Aasma's here. 'Nuf said

Updated: Apr 13, 2020, 07:39 IST | Sonia Lulla | Mumbai

Quarantine brings Aasma, a band of four together for a virtual collaboration as they reminisce how their lives have changed post their dismemberment

Neeti Mohan, Sangeet Haldipur, Vasuda Sharma and Jimmy Felix
Neeti Mohan, Sangeet Haldipur, Vasuda Sharma and Jimmy Felix

After our rage-inducing internet connections compel us to move from Zoom to a telephonic conference call, Jimmy Felix tells us that the members of revered 2000s pop band, Aasma, were put into a similar state of lockdown as we currently are in, in 2003. During the three months that interrupted their winning the reality show that led to their formation, and the televised airing of that declaration, they were confined to a hotel room. "Since we didn't get any junk food, I befriended a watchman, and had him get us biscuits and wafers from a general store. We'd fill a suitcase with that food, and call it, Jimmy General Stores," says Felix, as other members, including Vasuda Sharma, Neeti Mohan and Sangeet Haldipur, break into a laugh.

The lifestyle-modifications that have become part and parcel of this period of isolation are made evident in this chat. There's discussion about how Neeti loves doing 'jhaadu' owing to the physical demands of the task, why a certain sabziwala continues to incessantly call Jimmy, and how household chores keep Sangeet from making live videos for fans. Put together, this cluster needs no one to stay entertained. We let them take over.

Neeti: I never thought that we would do an interview over Zoom! I am at a farmhouse in Umbergaon, which is three hours away from Mumbai. A fun fact about this place is that the Ramayana used to be shot here. Luckily, we are not in an apartment. If I was, I would have felt claustrophobic. Here, we are able to run around. But the downside is that I haven't seen my parents in 33 days.

Jimmy to Neeti: You and your family set an example by instantly isolating yourselves after returning from Australia. But, I'm sure there must be things you are looking forward to doing once you return.
Neeti: I want to see my parents, in-laws, and grandmother. Importantly, I also want to go to a salon and remove my moustache.

Jimmy to Vasuda: How did you feel when the Prime Minister re-tweeted your song [a promotion of the 9pm9minutes initiative] ?
Vasuda: God knows how it reached him [Narendra Modi]. He posted it on his Twitter, and then, [my husband and I] started getting calls. I'm not usually star-struck, but the two of us have been doing everything that he [Modi] has been saying, because we believe in what he is doing for the country. We were so happy that he noticed it.
Sangeet, to the band: Talking about social media, do you think things would have been different if social media was as prominent as it is today, when Aasma was formed?
Neeti: In 2003, when reality shows began becoming popular, the things that we got to experience then were amazing.
Vasuda: I agree. What we experienced then, and given the resources that we had, I think, we got the best of what was possible. We were backed by [big] music labels. Also, the generation that grew up on our songs still remembers numbers like Chandu ke chacha and Tumse hi pyaar. They enjoyed [enormous] growth. We got the best of everything.

Sangeet, to the band: Do you wish there was anything else we had done back then?
Neeti: We would have benefited if, as artistes, we were guided on how to take our journey forward. Also, [India] does not accept music bands. We had to find individual jobs because we couldn't survive as a band. I wish we had someone who could tell us how to create opportunities for ourselves. We were depending on others, who were taking calls for us.
Sangeet: I also wish we had made more music. Often, we depended on others to create music for us when we could have done that ourselves. Maybe, that would have changed people's perception [of bands]. For instance, the [celebrated] boy-band Sanam rose to fame only after they made covers of [other popular] songs. So, I wish people had a different approach towards original music.
Neeti: But we could have done that had we [had reason to] be motivated enough. [We did not] because we didn't know where [our efforts would take us]. Even when we performed live, we had to perform film songs, along with those from our repertoire. We had to [take measures to] survive in Mumbai.

Vasuda, to the band: How do you think you have evolved, both as a person, and an artiste?
Neeti: On the work front, I got to meet amazing people, and understood that there's a lot to learn from everyone you collaborate with. But, personally, I had been searching for a soul-mate for very long. I started thinking I would never find one, and had given up. But, thanks to Jimmy, I met Nihaar [Pandya, actor]. Now, it's blissful, and I am enjoying my life.

Neeti to Jimmy: How did you think of getting us together?
Jimmy: Nihaar's mother would often tell me she wanted to see him settled. Also, when I told Neeti [that I was going to get married], I remember how happy she was. But, I also realised that she would have thought that she was the only single one among the four of us. I told her I would find someone for her. The only person I instantly thought about was Nihaar.

Jimmy to Sangeet: We were so proud when we learnt that [your father, noted composer Amar Haldipur] was recently awarded. He is a living legend. How did this recognition make you feel?
Sangeet: Ironically, this is the first award of his life; the first time that the Hindi film industry has given him a [gong]. I was sitting anxiously in the audience, hoping he wouldn't say anything embarrassing. He just greeted people and bounced within 30 seconds.

Neeti to Sangeet: How do you feel about the lineage you come from?
Sangeet: I had a privileged upbringing and was lucky to have someone at home who was in the field that I eventually made a career in. I can't match up to him because there was a different kind of sincerity and passion involved in becoming the artiste that he is. But, getting that kind of knowledge was a boon.

Neeti to Sangeet: As someone who has been in a couple of bands, why do you think bands don't last here?
Sangeet: The band culture has never been looked upon highly [in India]. For many, music itself is considered nothing more than a hobby. But for those who decide to pursue it, it is a career. There needs to be a change in the attitudes of those who consume music. Band [members] have different energies, and temperaments. To fight that, and then also fight the people who you are playing for, becomes too much to handle.

Sangeet, to the band: Which band-member do you envy, and why?
Neeti: I love how self-motivated Vasuda is.
Sangeet: I agree, I also [envy how] Vasuda had the [courage] to go to Berkeley and learn music. It's something I had wanted to do since college.

Jimmy, to the band: What do you think this lockdown has taught you?
Vasuda: I think this is the time to learn a new skill. Enjoy dividing tasks at home. Also, we are privileged to have our house helps. [This situation teaches us that] we have to be self-sufficient and capable of doing things on our own. This period has taught us that no matter what we have, we may need to do all [our work] on our own. All the money, estates and shares that one possesses and is proud of, can be locked down. We need to value the life given to us, and value our environment too.

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