Never the nerd in school, Arjun Kanungo always managed to scrape through his exams. “During my board exams, my friend, who was the class topper, would teach me those portions that were sure to appear in the question paper and I used to spend about 45 minutes to an hour with him,” the 29-year-old singer recalls. “This was the routine for every subject and I managed to pass with 41.1 per cent marks.”
However, if marks were to be awarded for staying out of trouble, he would have scored the maximum. “I always managed to get away with things,” he says. “Yes, I was definitely very naughty. But aren’t all kids supposed to be? The difference was that I used to be smart and cautious; as a matter of fact, I still am!”
He may not have been a trophy child but he sure did bring home a couple of trophies and medals. Inspired by his lawyer-mother Sheila Kanungo, who won silver in 10m air pistol pair at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, Arjun took up the sport. He is a three-time national gold medal winner in centre-fire pistol. “I have a deep relation with guns. You can never be half-hearted when it comes to shooting. There is no opponent, which means you cannot blame anybody for your actions. It is the same in real life—you are responsible for your actions. I love how the sport teaches one so many life lessons,”he says. He also played basketball at the national level. Whether it is shooting targets or hoops, he says sports has helped him stay focused and honest in life. “I really enjoy engaging in sporting activities. Even now, whenever I get time, I go play basketball with my friends,” he says.
Music happened much later in his life. Nobody in his family had anything to do with music. “It was sudden. But I felt it so strongly,” he says. After finishing high school, Arjun was about to pursue a graduate course in architecture. “My family is in the construction business, so it made sense to go for architecture or anything related to construction,” he says. In search of a good university, he went to New York. He fell in love with music there. “I had friends who were studying at The Julliard School for performing arts and I used to hang out with them,”he says. “It was amazing to see the passion with which they worked and made music—so driven and purposeful. They put their everything into it. And there it happened—I fell in love with the art.”
He came back to India and pursued a graduate course in mass media at R.D. National College, Mumbai. He also decided to open a recording studio; he was only 18 then. “My parents were supportive but I wanted to take responsibility for my actions. So, I took a loan to open my studio,”he says. Arjun started delving deep into music through his recording studio Promethean Audio. Later, he diversified into acoustic design and construction with his second venture, Promethean Design.
“Asha Bhosle’s team used to come to my studio for recording their work. They knew I could play the guitar but they wanted someone who could sing as well. So, they asked me if I could take it up. I never did any professional singing at the time but I still gave it a shot and the rest, as they say, is history,”says Arjun. He got into playback singing and his first commercial success came with the song Khoon Choos Le in the 2013 film Go Goa Gone, starring Saif Ali Khan. He toured with Asha Bhosle and also started doing solo shows; he also lent his voice for several Bollywood films.
Interestingly, despite all this, Arjun felt out of place. He calls it the lowest point of his life. “I wanted to figure out if I fit in the industry. I wasn’t very happy with what I was doing in music and that made me really depressed. I didn’t want to feel that way because I really love music. So, I decided to take a break that year,” he says. According to Arjun, everybody feels lost at some point or the other. “I had times when I felt I didn’t know the way. But in my lows, my mother has been a big guide. She is very grounded and whenever I was in doubt, she was there for me. I always pick people who are grounded to be around me,” he says.
However, Arjun wisely used the break to his advantage; he went to study acting at Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York. After finishing his training in method acting, he took up musical theatre and decided to pursue acting in India. “The funny thing is that I was signed by a music label just two weeks post my arrival. Here I was, trying to start my career in acting, and then music comes calling. It is interesting where life takes you,”he says.
Soon Arjun churned out his debut single with rapper Badshah—’Baaki Baatein Peene Baad’—which became a party anthem in 2015. The song not only fetched him popularity but also the Global Music Academy Awards that year. Then he launched his next single, ‘ Fursat’, which was applauded for the concept of the video. “‘Fursat’ is very close to my heart. I am very patriotic and people who work for the Army are very close to my heart. I respect them a lot, especially the women, who sacrifice so much for the country. Through the song and the video, I wanted to talk about how a partner should care for his wife,” says Arjun. Even his recent launch ‘Tu Na Mera’ is set in a combat zone. The song, presented by VYRL Originals, is a modern love ballad that shows the life of a commando and his unrequited love; the lyrics were penned by Kunal Verma and the video was directed by Danny Mamik. “It was very stressful working for this video but it was also fun. Danny has done an incredible job with the video,” he says. From kickboxing and tae kwon do to combat and stunt training, Arjun used to train for almost eight hours a day to perfect his moves. “It took us months to come up with a blueprint for the video. We practised action sequences, planned all the nuances and shot the video in three consecutive days,” he says.
