Shweta's Story: How she found her true calling making music amidst the glamour and glitz

-By Shipra Mathur | 1st October 2018

As Indians in America, we often hear about other talented Indians achieving big things, but somehow we are supposed to be best at technology and science. Rarely do we get to hear about the Indians who are forging a path outside of those fields. At the Modern Indian, we wanted a create a space for you to get to all those other people. Hear about their stories and find out about their unconventional path to success.

Today, we are delighted to introduce you to one of these people. We had the pleasure of interviewing Shweta Subram, an immensely talented Canadian playback singer who has won multiple awards for her singing. Her YouTube videos have received almost 20 million views.


Read the full interview below:

Photo: Desiyup

Photo: Desiyup


Tell us a little about how you initially got into singing and how it became a profession?

So, tell us a little about how you initially got into singing and how it became a profession? 

I was an only child, so my parents were keen on making me very well rounded. As part of this goal, they enrolled me in music and dance activities. However, I was always very passionate about music. Singing was initially just a hobby, but then my parents started encouraging me to enter local and regional competitions, and as I started winning them, my interest grew deeper.

I was always very passionate about music, It started as a hobby. As the only child, my parents wanted me to be an all-rounder so they put me through Music school, dancing school along with studies. Typical south Indian, Indian parents. But after that, I started competing in competitions and started to win them as well. We were in Dubai, so they made this shift from Dubai to Canada. I was born and raised in Dubai, and moving to Canada made me angry, especially as this shift was done when I was about to graduate from high school. So I couldn't graduate with the friends I had for 16 years of my life. Now I had a new school, new life, and new friends, with a bit of culture shock as well. So I started focusing more on music. There was a competition that I participated in and won and that gave me a ticket to India. And that is when I started thinking about music more professionally than just a hobby. I realized that I was enjoying this very much and now would be a time to give it a shot and see what the scene is like in India and test the waters.

I think you're too involved with your friends and your social circle and are in your comfort zone, and then suddenly you’re put into this space where that’s not the case and you’re wondering, what’s next. Music was my friend at that time. And winning that competition and going to India opened up a whole career possibility for me that I never thought of.

So what happened when you went to India?

So what happened when you went to India?

So I went to India and now competed on a national level. Winning and coming in the top 10 is no joke. In that, I realized that people they breathe music, sleep music like its crazy how much devotion and how much time they put towards things like this. I wanted to see what else I can do in India. And while I was contemplating whether I should go back to Canada or stay back, there was a TV show, a production house that contacted me and asked me to be a part of a girl band they were forming. The sponsors were Sunsilk. Part of Hindustan Unilever Ltd. So they said they were looking for girls for this band who have a beautiful voice and beautiful hair.  So they brought me in with 4 other girls, it was a reality show and I did for 3-4 months. We were touring and doing all sorts of things. But there was a lot of drama since it was a reality show they had to infuse some reality into it. So you would meet people from the music industry like Leslie Lewis, we met music mentors, fashion gurus, hairstylist, they were teaching us how to dress up, how to look an artist. It was interesting and fun with a lot of drama, 5 of us living under one roof, It was a nightmare. We began touring as we were under zoom TV/Sunsilk contract. We were doing shows for them. That's when I thought to myself, “am I enjoying this?”. I always wanted to be recognized as an individual artist. I was part of a girl band and as you know girl band can be a bit “bitchy”. There was too much competition but not in a good way. Then I realize that I was singing just 2 lines as everyone has to get some exposure when you're part of a band. I was like “ no this is not making me happy.” I wanted to do my own thing and that's when I decided to come back to Canada. I thought this will give me time to create my own music. We live in the world of social media so I thought I will just make my own music and put it out there and see where it takes me.

How old were you when you moved to India?

I was 18-19

What was your parent's reaction to you moving to India all by yourself?

What was your parent's reaction to you moving to India all by yourself?

When I told them, they thought that I have won a competition and now going to India and will come back as its over. They didn't realize that I had big plans to stay back and be a part of this reality show. They were shocked that I took that decision. They were nervous. They were worried as I have not been raised in India I won't be street smart in India. It didn't help that I was living there alone. They were very very anxious and nervous. They kept trying to get me back. I told them that let me just see this through this opportunity has fallen into my lap and its a great opportunity and this may open some doors for me. It may lead to other opportunities, which it didn't but nevertheless, it was a great experience. I learned a lot from that. They were so relieved when I got back. That I was safe and Bollywood hasn't sucked me in. However, I did tell them that I want to still go back to India, as there are still many opportunities out there. Since I sing primarily Hindi music, Mumbai is the place for me to go. Like typical Indian parents we had our share of fights and arguments but being the only child I am also rebellious, so I said, “You know what, whether you say yes or no, I am getting on that flight”.

So how did you decide that you will go finish your university?

So how did you decide that you will go finish your university?

I had decided that I will go back to India once I graduate from university, so that's what happened. My parents told me that ok, you can do what you like but get your degree first. So that's what I did.

Did your parents get phone calls and letters from the relatives, saying “ how can you let your daughter do this?”

Did your parents get phone calls and letters from the relatives, saying “ how can you let your daughter do this?”

They did, but my parents, despite their inhibition, sounded like they were very supportive of this decision. As they didn't want me to fall into a negative light in front of people, as parents are so protective, They kept telling people that, “ she won this competition and she is very good, so this is her time to go”... Our friends weren’t the problem, they were proud of the fact that someone they knew is getting into the glamour world, but the relatives gave my parents a hard time.

So after university, you went back to India, then what happened?

So after university, you went back to India, then what happened?

