My musical journey started long before I even understood it as one. Being the daughter of the iconic legendary singer/ composer Nandu Bhende, meant that we (Mom and I) accompanied him for multiple jingle (Radio and TV ads largely) recordings, and album recordings. Hence, I have always been in studios, played with mikes and other instruments and gotten pampered by all the Sound Engineers, I didn’t think much of it. Add to this, that I was a very friendly, confident child, meant that I feared very little. Born in the Bhende family, with grandparents like the famous actor, director Atmaram Bhende, and Asha Bhende with a triple MA and a PhD plus an an award winning singer / actress herself, showmanship was in my genes and blood. All of this resulted in a (life-changing) moment at 4 and a half years of age, when I demanded to step in and sing a TV ad jingle, when an adolescent boy singer realised, he could not hit the high notes needed. It was a dubbing for the Sunlight Soap jingle, and Sushma Shreshtha (now Poornima) had already dubbed her part in it. Before anyone could even object, I had dragged a stool over to the mike in the singers booth, climbed on to it to reach the mike, and made a T with my fingers, an all-too-familiar gesture to the recordist Avinash Oak, – Take please! The composer, the famed, brilliant and temperamental Vanraj Bhatia , turned to my mother and asked, “well, can she sing, and read Hindi?, I immediately declared to the Sound Engineer Avinash Oak, that I knew it by heart! My doting mother Usha Bhende said, “if she says she can, she can, and will definitely do it.” It was done in one take and I was instantly dubbed “a one-take artiste” by all.. It was followed by a biscuit ad , sung by my dad for Leon Desouza, who immediately added me to the kids’ chorus… That evening, I went home with the lyrics sheet, signed by all, and two cheques , at age 4 and a half, my first earnings as a singer!!
That was my first ever recording, for Sunlight Detergent Soap at Western Outdoors Studio at age 4. There is a cassette version of this somewhere (in the midst of all the memorabilia my mother has catalogued and stored through the years.) I don’t remember much of this story, which has been retold several times, but I do remember the tune!
And so it began…
Soon I started piano lessons for the Trinity College, and completed 6 grades with distinction.
At age 4, my dad was acting in the Rock Opera Tommy as the protagonist. I was so entranced by the stage, that during the interval, I managed to escape from my mom and went on stage and performed with a balloon, much to the amusement of the indulgent audience! Soon TV shows on Doordarshan followed. In school I won the best Solo Singer’s award every single year, and had an amazing, supportive music teacher in Mrs Maria Omar, who introduced us to pop and rock songs of the day , and had planned an opera for the annual concert, but relocated soon thereafter… incidentally to Auckland!
I did over a 1000 jingles from the age of 4 till about age 15, including Rasna, Maggi, Chocobix biscuits, for Shekhar Kapur who featured me in the video as well, Bournvita, Swad, Dalda, Ande ke Ande- Fantastic! singing with my dad, and most of them in multiple languages. The child who spoke mainly English, and broken Hindi and Marathi could and did sing in 10 different languages at 1 point, including Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Nepalese. The words would be written phonetically in English by my mother, and someone from the Ad agency would guide me through the pronunciations. I missed some school I remember, in order to get to my recordings but had a wonderfully supportive school principal at Bombay Scottish. Before the age of 10, I was lucky enough to be part of 2 music albums –English Nursery Rhymes ” Hi Ho” with music by Vanraj Bhatia and producer actress Leela Naidu for CBS. Apart from singing all the nursery rhymes, I also sang three popular English Nursery Rhymes, translated in Hindi. Diwali Diwali, with Tushar Bhatia… was a Hindi album of Diwali songs, written by the acclaimed Hindi poet, Pandit Narendra Sharma.