According to Arjun, the NSG (National Security Guard) jackets used in the video were the real ones; they borrowed it for the shoot from a troop. “We purposely put the female commando in the video as we wanted to talk about the battle of sexes in NSG. The last woman NSG commando left after she got pregnant. It is sad that there are no more women in the troop,” he says. Most people don’t know that the female soldiers joining NSG undergo 90-day rigorous training and are at par with the male commandos. “In the video we show how the female commando is as strong as the man but we wanted to put it across uniquely. I think we achieved that,” says Arjun.
He thinks that the Indian music industry needs to focus more on original work and stop recreating things. “For some reason Bollywood has given up on original compositions and they have been recreating stuff. I am not against recreating stuff. Wait, maybe I am. I take that back. I am against recreations. If you are recreating something, give it a new twist or a new vibe. Give something new to the audience,” he says.
Talking about something new, guess what is new in Arjun’s life—a new role! On January 16, 2020, Arjun announced his acting debut with Salman Khan’s Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai, on his social media platform. He posted a screenshot of the news story in the Hindustan Times, with a caption that read:
“First big drop of 2020! You will see me acting in #Radhe this Eid! A huge, huge thank you to the amazing @beingsalmankhan for believing in me and giving me this opportunity. New year, new goals!”
The post came as a surprise to many since Arjun, who is super active on social media, did not even give a hint to his followers on what was brewing. But after his big revelation, he started posting Instagram stories of the set and him taking one flight after another for shoots at different locations.
Recently, he posted a picture of a blood clot on his arm. “Black and blue from a little scene in #Radhe…loving it! #notmakeup,” he wrote.
An action role maybe? Clearly, he wants to keep the suspense but at the same time he also wants to leave his followers thinking. “I am very excited about my role in Radhe; it is completely Salman bhai’s vision for me. It means a lot to me that he gave me a chance,” says Arjun. The film marks Salman’s third collaboration with Prabhu Deva, and is scheduled to hit the screens this Eid.
“To work on projects as big as this and with megastars is a dream come true for many. I haven’t been able to sleep most nights since we started filming,” he admits.
What more can an artist ask for?
“I believe the universe gives you what you settle for. Things happen in your life when they are meant to and I feel like 2020 is the year acting will become an important part of my career as an entertainer. With this project, I felt it was the right time and the right character,” he says.
So, what about music, you may ask.
“Music will always have equal importance. It means everything to me,”says Arjun. “Even if I wouldn’t have become successful in my career, I would have still taken up music. Everything I have is because of music. It was not just another career option for me; I had plenty of options. But I chose music despite the fact that it is one of the most difficult career paths to take. I am glad I was stupid and took the risk. It is 100 per cent worth it. I believe I can do both if I work hard.”
According to him, musicians evolve with time; the rate of change in one’s way of creating music is directly proportional to the number of experiences. “I feel that the goal of music is to make someone feel an emotion. Only when you feel something deeply can you make someone else feel that emotion. You become more honest with music, the more you live with it. I found my purpose in music,” he says.
Apart from music and acting, Arjun loves nature—everything green and clean. He is a promoter of green energy and alternate sources of energy. His house in Bandra has a solar-energy system in place; it alternates between conventional electricity and solar-powered electricity. He even posted a short video of the solar panels on Twitter after he got it set up. He calls the setup “his new solar system” in the video and hash-tagged it #TheFutureIsSolar. The artist also gave up on red meat and milk, and prefers to carpool or walk to reach his destination and disposes waste intelligently. He has a farm on the outskirts of Mumbai, where he has planted more than 800 trees. According to him, a lot of what he eats at home comes from the farm. “I have over 200 plants in my home. I love watering and taking care of it,” he says.
Arjun is also fond of animals but he thinks that owning a pet at this point in his life is not a wise thing to do. “I had a dog for 16 years but he passed away four years ago. I never got a dog after that. Somehow, I couldn’t. But I think it is mostly because I feel like I won’t be able to take care of it since I travel a lot. I would love to own one but I think the responsible way to go about it is that I don’t. As of now, I want to focus on the film,” he says.
