I’m back with the round up of the third episode of my podcast, which is very close to my heart. I’ve had the good fortune of being friends with Bollywood’s very own, prolific singer Kanika Kapoor, for two decades now. I’ve known her long before conventional stardom and seen her build from scratch, learn on the job, and truly create a mark in what is famously an unrelenting industry. 

India knows her as the voice of Babydoll, but she truly is much more: a resilient woman with a success story that is one for the books. The Jugni Ji singer released her first song in 2012 and it was a global hit that put her on Bollywood’s radar. With a background in fashion, a life in London, and virtually no experience in the Hindi Film Industry, she made the journey to the city of dreams, Bombay, to explore new horizons. The rest as they say is musical history – her songs have topped music charts and Kapoor has received wide critical acclaim and several accolades for her singing style, including the Filmfare Award for Best Female Playback Singer. This episode is a must catch for all creatives but definitely for those looking to break through in the world of the performing arts. Her nuggets of wisdom on life, love, loss, music, creativity, and business are truly worth paying attention to. They clearly indicate a life well lived backed by the power of intention and followed by action, creating an undeniable recipe for big success. 

Kanika Kapoor candidly shares about her early years in London

The early years were quite tough because being brought up with so many people and being so loved to literally going to another country that you’ve never been to and having no one around. Adjusting was a big deal and it took many, many years before I made a few friends.

Kanika Kapoor on her tryst with the fashion industry

Once I had babies, I was home a lot, I was a housewife then and I just needed to do something. So I was just very excited about going to the High Street, finding new brands and playing dress up. One day I got a call from Vogue India, they wanted to do a shoot with me and my kids in my countryside home. From thereon – Milan Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week – I started attending shows, getting dressed, getting involved. And the more I got involved, the more I started enjoying it. Back in 2012, I walked the ramp for Alberta Ferretti, for their demi couture; I’ve shot for Italian Vogue for Louis Vuitton and so much more.

Kanika Kapoor on divorce

It was a very dark patch, almost five years of my life where I couldn’t really do much again because I was all over the place. Married for 12 years…I was just a rich housewife, that materialistic girl who had not really achieved much in her life and she would just live off the thrill of having a nice diamond or the next orange bag.

Kanika Kapoor on starting her singing career

I knew nothing about the business of music. I didn’t know or understand what streaming, publishing or performing meant. I just knew how to sing. And that did very well for me. 

I remember going through a real dip after my first song (Jugni Ji) had come out because a lot of questions were raised. ‘Who is this girl? And how has she suddenly come into the music scene and who’s helping her?’ The answer was nobody!

Kanika Kapoor on Bollywood calling…

Two years after my first song, I got a call from Bombay enquiring about me saying we have a song but we don’t have any budgets but we would love to explore it in your voice. I was going through a really tough time then; I didn’t have money to even buy a ticket to come to India and a place to leave my children as I was going through a divorce. But my father was quite keen that I get back into music because he thought that is the one thing that I’m good at and I had studied it. It was a long shot because I was a mother of three babies and who had never really been to Bombay in that way and didn’t know anything about the industry. The song was Baby Doll and I’ve never looked back.

Kanika Kapoor’s advice to creators

I think it’s good to know a little bit about the business, but I think it’s also good to be a little naive and carefree because a lot more magic happens when you are not thinking too much and not planning too much. Not thinking about PR or marketing or the kind of a video you need to make. Overthinking just kills the whole art of it all. All my biggest successful songs were done just with the most carefree attitude.

Kanika Kapoor’s golden rule on creativity

Work and put in all the hours. Never say no to anything. Even if you’re upset, still just get on with it. It will be okay, just give in your best. Sometimes you do hundred things and two things shine out but to make those hundred things takes a lot of effort and a lot of consistency and a lot of love for your art. Things don’t just happen. You make them happen – at least you try!

Kanika Kapoor on learning on the job

The next thing I knew is that the makers of Bollywood movie ‘Happy New Year’ are taking me on a world tour with them where someone who’s never performed is going to be performing in front of 30,000 people in the biggest arenas in the US, Canada, UK, Dubai. Within six months of becoming a professional artist, I was entertaining people on a mainstream stage, and I remember trembling with fear because I didn’t know how to entertain people or how to face those people. So that’s when I realized that I need to learn SO much!

Kanika Kapoor on performing live

I’ve worked extremely hard on making sure that I become a good live performer. This means a lot of riyaz, practice, strength, core building, a lot of getting over fears and really getting people in your grip and making them have fun and making them dance.

Kanika Kapoor on the business of music

I understood very quickly that everything that I was singing, nothing was owned by me. It took me a couple of years to understand what publishing meant. I decided that it would be great to have a small label of my own where I could sing for everybody else as well as sing for myself and grow something. And do what typically you would be invited to do. I have studied classical and I want to do different things and want to explore and I am doing that now. 

