Alexx O' Nell is an American-born actor and musician and has appeared in various films and television programs in English and Indian languages. Some of his major feature films include 'Main Aur Charles', 'Cheeni Kum', 'Madrasapattinam', 'Joker', 'Ek Je Chhilo Raja', Chittagong and Urumi (Ek Yodha Shoorveer). He has also participated in reality show Nach Baliye in the year 2007. After ruling the TV and films space, the actor made his mark in the digital space with two of the most iconic shows, namely, Inside Edge and Aarya.
Recently, the effervescent actor released the Bhagwat Gita song on his social media platforms. Surprisingly, Alexx has recited the heavy Sanskrit shlokas from the pious holy book. Not only did he crooned the excerpts from Bhagwat Gita and released it as a song, but he has also imbedded the great learning from the book in his personal and professional life.
In exclusive conservation with International Business Times, India, Alexx spoke at length about his news Bhagwat Gita song, how the pious holy book changed his outlook towards life, whether he believes in love and what makes him a workaholic.
Excerpts from the conversation
Were you always inclined towards music?
I started learning to play guitar and singing at around 14 or 15 years old, the same time that I began to really get serious about acting. I began writing my own music and lyrics at about 16.
This will sound super strange to your younger readers, but I actually taught myself to play the guitar using magazines! There used to be these monthly magazines that featured the sheet music of the hit songs of the moment by bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, U2 - and that's how I learned - by playing the songs I loved listening to. So, if anyone is looking for tips on how to learn guitar, this is the best way I know - though nowadays instead of having to search for it on the newsstand, you can find simple notation on the Internet for every song you could imagine!
So I've been playing, singing, and composing for a long time, but it was only because of the break-in my shooting schedule due to the lockdown that I finally had the time to release my first song and music video, 'Still On My Mind (Feat. Shama Sikander)', on the 16th of April 2020. Aarya released on the 19th June, and my second single 'A Bhagavad Gita Song' released just about a week ago on the 19th August!
One thing that sets 'A Bhagavad Gita Song' apart from the rest of my music, beyond the obvious fact that it's in Sanskrit, is that it's the first time I've ever written a melody to someone else's lyrics. I tend to create the melody and lyrics at the same time and keep revising them simultaneously, over and over again. I never even thought I was capable of working from existing lyrics... frankly I was surprised I could.
After being moved to accommodate 'Aarya' promotions, and then moved again to make way for 'A Bhagavad Gita Song', my next single, 'Twenty Days', will be out mid-September. Honestly, I think it's just about the best song I've ever written so I'm really looking forward to finally sharing it.
After the success of Aarya, once again you have recited the shlokas of Bhagwat Gita, did you learn the shlokas and music?
When I signed 'Aarya', Director Ram Madhvani gave me not one but three copies of The Bhagavad Gita, and that was the first time I encountered the text. Each translation was slightly different, but regardless, the meanings of these verses were immediately fascinating to me.
Because I am able to read and write Devnagari I was able to sound out the words, but of course, I worked with a Sanskrit instructor to fine-tune my pronunciation.
Next, I spent about 45 days listening to, and singing along with, Aarya Music Director Vishal Khurana's rough tracks of not only 'The Bhagavad Gita Song' but also the other songs Bob performs including Roop Tera Mastana, Hal Kaise Hai, and O Gore.
Finally, I taught myself to play the full song list on banjo, keyboard, and guitar so that the band and I could perform them authentically live.
But.. the series completed shooting over 3 months before I recorded 'A Bhagavad Gita Song' - so, I used an online resource, the Holy-Bhagavad-Gita.org which features sound files of each and every shloka, to brush up on my pronunciation for the song. In fact, the site owner, Jagadguru Kripaluji Yog Trust, even granted me permission to use their translation in the subtitles of the music video, for which I'm deeply grateful.
I was blessed to have Delraaz Bunshah, who was part of Bob's band in the Aarya series, sing with me on 'A Bhagavad Gita Song'- and to have Debarpito Saha, who also contributed to 'Still On My Mind', feature on the music as well.
Are you an avid musician?
Absolutely! Music is as important to me as Acting is - and even closer to my heart. While acting, I am inhabiting and living someone else's life, in music, I am revealing my own inner-most thoughts, desires, fears, regrets, etc. It's like opening my diary to the world.
How has the Bhagwat Gita helped you during tough times in your life?
My experience with and understanding of the Bhagavad Gita began when I was preparing for the role of Bob Wilson in Arya, therefore it's very new to me. Nevertheless, in this short time, I have found that it's not just beautifully written, and thus well suited to the music, but I've come to understand that it contains messages have universal appeal & undying relevance.
The most essential ideas of all the verses that I've used in 'A Bhagavad Gita Song' is that: one must fight, even in the face of defeat, because sin lies not in failure, but in surrender. This is just one of a host of incredibly motivational messages that are extremely appropriate even now as we struggle with racism, sexism, the coronavirus, and oppression of all kinds. This epic poem is as relevant today as it was when it was written over 1800 years ago - in fact, it is not just an epic poem, but an epic 'fight song'.
