When singer Kanika Kapoor sang her very first Hindi film song “Baby Doll” for Ragini MMS 2 (2014), she was going through an ugly divorce battle with her husband Raj Chandok. In a 2015 interview, she said she felt suicidal. The song has Sunny Leone gyrating to catchy beats composed by Meet Brothers Anjjan.
The track turned Kapoor’s life around: from winning a Filmfare Best Female Playback Singer trophy to singing “Hello Namastey” and welcoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a gathering in London in 2015. “It took me a year to learn how to perform after the song came out,” Kapoor told Scroll.in. “Before that I had produced and sung ‘Jugni’, which was a YouTube sensation. It led to a random call from film producer Ekta Kapoor.”
“Jugni” was a remixed version of the Pakistani Sufi song “Alif Allah”, originally sung by Arif Lohar and Meesha Shafi and the inspiration for “Baby Doll”. Kapoor picked up the Brit Asia TV Music Award Best Single of 2012 for “Jugni”.
In the midst of a recording for a spiritual song “Ik Onkar” based on a Sikh prayer, Kapoor discussed her luck in playback singing. She had made no effort to sing for films. Living in London, she had not given it a thought until she got a phone call. “I knew the music composers Meet Brothers Anjjan [Manmeet and Harmeet Singh and Anjjan Bhattacharya] and they called me and told me that Ekta Kapoor had heard my song ‘Jugni’ ,” she said. “I was asked me if I could incorporate a similar singing style for ‘Baby Doll’ and that’s it.”
Her collaboration with Meet Brothers Anjjan has resulted in such hits as “Chittiyaan Kalaiyaan” (Roy, 2015) and “Nachan Farrate” (All Is Well, 2015). The popularity of these peppy songs have bracketed Kapoor as an item number specialist, and she is often introduced as the “Baby Doll” singer.
Kapoor has tried to prove her versatility by singing grungy numbers like “Chhil Gaye Naina” (NH10, 2015) and “Da Da Dasse” for Udta Punjab (2016), but the original tag is difficult to shake off entirely. “I am singing a lot for them but there is one song which will up the ante after ‘Baby Doll’ but I can't reveal it yet”, Kapoor said about her upcoming numbers. “Both ‘Chhil Gaye Naina’ and ‘Da Da Dasse’ were done in one take and they were very raw. The composers did not even fine tune my voice and that’s why they have come out so different.”
Kapoor lists “Ankhiyaan” from Do Lafzon Ki Kahani (2016) as one her favourites among the soft ballads she has sung. It hasn’t received as much airplay as her dance tracks.
Her meeting with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Wembley Stadium in London in November 2015 was one of her biggest moments. “I was the only one in the crowd of 70,000 to take a selfie with him,” she said. “He is a man of few words. He liked my song.”
Inundated with work offers since her break-out hit in 2014, Kapoor said she is busy singing for Hindi and Punjabi films even though she isn’t fluent in Punjabi. “Ik Onkaar” is a primer for Punjabi devotional songs. “I’m singing it from my soul,” she said. Kapoor will also be returning with another Hindi disco song featuring Sunny Leone in the film Beiimaan Love, as if their destinies are twined.
The top five songs on her playlist, according to her:
“Soch Na Sake” (Airlift, 2016)
“Lambi Judaai” (Hero, 1983)
“Tu Jaane Na” (Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, 2009)
“Kar Gayi Chhul” (Kapoor & Sons, 2016)
“Da Da Dasse” (Udta Punjab, 2016)