Advice to singers:

I think that times have changed. Every six months the sound changes. Something new is coming up all the time and until 10-15 years ago, it was all about the west and pop music and American pop stars and singers. Now it’s so much more about South Asia, and the Afrobeat, and about French artists. There’s so much more that is happening in the world and there is no rule of how and what’s going to work. You can sing anything and it can work. You don’t even know what half the time what what it means. And then you also see that some of the most beautiful, meaningful songs just don’t work so there is no rulebook. Go with your instinct and make music that you think you’re enjoying and that other people would enjoy too.

So I would just say Lage Raho and that’s it!

Kanika Kapoor on putting your music out there:

Music should just be relatable and you should do what you can easily do. It should be very real because that is what connects with the public. When you sing from your heart and are doing something that is not a put-on, it works. Let yourself be and create content that you love. Don’t overthink it. Just put it out there. There are a lot of artists I know who are up and coming and they’re very scared to put music out there because they think they’ll be judged. No one’s judging anybody. Everybody’s listening to different things. 

Kanika Kapoor on coping with criticism

I’ve had a lot of criticism all my life but somehow it’s made me so thick-skinned. I don’t take it personally. If I do something wrong, I apologize for it deeply and say ‘Sorry’. If I don’t, I just say ‘Thank you God’ for giving me so much attention and free publicity. And that’s where it ends. I really don’t think about it anymore. I take it with a pinch of salt and I let it go.

Kanika Kapoor On Love

Love is a very big chapter but we take it too seriously. I’ve been loved since the time I was born. Loved by my grandparents, my parents, my siblings, my friends, and my family. There’ll always be people in your life that love you. You have to recognize love in different ways. And more than finding love, the change is that I learned to be able to feel and accept the love that I was getting and I learned to give love back.

Rapid Fire With Kanika Kapoor

I would be remiss to not do a rapid fire round of questions given this exclusive access to the sharpest, most creative minds in the country. So thank Karan Johar for his Koffee influence or blame our insatiable appetite for bite sized content, but here’s presenting the relentless and fun rapid fire round. (ProTip: There’s one at the end of each episode so always stay tuned till the end)

If a movie was made on your life, who would play you?

I really don’t know. We are in the middle of that, but haven’t found that person yet!

What is the one misconception that people have about you?

That I’m very snobbish and arrogant and all of that put together.

Music that you love? 

I love old, semi classical is my favorite genre of music.

Your favorite song?

Oh, there are so many! I honestly can’t pinpoint. There are too many songs that I love. 

The one thing your day would be incomplete without?

Singing, doing my riyaaz, even if it’s for 5-10 minutes. 

What inspires you? 

Financial freedom! But that also has a story because I wasn’t financially standing on my two feet and I had to learn to do that so I may sound very crude here, but it was very inspiring to learn how to be able to run your own life and that’s what gave me confidence and everything else, to be honest.

How do you celebrate your highs?

I celebrate no matter what! I have both highs and lows in my life and that’s normal human life. I celebrate everything!

What do you do on a low day?

Eat lots of fatty food! That’s the main plan. I live to eat and sing. 

An actor or director you’d love to sing for?

I’ve sung with most directors that I love, and there are some others that are coming up soon!

The most evergreen song?

Chittiyan Kalaiyan

What sets you apart? 

That I’m able to sing in different genres. Also that I’m an extremely naughty person deep down and I think that resonates in my music somehow, somewhere. 

So what is your style like?

I don’t know. I can’t put a word to it, but I do feel like I have my own style. Thank God!

Complete the following sentence. The road to success is______

Have gratitude for your lows and highs every day in whatever happens in your life. Because the moment you start feeling sorry for yourself and it’s not going your way, it’s the biggest failure that you can have because success is how you feel. And if you feel happy in any situation, that’s the biggest success actually, because nothing can buy – no success, no money, no power – can buy you that feeling! So you have to learn to feel happy and content with anything.

What makes you happy? 

Spending time with my family, my children, my parents, my husband, my brother. I love spending time with my family. I miss it so much! Like I don’t care about anything else.

What makes you sad? 

When I’m not with them. I go back to work and a few days later I just start getting homesick. I almost feel like, why am I doing this? And I just want to leave it all and go back, and be with my family. And it’s difficult because you’re in the middle of doing so many projects and things, and you can’t just get up and leave.

What does the future hold for you?

Just to become that free, happy soul that I’m becoming every day and finding calmness with all the chaos around me. So that is my future; getting happier and calmer in between everything. Being like a, Banyan tree. Come rain, come storm, nothing shifts me and I think I’m becoming that. So I’m very lucky! Very successful.

Dream, build, scale. What connects with you the most? 

Dream, dream, and dream. Just dream every day and things come to you as and when they are meant to. 

I had such a great time interviewing Kanika who is ever so lovely and so refreshingly candid to talk about her life exactly like she lived it. Do tune in to the whole episode on Spotify to get insights into Kanika’a incredible journey. Also, there’s a lot more where this came from so stay connected on Instagram to get notified as your favourite founders and creators come and share their stories with us on the show. If you have any feedback for me or want to suggest a guest for my show, I’m all ears! Email me or DM me and I’d love to hear your thoughts on Dream Build Scale. Ciao, till the next episode…