Sushant Divgikar AKA Rani Ko-He-Nur are Namaslaying the world in a way not many have done. From Bandra to the world, their story gives inspiration, instils courage, and empowers people to be who they are. They are one of the finest performing artiste-singer, actor and equal rights champion we have seen in the contemporary times. A youth icon, carving a space for inclusion and breaking barriers they are not afraid to make their voices heard. We had a candid conversation with the powerhouse talent and here are the excerpts:
From performing at Hard Rock Café in 2017 to now, where you are on board with ‘Thank You For Coming’, how do you reflect on your journey?
I essentially started way back in my teens, at literally each and every club, be it for opening for bands, artists, etc. I remember, one of the first biggest shows for me, relative to the age, was when I was to perform at Blue Frog when I was about 17. Because I was performing, my entire class had an opening into coming over to the club, which otherwise they wouldn’t have been allowed to, being below 21 years’ mark. We had a lot of fun there. I also performed at some of the clubs in and around suburbs and South Mumbai. From there, I dabbled into TV becoming a host where I couldn’t give time to music. But, after a few years I realised that music and stage are my calling. This is from where the journey of these 17 years started and this is where I am as a performer. I am glad that from where I started to where I am, in a theatrical release, my manifestations have come alive.
‘Pari Hoon Main’ from ‘Thank You For Coming’:
What is the message that you, as an artist, carry for the society in general?
I have always maintained that art has no barriers, language, gender, etc., it’s the barriers that we create, and art has the power to break them. I am lucky that I am a medium through which I can carry the message of enjoying art without judging the artist. When a person identifies and connects with my art, I have succeeded. A lot of us compete with others, be it for work, shows, looks, styling, etc., but the ones of who have been in the longer run, have always concentrated on their own next steps. I could, luckily, have this realisation much earlier in my life and this has played a huge role in me being authentic and me being non-judgemental about others. Always aim to better yourself and it will show in your art.
You can sing in two voices. How did this evolve for you?
I actually discovered it in my bathroom, Haha! Everyone is a bathroom singer till you are actually a singer, LoL. I can change the texture of my voice and can really go high pitch. And it so happened that my dad heard me, and he was surprised. He then took me to Soul Fry for karaoke, I sang there in two voices and people were awestruck. I met aunty Joyce (Malaika Arora’s mother) along with Amrita there, all of them kind of gave me standing ovation. This was a surreal moment for me. The evolution for me was so organic that I never realised how I tried to make it work, it just happened and kept getting better. From singing in front of 400 people to performing on stage in front of a crowd of over 10000 at international venues, it just evolved as I kept moving forward.
What is your take on the journey of Indie music from early days to now?
In India, we had a great era of pop music back in time when artists like Alisha Chinai, Shaan, Mika, Lucky Ali, Shweta Shetty, etc. came into becoming the top guns, as there were labels backing them. They were given the production values, songs, freedom and space to become the cult they became back then. Then, all these artists shifted to Bollywood music and made a great career for themselves. Thanks to this shift, we also got some of the most iconic songs coming out from movie industry. But this left a void in the independent music for a long time, about a decade and a half. Now, with the digital streaming platforms coming in, there is again a rise in the independent music. The concept of ‘you are a star if you have a big Bollywood song to your name’ is changing. Its now a great time for artists in general where they are taking the centre stage. This re-introduction of pop stars is an important phenomenon as they can drive culture, fashion, trends and much more through their art and representation.
What’s your take on the Live Music scene, specially because you are a power house performer yourself?
The live music scene needs to be revived to a much bigger scale. Specially in a city like Mumbai, we don’t have many venues where we can create a big event. I am so deep rooted in the live music scene that I can’t think of not being on stage and perform.
Rani KoHEnur Performs “Piya Tu Ab To Aja”, “Laila Main Laila” | Queen of the Universe
You have given faith to LGBTQ+ community to come on stage, express and be adored. What needs to be done more to empower LGBTQ+ community?
Firstly, I have always been open about my orientation and sexuality. Secondly, my parents always supported me and used to be in the crowd whenever I performed. Beyond this, I get booked as an artist because of my art. I started with a small band, and we grew from there because it was all heart, soul and music! It has got better with time, but it all started with some real struggles. And because I started from such a place where I had to slog, I can value the accolades coming to my way now. While a lot more has to be done for the community, but the starting point is that we need believe in ourselves, we need to slog and rise with our talent.
