A magical turn of events involving postcards, planetariums, vegan restaurants and LA’s sunset, somehow led singer Anushka Manchanda to rekindle with a word from her childhood. A word she used to call herself by. A word that would be a great alias for her music project. But it needed something more. It needed to have a resonance with her recently amplified consciousness for the environment. It needed to also have resonance with the dynamic creativity which was going to be associated with her new solo endeavour. It needed, meaning. So she went ahead and gave it one :
“NUKA stands for Nature’s Universal Kinetic Ascension”
Semi-drenched in the Mumbai monsoon, I’m greeted by Anushka at her friend’s Versova apartment. The first thing that strikes me is how tall and pretty she is, perhaps because the last time I saw her, she was half-human and half-rhinoceros. Mine (and the world’s) first introduction to NUKA was through a mesmerizing photo-series. Set against a misty and grim backdrop, the series of photographs by Pretika Menon of this mythical horned creature are captivating to say the least. However these photographs climax into a jolting and harrowing image of the creature being de-horned with blood oozing from her forehead. A stab at animal poaching, I would later find out that was exactly the kind of reaction Anushka wanted to evoke.
The room has a palpable sense of hustle with people pacing in and out throughout our conversation. Sometime it’d be a manager, sometime a producer or sometime a director, all of them collectively putting their best foot forward for Nuka’s music video for her single, ‘Don’t Be Afraid’, our main topic of discussion.
“As an artist I feel setting boundaries or limitations to yourself is so stupid now,” says Anushka. She explains that the sense of complete freedom is the core pheromone for her creativity. Bollywood playback singing, a space she’s predominantly known for, always felt like a ‘job’ and would somehow end up falling somewhere in a varied spectrum of artistic compromise. But with Nuka, things are different, “I’ve always been a boss”, she chuckles, “but this is where I can really do whatever I want and however I want it.”
I couldn’t keep myself from geeking out over the sheer brilliance of the ‘Don’t Be Afraid’ music video. Its hauntingly moody aesthetics are championed by powerfully lush visuals. After the ambience is set, the music kicks in with Anushka gasping for air inside a funeral pyre. We later infer that her character is dead and a mournful set of family members and friends, played by her actual family and friends, are performing the needed rituals. The visual story explores her fascination with death, death culture, euthanasia and after life. The video finally culminates into her transforming into a tree, a nod to how energy is always transformed and never created or destroyed. Anushka commends the director, long time collaborator Navzar Eranee, by saying, “He’s a great storyteller. He wrote the script down in a flash. More than anything else he understands the person I am, sometimes maybe more than I do.”
“Don’t be afraid.
Don’t be alarmed.
I’ll not fire.
The song was originally written from the perspective of a tree. Anushka’s love for animal and nature is a vital constituent of the Nuka brand. The earlier mentioned photo-series did spark a conversation online with regards to treatment of animals and also led Anushka to collaborate with certain wildlife conservation institutions. She recently turned vegan and is highly aware of any products she consumes. Despite the almost political nature of the stance she’s taking with the content being put out, she doesn’t want to restrict herself from making more lighter and fun songs, “I don’t want to be a ‘crusader’ of sorts. I just want to express myself.”
The air of creative freedom does promise an exciting range of possibilities. Doing things on her own terms, Anushka has also become more conscious of the kind of Bollywood music projects she takes up. Fully aware that she might lose money and work, she’s dead against taking up any songs which might even remotely be derogatory or suggestive in a poor taste. “I’m vocal about so many things and the one thing I’m not is a hypocrite”, Anushka stands her ground.
Nuka is adamant about producing her own music. Nuka is keen on learning how to shoot, so that she can express herself better. Nuka will also drop more photo-series, songs and collaborations. So Don’t Be Afraid, there’s more to come!
You can view the ‘Don’t Be Afraid’ Music Video here.
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