope to express different opinions of four major politicians of our country on this topic, through a musical theatre medium digitally. The final outcome gave me the impetus to pursue this format yet again, and stick to it. I kept on doing more videos and in a couple of months I started opening for live shows. I have opened for Zakir Khan in the past, and also a regular performer at college festivals. I have been trained for performance, but not writing. At a juncture I realised, to keep stirring up new content I need to pick up my pen. It was all rookie stuff in the beginning but my selection in TLC’s Queens of Comedy pushed me to write more original stuff to avoid copyright infringement. I think the very fact that there is no proper platform for musical theatre in India, pushed me to navigate my own way on and off stage with my skill set.

Poster of the current show
Poster of the current show

How are people reacting to this new format? Are they getting more curious about it?

People don’t usually like coming out of their comfort zones. I have seen people being extremely hesitant before coming to my live shows, and also seen the same ones physically transforming once they are there. It feels extremely rewarding to see a 40 year old experienced individual, and a 16 year old woke adolescent crying and laughing to the same thing I have written. It makes me feel like I am exactly where I should be, doing what I should do.

Most of your performances are solo. Do you have any plans of expansion?

It was 100% solo in the beginning, but slowly and steadily I am starting to write more group material. I have written a song, specifically tailored for the screen that is based on a very Indian concept of breaking up due to family reasons. The concept is that of a room full of Indian people explaining what it is to this one white skinned person there, as he sits clueless. I am collaborating with some great young talents like Priyanka Banerjee and Shohini Dutta. Priyanka has previously helmed Devi starring stalwarts like Kajol, Shruti Hassan, Neha Dhupia and Neena Kulkarni. On the other hand Shohini heads The Danceworx, and has previously worked with big names like Imtiaz Ali. I am also set to collaborate with The Hypocrites in New York City, for a big production based on Mahabharata. The Hypocrites are their Broadway style musical theatre productions. I am also writing a lot of songs for the screen as it is easier to get people hooked to their screens these days than fetching them to live shows on stage.

Who would you consider your inspiration?

There are two. One of them being Lin-Manuel Miranda known for creating Broadway musicals like Hamilton and In the Heights, and the other being Rachel Bloom. Both Lin-Manuel and Rachel started writing as there was no one to cast them in projects of their choice, so they cast themselves in their own productions and pulled everything off singlehandedly. Rachel went on to create the Netflix comedy-drama series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and both of them are successful at their own rights today.

YouTube @TheJhansiWay

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