But let me also share one incident with you. Recently, I was asked to receive a very big award and a special category was created – LGBT Artist of the Year. I, of course, did not agree to this. I could not wrap my head around the terminology of LGBT singer. I think we need to let art compete with art, over and beyond gender differentiation. Put me and us in the mainstream and its fine for us to lose. Let it be in the open category, as the artist of the year, song of the year, etc, that’s the first step towards inclusivity and LGBT empowerment.
What should artists do for their art to be timeless?
For art and artist to be timeless, one needs to focus on being the finest artist over being the biggest star. We see stars coming in and fading away in a matter of 3-4 years. But if we look at Sunidhi Chauhan, Shreya Ghoshal, Usha Uthup, they are timeless. When they hold mic and sing, you know the voice. If anyone of our generation wants to be timeless, these are the real artists one should be revisiting and taking inspiration from. And I am not even going back to even bigger legends like Lata Ji or Asha Ji and many more. I think we need to respect ourselves and our art more to become timeless as an artist.
Have you faced challenges getting work as an artist from LGBTQ+ community?
It has taken me 17 years to be where I am only because of my gender. Till ‘Thank You For Coming’ I haven’t got any opportunity to sing for movies as a playback. Over many preceding years, I have been one of the most booked artists in the country, in my age relevant category. There are prevalent reservations, but ‘Thank You For Coming’ has taken the effort to bring a change to the perceptions. I hope to see more production houses taking the same courage and giving space to artists like me to be there and showcase our art.
Rani KoHEnur was a unique set that no-one had attempted, at least at the scale you did. How did it go for you?
There were a lot of challenges to bring this to reality. No one except, Keshav Suri, came up to give me a stage to perform. There were concerns from all the corners about what am I going to do with this drag-set, how will it be taken by the audience, etc. etc. But Keshav believed in my vision. He guided me all the way to put this in place. There have been people who have tried to attack me physically after the show. All these challenges, hate, etc. made me stronger and pushed me to create Rani KoHEnur to its best version that I could make. But I must also say that now people in general reach out to me with a lot of fondness for I could bring to the table with this act and how this has opened doors for many artists in my community to open up and express.
King and Sushant Divgikar AKA Rani-Ko-He-Nur in The Walk In India on Amazon Prime:
Tell us about your upcoming work
I am working on three originals to be released as singles. I am looking to work on an album, which is at a very nascent stage for now. Suzzane D’Mello is helping me create the melodies for the tracks. Raj Pandit is on board for the album as a producer. We are looking to bring a fusion of Rabab, Santoor, Guitar, etc. There are of course movies and a series that I have worked on. With our band Top Storey, we have new members now, working out phenomenally with me. There is new property we are working on, can’t disclose many details at this stage, one that has not been done before, will share more when it comes to being in shape.
Is there an artist you aspire to work with?
So, I being a Marathi, I would love to work with Ajay Atul. I want to sing for Ajay Atul and if I get that opportunity, I will be in heaven. 😊 But at the same time, I want to work in a way that makes the industry proud.
Sunidhi Chauhan and Sushant Divgikar AKA Rani-Ko-He-Nur in The Walk In India on Amazon Prime:
Tell us more about Yana Foundation
I have launched a foundation by the name Yana, as you rightly mentioned. The foundation focuses on skill building, healthcare and education for underprivileged children, especially from the LGBTQ+ community. Being an industrial psychologist, I have studied the impact of arts (music and dance) in stress management. Music for me is a therapy, but at the same time, I think everyone does not need to be a musician. You can be a technician handling sound, event manager handling live shows, artist manager working with artists, and so much more that you can do within the music industry. I am looking to help and develop skills to empower people to earn livelihoods. Building skills makes them believe in themselves and have a pride in being who they are. And I want to work more and harder to enable upliftment of children in the marginalised or underprivileged community.
Any additional comments?
I would like to add that every artist is about an entire team that prepares the artist for the show, acts, looks, etc., which makes the artist progress. In my case, Parambir has been through the toughest times and been with me for many years now. My team is like a family but at the same time, when its work its work. Beyond work, I know when I have to count on them, they will be there.
So here it is, all wrapped in the story on who the person behind the celebrity Sushant Divigikar is. As we look to follow on more to come from Sushant the musician, we are anyway enjoying the stint with ‘Thank You For Coming’!