I went back to India and started doing many shows, I was opening for people like Atif Aslam and others. At that time there was another reality show that came calling but I saw certain things that discouraged me and I decided to not go down that route. There was politics, borderline verbal assault, It was quite an eye-opener for me Cuz I didn't know that how it works behind the scene. It was all about the TRP ( television rating Point) and what regions the participants are from and will it help raise the TRP. and singing was not the priority. Also if you were from abroad, they would ask if you are pumping in money, so basically there were many factors for me to not do this. I was so dejected by the whole system that even to this date, I get emails from shows saying I will be a great contestant for this reality show and I don't even respond.

No doubt these shows give a massive boost to your PR and popularity but I didn't want to do it.

Do you think it helped that you weren't raised in India?

Do you think it helped that you weren't raised in India?

I would honestly give that credit to my parents. Every phone call it would be them telling me, reminding me what kind of family I am from, reminding me of the values they instilled in me.  Reminded me of integrity and self-respect. Honor and all the rest.

Were they scared?  

Were they scared?  

Oh yes, they were still scared, So as you know Indian parents will never just come out and say what they want to say, they will talk in circles, you know what they want to say, but they will never say it. So I told them over the phone that, “I know what you are trying to say and you must be listening to all the stories on media about what happens in this world and being a girl and the only child, I know you are really worried, but just trust me.” So it's sad that there are so many opportunities that I had to let go because of the way the system worked.

When you are far away you don't know fully all the craziness that happens in the glamour world. Which is why I started questioning it and decided to go back to Canada. So yeah, being from Canada and my family and the value system I have, I was able to put my foot down.

However I don't want to say that all is bad, there are some music directors who are really nice, extremely talented. Like Shankar Mahadevan, I have no words for that guy, he is an abundance of knowledge when it comes to music. He is a very honest, sincere and nice guy to deal with. But the problem is that if you have come across one or two negative experiences, you start questioning every single meeting, you walk in the room with doubt. Sometimes I felt like I should take a male friend with me, as it can become an unsafe environment for women so quickly.

So yeah, being from Canada and my family and the value system I have, I was able to put my foot down.

Music is not just voice anymore, its all about an image, dress a certain way, look a certain way. And for me, the added problem was that I was Canadian and the attitude was, “oh she is born and raised abroad, she must be very broad-minded. “I am sure she is willing to do anything for an opportunity.”

Do you think it’s easier for men in and that's why it's so dominated by men?

Do you think its easier for men in and that's why it's so dominated by men?
I want to say that men have it easy, but I have heard that's not the case, Frankly I feel like if you   have a godfather in the industry or a family member in the industry who can literally hold your hand and take you there and introduce you to the right people, its a very difficult journey.

I want to say that men have it easy, but I have heard that's not the case, Frankly I feel like if you   have a godfather in the industry or a family member in the industry who can literally hold your hand and take you there and introduce you to the right people, it’s a very difficult journey.
That's why we only see kids of the famous actors being promoted and you accuse them of being nepotism, but the fact is that there is no one else coming in because its so tough and they can't break through the unsafe and highly difficult environment for an outsider to become successful.

Like look at Suhaana khan ( daughter of popular Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan), what has she accomplished to be on the cover of Vogue? And this is why the outside world doesn't truly get to understand India because all we are elevating is Abhishek Bachchan and Suhaana khan and they are not the proper representation

So are you still with Shankar Mahadevan?

So are you still with Shankar Mahadevan?

So after I moved back to Canada I started composing my own songs. In fact, two of my songs became very popular and led me to meet Salim Sulaiman the famous directors from Bollywood and they gave me an opportunity to perform with them in IIFA. that was 2011. Lots of other collaborations happen.   in the industry I was getting recognized as an artist who would not just wait around for an opportunity to come b, doing scratches for another artist in the hopes to get recognized but as someone who was not just a singer but a songwriter. And then I competed in the Shankar Mahadevan's academy and I won that as well. I also got to work on a workshop with him.

The piano guys were one of the best collaborations to death. With 20 M views. With that, I realized I could do so much here and don't need to be in India.

So you were focusing on your career and traveling, did you ever feel the pressure to get married?

So you were focusing on your career and traveling, did you ever feel the pressure to get married?

No not at all, See Shekhar and I have been dating for the longest time, we were high school sweethearts, He is the reason I am still in this industry. He is the one pushing me to the competition and pushing me to go to India and try. So my parents knew that someday we will get married, so they weren't worried. I never saw marriage interfering with what I wanted to do.

What about having kids?

What about having kids?

Yeah, so that is something I didn't want to have for the longest time and that's why it got pushed so much, I felt that having a child will put a break on my career. So I didn't really want to but my husband loves kids and really wanted his own.

But I am seeing now that it's so trendy to have kids, these Bollywood actresses posing with their kids and showing off their new bodies etc.

Of course, I got the pressure from my parents, where they would remind me of my biological clock etc. so they have been patient enough with me so I thought this is a good time as ever. So I had a very honest and open conversation with my husband Shekhar, as for how it should not impact my career. And to manage expectations. So even on the 7th  month of my pregnancy I was jumping up and down on the stage and performing.

I don't like to discuss my personal life in the professional world as you know the Indian desi scene is that they are very quick to judge.

I have done the transitions quickly, I am back performing and being a mom has not made me any less of the artist. Even when I was pregnant, I was at home but I was composing and doing my own thing and I don't believe that pregnancy has stopped me in any way

What has been the biggest challenge in your life?


What has been the biggest challenge in your life?

I think keeping everyone happy and striking a balance between my passion for music and career and taking care of family is the most challenging.








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