In the story of Ranu Mondal’s life, there are two principal characters — Jesus Christ and Himesh Reshammiya. On Wednesday afternoon, she thanked them both profusely at the launch of her first song, Teri meri kahani. “I want to thank Jesus, because he loves me and has given me so much,” she says in English, her voice barely reaching the back of Screen 1 at PVR Juhu in Mumbai. But it’s loud enough to make a woman in the audience gasp — “She speaks English!” — and the rest of the room murmur appreciatively.
Mondal, 58, sees the effect on the crowd, switches to Hindi, and continues, “I’m so happy to be here. It’s been possible because of Jesus and Himeshji — he turned my tears of sorrow into tears of joy.” The audience applauds the sentiment, and Reshammiya cries as well, refusing a handkerchief from his wife to wipe away his tears. Can you blame him? It’s not often that a press conference mimics cinema, but Mondal’s story is everything reel dreams are made of.
By now, most of us know how it all began — nearly a month ago, Atindra Chakraborty, a 20-something engineer, heard Mondal hum a song while he was waiting for a train at the Ranaghat junction platform in West Bengal. He asked her if she would sing a song for him and Mondal obliged; the video he made of her singing Lata Mangeshkar’s Ek pyaar ka nagma hai (Shor, 1972) went viral on social media before news channels swooped in, calling Mondal “the next Lata”, something that grand lady of playback singing doesn’t approve of. A performance on Superstar Singer on Sony TV brought her to Reshammiya’s attention — he promised her a recording contract on the spot. Overnight, Mondal became a star, amassing thousands of fans, a backstory featuring Feroz Khan, and a Wikipedia page that says she’s a “distant relative of Dhinchak Pooja”.
A few weeks later, another video surfaced. This time, it was of Reshammiya making good on his promise, encouraging Mondal as she sang Teri meri kahani, the first of three songs Reshammiya is said to be working on with her. Mondal’s Bollywood career coincides with Reshammiya’s comeback as an actor, sans cap, in a double role in the upcoming film, Happy Hardy and Heer. “I hadn’t seen the video before I heard her live on Superstar Singer. Her voice has a power that led me to sign her on. I was looking for a voice that could sing a beautiful alaap. When I began my career, I was only a producer of serials, but I was supported by so many people, my father, Salman Khan…now, I’m just paying it forward,” says Reshammiya.
In addition to Teri meri kahani, the composer-singer-actor also screened the video of Heeriye from the film; the prelude is a straight lift from Coldplay’s Life in technicolor from their 2008 album, Viva La Vida.
Dressed in a cherry-red silk saree, Mondal is still getting used to public adulation. “I always loved singing, and if I didn’t sing, I felt unfulfilled. I taught myself to sing by listening to Hindi film songs by Lataji, Rafi saab. I lived in Feroz Khan’s house as a helper, but he’d never heard me sing. I saw a lot of people from the industry at his house, but I never approached anybody. My life took a different turn, but I never lost hope that, one day, I would become a professional singer,” she says.
Even before its official release, Teri meri kahani has become a hit — it’s being played on phones, being used as a ringtone, and even as a background score for a TikTok video of a man playing carrom. As the press conference draws to an end, the audience clamours for a live performance. Reshammiya’s fans in the audience shout “HR! HR! HR! Jai Mata Di!” as he prepares to sing but Mondal beats him to it. She takes the microphone and begins; her voice comes out shaky and uneven. “She’s new to this, so please don’t judge this performance,” says Reshammiya, and sings his part in his characteristically nasal style. Mondal looks on, dazed and grateful, with a slight recognition of what stardom looks like.