Your favourite songs or genre of music
I listen to all kinds of music, some of my favourites being:
Classical: Mozart, Western Pop / Rock: Ed Sheeran, U2, Counting Crows, Justin Bieber, Maroon Five, Indian Pop: Atif Aslam, Arijit Singh. The list goes on and on!
Heartbroken music or romantic song or classical music? What do you enjoy!
To be honest I love nearly every genre of music including western classical, Indian classical, hip-hop, western oldies, acoustic rock... Just about the only thing I don't like is heavy-metal... but to me, the most honest and captivating music has roots in heartbreak. In my experience, when I'm happy I simply do not sit down to write a song. It's when I'm heartbroken, or when I revisit heartbroken-ness, that I dwell on that negative heavy emotion and create something beautiful from it. And because that tends to be the kind of music I write myself, its the kind of music I'm drawn to.
If you had to lend your voice to one actor who would that be and why?
That's not really my thing. I would love to a song my own music in film, but I've never seriously considered giving my songs to others to portray. Perhaps someday, I'm open to the idea.
Being a non-India, what do you like about Indian culture?
So many things, but at the root of them all: Passion. Passion seems to drive everything artistic in India! Indians are passionate about their food, about their sports, about their music, their films and film stars! Everything is larger than life and while that can sometimes be overwhelming, it's better to have too much passion than too little.
As you were in a relationship with an Indian, do you still believe in love now?
Absolutely! I learned a lot and grew a great deal through each of my relationships with both Indians and non-Indians! Hahaha! Love has no nationality, and yes, I believe in love as much now as ever.
What kind of girl does Alexx find attractive?
The kind of woman from whom I can learn, who can learn from me, and who is interested in growing together - making each other better, stronger, and happier.
One word that describes you?
My Manager would say "Working" - Always Working.
Acting, dancing, singing now what?
In this order: Singing, Composing, Recording & Shooting my Music Videos is ongoing. Acting will happen as soon as my paused films resume / new films start and Dancing...? When required..(laughs).
View this post on Instagram
Hello Friends! "Still On My Mind" The First Music Video Featuring my own original composition and performance, with backing vocals by Arijit Singh, and starring myself and the Beautiful & Talented Shama Sikander, is all set to release This Thursday - the 16th of April 2020!! There are so many people to thank for: - helping to record & program the music (Bharat & Debarpito), - managing the shooting & finishing of the music video (Shama Sikander), - and finally making it possible for me to release this 'LockDownLoveSong' despite the circumstances (Shreeda, Donal, Ben, and OneDigitalEntertainment)... And now that it's finally done, I'll be taking time over the coming days to properly thank EVERYONE whose been involved. But for now, I'm excited to share with you some behind the scenes footage from the making of the video, as we count down to the release of Still On My Mind!! With Gratitude & Love, Alexx . . . . . #AlexxONell #ShamaSikander #ArijitSingh #StillOnMyMind #LockDownLoveSong #OneDigitalEntertainment #Celebrity #Musician #Musicianslife #Actor #ActorsLife #gratitude #HowDoYouLiveWithoutMeNow #NewMusic #ComingSoon #MusicVideo #BehindTheScenes #BenHilier #DonalWhelan #SantoshSivan 19HT @alphonse_roy @shamasikander @shama_sikander_official_ @jaybhansaliofficial @arijitsingh @arijit_singh_fanns @sid_arijit @arijitsingh_music @magical_voice_arijitsingh @arijitsinghfanofficial @arijitsinghfanbase @arijitsingh_heartbeat @bharatgoelmusic @debarpito @Hafod_Mastering @archanaborhade @santoshsivanasc_isc @sivan_santosh @ssinternationalacademy @vipuldshahofficial @harshgoenka @onedigitalentertainment
What's next for you (projects)
As I mentioned, 'Twenty Days', which also stars Shama Sikandar, is releasing in mid-September. After that, I am hopeful that theatres and Roohi Afzana will release - its a film by Hardik Mehta, my third project with RajKummar Rao, which also stars Jhanvi Kapoor and Varun Sharma. Following that, I did a cameo in Chehre alongside Emraan Hashmi which stars a host of other amazing actors including Amitabh Bachchan, so that will be fun to see.
Then I have 'Golondaaj' a Bengali feature which stars myself in the main role opposite Dev Adhikari. Dev and I had spectacular time working on this together, it is a football-based film in which he and I are rivals, going head-to-head, leading our teams against one another in an epic battle on and off the pitch. We still have a few more days to shoot Golondaaj, so I am excited to return to India, and to West Bengal to finish-up this absolutely beautiful movie.
I have 'Banarasi Jasoos' which is directed by Pankaj Parashar, in which I play a main role, completed. 'Dr Rakhmabai' in Marathi which is my first film with Tannishtha Chatterjee, is also completed.
And 'Rani Rani Rani', my second with Tannishta and second with my dear friend Danny Sura with whom I worked on Netflix's '21 Sarfarosh'. Rani Rani Rani a Hindi & English Sci-fi/ time travel/thriller and I can't wait to see what people think of it!
There are a few other films completed, in progress, and still to start, but I don't want to look too far ahead and get excited too soon about projects that have a ways to go before hitting the screen. And with all these, considering the trend towards diverting films from theatrical to OTT, whether they release on the small screen or big remains to be seen.
Listen to the full song below: