India's most versatile RJ: Abhimanyu Kak
In conversation with Ruchi Kak.
We share the same rarely found last name, Kak. We are both millennial Kashmiris and the last time we met was in 2008, at my wedding in Delhi, India. We danced to Kashmiri folk music along with a bit of the customary bhangra hip-hop (that has ubiquitously paved its way into the Kashmiri Mehndi-Raat). I doubt anyone in that room, could have predicted what a true power-house of a versatile performer, Abhimanyu Kak was destined to be.
In a short span of two years, Abhimanyu hosted his first IPL Season 3 at a cricket stadium in Mohali, with an audience of more than 35,000. He climbed the popularity charts with his artistic performances for Zee’s “India’s Best Cinestars Ki Khoj”, a top talent acquisition contest for acting across India. He famously floored Bollywood’s megastars with his ineffable charm, and won popular-votes featuring him in the top ten finalists on the show. He anchored the prime-time comedy show “Happy Hours” on &TV, and went on to anchor more than 400 stage shows till date. Abhimanyu is also the lead vocalist in his rock band “By Chance Music Creators” (BCMC) and will release his music video “Baarish” in the near future.
A singer, composer and actor with his roots firmly grounded in Radio; Abhimanyu, is one of the leading Radio Jockeys in North India and the number one Radio-Jockey (RJ) in Chandigarh, Punjab. You can tune into “Radio Ka Superstar”, RJ Abhimanyu on “The Big Morning Show,” on 92.7 BIG FM.
Abhimanyu’s favorite motto is the one about the two P’s, “Perseverance and Persistence” especially when combined with “Passion”. He believes that there is no substitute for hard work and fame has never been his top priority. Abhimanyu never settles for less than his potential, and rejections have made him resolute to follow his dreams on his terms. He is the “Youngest Aired RJ of India”, also known as “India’s Most Versatile RJ”, with a latest title that precedes all others newly married to the love of his life, Manisha! Congratulations Abhimanyu, we have certainly come a long way in these short eight years of knowing each other.
In conversation with Abhimanyu:
How did you begin RJing?
My journey with the media platform began in 2005. I was in high-school when my dad taught me techniques of radio theatre, and introduced me to the concept of character roles for radio. I was hired by All India Radio, as a trainee radio actor to play different character based roles for pre-recorded shows. In 2007, I started my Bachelor of Computer Application (BCA) undergraduate degree. By 2008, I was an RJ (with another established radio-station) on the prime-time morning segment and simultaneously completed my graduation. I worked really hard between balancing my undergraduate studies and radio career. I was earning Rs. 30,000 per month at 18, but I felt I had no time to spend this money. And so, I decided to take a break and pursue my post-graduate degree in Mass Communications from Amity University.
Can you tell us about a challenge you faced in life? And how did you overcome it?
In 2012, I completed my post-graduate degree in Mass Communications from Amity and then realized that the competition was way more intense on the Radio platform (compared to a few years earlier when I had my own morning segment).
I continued working on some international shows for Vancouver and Ontario, Canada. Eventually, I went back to a vacancy with a FM station in Chandigarh, where I started a stereo-typical RJ romantic show and within six months I topped the charts. However, it still didn’t interest me because I was not on the prime-time segment. In this industry, the prime-time morning show has the maximum potential for impact with most listeners tuned into Radio during mornings. I wanted to create an impact and be second to none; any other segment on Radio seemed like a waste of my potential.
I decided to pursue Music and formed our rock-band “By Chance Music Creators” (BCMC). We held concerts across the entire Punjab circle. Meanwhile, Delhi Radio City called me with a job offer and I decided to accept their offer and relocate to Delhi. I was on a segment where I was playing the guitar and singing love songs. But I wasn’t satisfied because it still wasn’t the morning segment.
I felt penalized for pursuing my master’s degree and realized that this industry is more experience based than study based. If the show is a hit no one experiments in radio. I decided to restart my career with TV and got through the auditions for Zee channel’s “India’s Best Cinestars Ki Khoj”. I received a call from Subash Chandra from Zee TV to join the show. I was featured as a finalist and then got eliminated from the show due to a freak accident.
My next big break was an offer from Chandigarh’s 92.7 Big FM, to host their morning prime-time segment. I took three months to decide and finally joined them in Chandigarh on my terms. At the time their show wasn’t doing well. I worked really hard with all of the concepts that I’d learned over time, and made the show a smashing success that it is today. The channel conferred on me the title of “Radio Ka Superstar” RJ Abhimanyu.
Can you share some behind the scene stories at Zee Cinestars?
I was playing the role of a romantic hero on stage and as a part of the romantic act I had to crush (in my hand), an empty egg shell filled with tiny styrofoam balls. The styrofoam balls would float up in the air and the scene would be perfectly poised for winter romance depicting white snowflakes. As I opened my hand to let these tiny particles fly, I felt a strange sensation at the back of my throat and within a second I collapsed on floor. What had happened was that one of these flying particles had lodged itself down my wind pipe causing me to collapse. I was given CPR and there was panic at the scene. They said they would call me back into the show using the wild card strategy. I waited for them for 18 days to get back to me. They didn’t. And they did not air this episode on TV either. I was eliminated from the show based on this freak accident in August,2014.
What did you learn from the Zee Cinestars experience in Mumbai?
I learned a lot about acting from experienced NSD graduates that would train us over the course of the day. It was a rigorous training schedule and it made me self-confident as an actor by letting go of all my inhibitions. I decided to relocate to Mumbai to give acting a fair shot. I would sit outside the director’s office for multiple hours in hope of a break. I was made to wait and would never hear from them. You have to be very tough to survive mentally in Mumbai. I was used to rejections by now and so left Mumbai and went back to Chandigarh. When I least expected it, the comedy show “Happy Hours” at &TV, worked out through an intern writer I had earlier mentored. I worked eighteen hours per day as the anchor of this comedy show, and then worked hard to record the FM show (for the Chandigarh radio station) in time for the next day.
To make it in the entertainment industry, you need 70% luck and 30% hard-work.
What career path would you have chosen if you weren’t an RJ?
I might have been a cricketer. I used to play cricket at state-level for Punjab and still play with sports clubs across Chandigarh. I also wanted be an air force pilot with the NDA. I cleared my exams but since I wore glasses, I wasn’t able clear the flying requirements.
Who or what inspired you to pursue your dream?
My Dad (Anil Kak) owns a production studio and so he introduced me to this platform at a very young age. I learned the basics of radio theatre and role-play under his guidance. He is my biggest supporter, along with my mom (Rita Kak) and wife (Manisha Kak).
What inspires you to keep going?
I want to make my country feel proud of me. My true joy is to entertain people, to help make a difference to someone in some way and create an impact. I want to use the internet in a different way because it cuts across boundaries and audiences.
What is your current biggest fear? And how do you overcome it?
I am quite fearless. Professionally, I have worked hard to be where I am today and wouldn’t want things to end overnight. In my personal life - I just want good health for myself and my loved ones. I believe in living in the present and enjoying the moment at hand.
What advice do you have for 20 something’s that want to pursue a career in Media?
Complete your education. You should have a post-graduate degree in Journalism or Mass Communication graduation at the very least. Be presentable, dress semi-formally and notice the change in perception of those around you when you power-dress. Be fluent in English and Hindi. Read the newspaper and stay up to date with world news, this will help in making you knowledgeable. Having a digitally active presence is the key in today’s mass-media communications across all platforms. Unplugged videos, live segments- RJ’s presence on the internet is now important. It’s not enough to just work out of the studio. The most important advice that I have for the younger millennials is to be authentic to your own style and have lots of patience.
Communication is an integral part of your job. What methods did you use to improve your communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal?
Non-verbal communication is more thought process driven, and your thoughts and general intelligence guide you towards your way of communication. As strange as this may sound, I feel non-verbal skills are imprinted in our DNA as Kashmiri Pundits. We are a highly-intelligent community and so I have always felt that I am supposed to have brains and use them to the best of my capability.
I also gained a lot of confidence as a child when I would mimic people and through school-level debating. I always try to talk in different ways with different people. I create voices and play different characters I love to experiment with different techniques. I enjoy reading various books written by some of my favorite authors; Jeffrey Archer, Bijoy Dutta and John Green to name a few. I also enjoy staying current with world news through Newspapers and Twitter. Books are my best friends and I recommend everyone to read as much as they can.
How do you stay focused and self-confident in the entertainment industry? Especially in a world of instant criticism and trolling on media sites?
I always focus on my work and give it my best shot. I work on content creation for the next day’s segment in the afternoons. People always have an opinion in this field. Dealing with criticism is the most difficult aspect as an artist’s life. My principle is that I only listen to my mentors where criticism is concerned. The rest I just ignore I never react.
What’s the craziest thing a fan has done for you?
I got a kiss from a fan while I was performing off-stage at a concert. Luckily, I dodged just in time and she pecked me on the cheek. I blushed thoroughly and decided to never step off the stage mid-performance again.
What’s your favorite childhood memory of Kashmir and will we ever hear you RJing in Kashmiri?
I never visited Kashmir during my childhood. I recently visited Kashmir two years ago. The beauty of Sonmarg was un-paralleled, it was breath-taking scenery like I had never seen before. But the rest of Kashmir is a distant shadow of what it used to be. Lal-Chowk was on curfew just as I left for the airport to catch my flight. They have too many issues going on and that shows in the lackluster environment of the place. Our local driver had a tone of “enjoy your visit and get out of here”. I would rather travel to Switzerland the next time around and I doubt I will ever take my kids to see Kashmir in its current state of affairs. But I do feel bad that as a community we don’t have a place to call our own. However, we made a lot of progress stepping out of Kashmir as well. I speak fluent Kashmiri and would love to RJ in Kashmiri.
Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? What are your future plans?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. I believe in living in the present and making this moment count. In the future, I see myself as a sport anchor specifically as an anchor for cricket.
Author, story-teller, portrait photographer, travel and yoga enthusiast.
Ruchi, believes in the power of story-telling as a way to introduce the next-generation of Kashmiri Pundits to its “collective consciousness”. She is interested in learning more about “Millennial Kashmiris” and their interpretation of the ever-evolving Kashmiri culture in today’s global context. Through her own experiences, she feels it is up to the millennials to keep the culture vibrant and valid.
She is a Senior Technical Writer and her career combines her interest in writing, with information architecture and content strategy. You can connect with Ruchi Kak through her profile on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ruchikak
Added By Anil Raina
Yours is an incredible journey Abhimanyu, so well captured in this feature. Best wishes and look forward to seeing more of you.
Added By Randhir Dhar