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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

When they were called in to audition at the Y-Films studio, none of these artists knew that their songs would become an instant youth anthem. Khevna Pandit talks to the Six Pack Band — India’s first transgender band — to find out all about their journey so far

With their power-packed songs and lively energy, the Six Pack Band has been charming everyone with a range of enthusiastic performances! India’s first transgender band consists of Bhavika Patil, Fida Khan, Chandrika Suvarnakar, Asha Jagtap, Ravina Jagtap and Komal Jagtap, and is all set to break records and change stereotypes. Apart from winning the Cannes Grand Prix Lion Award, they’ve released five videos and are all set to release a sixth. We spoke to the band as well as their producer, Shameer Tandon, to find out more about their early days and life after their songs became sensational YouTube hits.

  •  There’s been crazy Six Pack Band fever recently! Tell us something about your journey?

The band: Our journey has been a life changing experience. Our life was monotonous. We used to work hard for our daily needs, just like everyone else in the community. Our social status was bad and not many people accepted us for who we were! When the band was formed, we were so happy with the feeling and thought that came from Shameer Tandon and Y-Films. We felt as though this would be the turning point in our lives and a great chance to change everyone’s mindset towards our community.

Shameer: The idea came from Ashish Patil of YRF (Yash Raj Films). He called and asked me if I would be interested in putting together India’s first hijra band. The rest is history. The hunt was a rollercoaster ride. We didn’t know whether we should announce the auditions in a newspaper or on television or on the internet, as we were oblivious about what media the community had the most access to. So, we started the hunt organically. We went to railway stations, on trains, traffic signals and hutments in smaller pockets in and around the city. We met over 200 people and then shortlisted them. It was difficult to pull them out for auditions as they had no faith in anyone. They thought it was a joke. Our most difficult task was to win their trust. There were ugly instances, the worst being when a building didn’t permit transgenders to rehearse for us. It was almost as if they were saying dogs and transgenders are not permitted. Our win at Cannes, the Grand Prix Glass Lion, makes us feel as though all the struggle we put in was worth it and that people around the world have taken notice of the endeavour.

  •  So, the audition process was obviously far from easy. What was that like — putting the band together and starting off?

The band: We didn’t really know too much about the auditions initially, but we were told that this was going to be something big with a renowned production house. When we gave our second and third audition, we finally found what the concept was. The idea of acceptance motivated us and we were totally dedicated after that. After the selection, the serious work started! The experience has been a dream come true and there has been such a positive response that it really makes us feel more accepted in society. It’s all thanks to YRF, Shameer Tandon our producer and Ashish Patil (of YRF).

  •  Since the band is all about breaking preconceived notions that people have about the transgender community, tell us what sort of changes and reactions you’ve seen so far.

Komal: There has actually been a major change in my life personally. For years my family refused to accept me or to talk to me, but since this project, they have started talking to me again.

Fida: I always stayed with my parents. I am grateful to God that they accepted me. However, the people who stayed around us never accepted me or my family, and after the videos came out, people have started talking to us again.

Chandni: I can think of one incident that happened with me personally that has stuck with me. I was walking on the road and a man stopped to talk to me. He recognised me as part of the Six Pack Band. The feeling was awesome! The man congratulated me and gave the entire band his best wishes. He even said that we were lucky to work with big stars and he wished he could also meet them, but is happy enough to meet me.

Shameer: The age-old stigma is not easy to get rid of overnight. We had set out with the objective that even if we were able to change just a few minds, we would feel as though we had done a good job. But, to our surprise, lakhs of people are now softer and more welcoming of them. The new generation is open to having them in their classrooms and in their work spaces, and is treating them as equals. The band has acted as a good platform for them to speak up about how they feel, about their desires and their wish to be integrated into mainstream society.

  • Tell us about a few light moments you’ve had while shooting for videos or during auditions. Do you have any favourite or fond memories?

The band: The best thing is that there was always a great sense of respect from Shameer, his team, Y-Films and the directors and choreographers that we worked with. They never made us feel different. They taught us patiently and were there for whatever we needed. The shoots were all a lot of fun.

Shameer: The funniest moment for me was when a couple of boys who wanted to make it to the band came draped in sarees and sang very well. However, we identified them as men and had to throw them out. I would like to give a special salute to Sonu Nigam though, who hugged them and was the first celebrity to stick his neck out and take a risk to sing with all of the band members, without any fear of tarnishing his larger-than-life, superstar image.

  •  You have worked with sensations like Hrithik Roshan and Sonu Nigam to date. Tell us about the experiences you’ve had!

The band: Sonu Nigam was around during the launch of the band! It was like a dream come true. Working with all the stars was a heavenly feeling for all of us. They worked professionally and always treated us with great respect and dignity.

  •  Will we be seeing you live soon? Tell us something about the current project that you’re working on.

The band: For now, all of us are looking forward to the release of our sixth song. It’s going to be a great finale for the six of us. Hopefully we will soon be on stage for all our loved ones and fans to hear us live.

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