At this point I had a golden opportunity to sing with two stalwarts of the Hindi film music industry. Manna Dey and Mahendra Kapoor. I was singing a song with both of them for a Hindi film Apné Begané, recording in a Worli studio. I was about 8. I was standing in the singer’s booth with both MannaDa and Mahendra uncle.. Since I was sharing a mike with Manna Da, I was standing on a chair next to him, to reach the microphone.. As the orchestra was rehearsing their part, we stood there so they could get the correct key to lay the music track. Manna Da was very friendly and was chatting away with me, as Mahendra uncle looked on smiling indulgently. Seeing Mannada’s bald head, I said to him it looks like a tabla, and he told me to go ahead and play on it..so I started playing tabla on his head..with him nodding away and singing to the rhythm, and Mahendra Kapoor egging us on. We were having fun. when.suddenly the door tothe booth had my mother standing there with a horrified look on her face , and signalling me to stop instantly.. I looked at her and said “but uncle allowed me to do it”. Manna Da immediately admonished my mother and said he and I were rehearsing our song, and he had given me full permission to play tabla! I looked accusingly at my mother and said “see?” Her apologies were pooh-paahed by MannaDa and she went back to the recording room. We finally got to sing our song, and get it recorded .. both of them treating me with courtesy, like an equal singer..Later, MannaDa and Mahendra Kapoor graciously and happily signed my lyrics sheet for me..sadly there were no mobile phones then, and we hadn’t carried our camera, and missed a golden opportunity to take a photo with these two amazing singers and giants of the playback industry. My mom carefully filed the lyric sheet in a scrapbook she has made, with cuttings and photos of as many of my achievements that she could get. In later years, I realized how both of them taught me how to sing at the mike, wear the headphones so I could hear myself and the track, helped my Hindi pronunciation, and did it without it becoming a lesson! I am truly blessed to have shared a song and the same mike and booth with these thorough gentlemen and iconic legendary singers.
By 18 , HMV, now known as Saregama, launched me as a pop singer with my own Hindi pop album named ” Kaun Hai Woh?” abd nominated for best debut by Channel V. I went on to be the voice of India’s first cab service Meru, in three different languages, till I relocated to Auckland New Zealand after marriage. In 1997, my father was representing India at the International Spring Festival in Pyongyang, capital of North Korea.. I went with them officially, as part of his troupe. I got the golden opportunity to sing with him in Hindi and English, dressed in Indian traditional wear. North Korea is a beautiful country, Pyongyang has a huge Olympic size stadium where we performed. We toured around performing and trying out interesting cuisines. Over 45 countries were participating and the finale was an astounding Closing Ceremony.. Out of over 45 countries, our indian troupe was declared one of the best, with interviews by the media, and my dad was adjudged the Best Vocal Singer!! With a plaque with his name written in the Korean and English language, and a gold Cup! And I went on stage with him to receive it. It was an amazing opportunity, for me as a teenager, visiting North Korea, and experiencing their unique culture and cuisine, and making friends with artistes from all over the world.
My journey continued for me here in Auckland. I had the honour and privilege to sing for successive Prime Ministers of New Zealand, at prestigious awards functions..
Auckland is a paradise, with a dynamic young Prime Minister in Jacinda Ardern..This city is home to some of my dad’s music colleagues who have relocated here. My musical journey continues with doing some fabulous shows, Bollywood music and Rock shows, with Nasha, a troupe formed by Auckland’s famed drummer and music director Mark Pinto de Menezes, who has played and performed with my father! As also singing with the fine pianist and composer Ben Fernandes, who has also performed with my dad. Imagine…both these artistes have worked with two generations of Bhendes!! My dad and myself! I’ve also ventured into singing Indo-western jazz with the wiz sitarist Purbayan Chatterjee, and it’s given me a unique, exciting and challenging opportunity to experiment with this genre of music. My musical journey has enriched my life, and has taken me into various interesting areas, and accorded opportunities to learn and experiment with different genres of music and make some amazing friends. Music has truly been a blessing ..and best of all, it has helped me take my father, Nandu Bhende’s legacy forward.