And he is right. “The character I play in Radhe is quite nuanced. I can’t reveal much though. All I can say is that people are going to be surprised to see me in a character like this,” he says. Looks like we will have to wait till May to know what the big hush-hush is all about. n
Matters of the heart
Tall, handsome and a singer to boot, Arjun Kanungo ticks all the right boxes. He has worked with some gorgeous women, from artists like Jonita Gandhi and Momina Mustehsan to models like Ksenia Kahnovich (Ek Dafaa) and Sonal Chauhan (Fursat). And, he has quite a few crazy female fans who have tattooed his name on their bodies. Hate to break it to you girls, but our boy is taken.
Arjun met his girlfriend Carla Dennis, a South African model and actor, on the sets of his debut single, Baaki Baatein Peene Baad. She was also in Arjun’s recent indie pop song, Tu Na Mera. “We did not start dating immediately after we met; we were friends for a couple of years,” says Arjun. “I have known her for quite some time and I think she is one of the strongest women I have met. She is not only beautiful but also carries such an amazing energy. She is a go-getter, and is definitely
everything I look for in a partner.”
According to Arjun, love is one of the most important components of living—a good relationship is what keeps one happy. “I feel it is important to value love,” he says. He also thinks that a relationship takes on a life of its own. “It should always grow organically,” he says. “We definitely have more freedom than our parents did and I think what two people decide between themselves is nobody’s business except their own. It is all about choice and not following a tradition. I think cohabitation is alright just like how I am okay with couples having children without getting married.”
When it comes to his idea of an ideal date, Arjun likes staying at home with some good take-out food and a movie. “I like talking when I am on a date. I want the other person to be able to hear me and vice-versa. So, I don’t prefer crowded places where there is a lot of background noise,” he says.
First memory of Valentine’s Day
I had my first girlfriend when I was 13. As children, we tend to do funny things. I remember buying her a can of Coca Cola and a packet of chips for Valentine’s Day. It was all that I could afford at that time. She also did something similar; she got me a packet of biscuits. It was a sweet gesture. We were young, we didn’t have any money and despite all that we got each other something. I think that made it special.
What’s on Arjun’s plate?
Early morning: I start my day by drinking a lot of water.
Breakfast: A glass of orange juice, six egg whites, five almonds and one apple.
Lunch: Grilled chicken with
sautéed vegetables or a tuna sandwich. At times, I stick to roti, sabzi and curd.
Mid-day snack: Protein bar or mixed dry fruits.
Dinner: Two rotis with dal and
any green vegetable.
At a glance
A show you binge-watched.
I recently finished watching the Netflix series Jamtara: Sabka Number Ayega. I loved it.
Your first crush.
When I was six, I had a crush on this girl called Shibani. I have no clue what she is up to now.
A lie you told your parents that you distinctly remember.
One lie that I clearly remember is about how I never smoked. I started smoking when I was 13 and then made the healthy choice of quitting it before I turned 20.
A song you keep humming.
‘Tujhe kitna chahne lage’ by Mithoon. I absolutely love this song.
Your idea of a perfect getaway.
Anywhere quiet and clean. I love Japan; I love the food there and also the people.
One thing you always wanted to do but never did.
I don’t think there is anything. I have always tried to do what I wanted to even if I failed at it.
A weird habit.
I plan a lot; I would call myself a walking planner. Even the mundane things, I just need to see a plan for it.
Something you would tell your younger self.
Don’t worry about anything. Things will get better irrespective of what is happening at the moment. Finally, everything just falls into place.
I am doing one right now—Radhe—with Salman Khan. I am super happy that Salman bhai thought about me for the movie.
A person you look up to.
My mother; she is my idol.
Sushi or ramen
Favourite fictional character.
There is this character I made for my comic series; he is called Veer. We are planning on launching it mid-2020.
Tesla. Sadly, India isn’t getting one anytime soon.
Arjun’s top ten must-listen
1. Baaki Baatein Peene Baad
3. La La La
4. Aaya Na Tu
5. Woh Baarishein
6. Ek Dafaa
7. Gallan Tipsiyaan
8. Hona Chaida
9. Sanam Mere Sanam
10. Tu Na Mera