Any 2000s kid who was growing up to the sound of desi pop knows Sophie Choudry. We’ve all crooned to Ek Pardesi Mera Dil Le Gaya and Bachke Rehna Re Baba. We’ve emulated her mannerisms, her outfits and sometimes, even her accent. She was one of the original cool girls of the new millenium. The secret to this mesmerising cocktail is Yasmin Choudry, Sophie’s mother and manager aka momager. She’s been with the musician all the way – from bringing her to India, to meeting record producers to signing and closing deals on her behalf. She’s the cool mom but also very strong in her values and she’s raised her daughter to uphold the same. For Sophie, there’s nothing cooler than being passionate about your goals without forgetting your roots. We sat down with the cool girl and her even cooler mum for an exclusive chat. Excerpts . . .
Yasmin, you named Sophie after Sophia Loren. When did Sophie get to know that she was named after such a famous personality?
Yasmin: It was Sophie’s dad who named her. He was an ardent fan of Sophia Loren. He had planned that whenever we had a daughter, we’d name her Sophia. Sophie’s real name is Sophia. When Sophie was three years old, Sophia Loren came to London to promote her book and my brother took Sophie to see her and even told the actress that Sophie was named after her.
Sophie: I just think my parents have incredible taste in names. When I moved to India, there was a former VJ called Sophia so we didn’t want any confusion and they were like, since your family calls you Sophie, let’s keep that.
Sophie, you graduated in European Politics and French and studied at the prestigious Sciences Po in Paris – how did your mother react when you told her you’d be taking a completely different road and work as a VJ?
S: My dream was never really to be a VJ. My mom is very good friends with the Bachchans and they had started TV Asia in the UK and my mom used to produce a TV show with Ramola Bachchan and even though I was very young, in my school uniform, they would always say that ‘oh, Sophie should do something’. While I was studying, I started VJing my own show and I had one of the most popular shows while I was studying. So, I don’t think the VJing thing came as so much of a shock because it was actually fun. It was something that my mum always encouraged me to do and when it came to singing, I was singing from the age of 12 with my music producer Biddu (of Kung Fu Fighting fame). When I graduated, Biddu said that I need to move to India for at least a year, if I’m serious about my career. That was a big change. And my mum was completely supportive.
How strong of an influence has your mother been on your life?
S: Huge, because for most of my life, my mum has been my mum and my dad. That’s not all – she’s also been my momager. When we came to India, my mother became my manager and she still is. Till date, she handles all of my work, she travels with me for all my shows. She’s travelled with me ever since I moved to this country and she’s dealt with all my contracts, my negotiations – she handles everything. She’s been a huge influence on me. She’s also a homemaker and handles the home and the food so, for me, it’s been a huge influence to see someone who can handle the home perfectly and, at the same time, also have a career.
Did supporting Sophie in her career come naturally to you Yasmin or did you have to make peace with it?
Y: It came very naturally to me. Biddu is like family to us and had told me that once she completes her graduation, promise me that I will produce the album and she’ll sing. While she was still in college, he was getting offers that he should set up a band so that’s what happened. I felt safe by taking this step. We had no idea about show business but I felt like Sophie was in safe territory and I felt that, ok fine, it’s her dream and if she wants to do it, let her go ahead.
S: Also, mum was supportive of me because she pursued a lot of passions herself. She has been on television and has acted in live plays. However, my mum also got married young so I think my mum wanted me to follow my dreams. The one thing she always told me is that I should have no regrets. And, I also think that in our heads, we always felt that if it doesn’t work out, we can always go back to London because we have our whole life there.
Y: The change wasn’t easy, when we came here. The lifestyle and the people, everything. The record companies were very keen for us to come to India but when we were here, they’d make us wait in their offices for hours, not knowing what they wanted to do with us. Because Sophie used to come to India to promote her album, whenever she went to MTV, she would speak in fluent Hindi and they found it quite interesting that she can do that. At that time, even they said why don’t you become a part of this? But we couldn’t because we weren’t living in India, then. It wasn’t easy and there were times when I told Sophie ‘don’t get upset, we can always go back’.
Since your mum is also your momager, how do the both of you resolve professional issues?
S: Thankfully, we’re almost always on the same page when it comes to professional issues and we bounce ideas off each other a lot. I think we manage it really well and there are times when we disagree but we resolve it quite amicably. When it comes to work, even in my live shows, we keep it very professional. If I haven’t pulled my weight, I have to hear about it and if something has not worked out from mum’s side, she also accepts her mistake. We’re all on an equal footing when it comes to that. Of course, it’s also emotional because we’re a mother-daughter team but 99 percent of the time, we’re on the same page and that really helps.
What kind of a relationship do you share with your mother?
Y: There will be secrets, of course. All girls have their secrets (laughs). I don’t pry into Sophie’s affairs unless she asks me to, I give her a lot of space.
S: Yeah, I think my mum does give me a lot of space and we share a cool relationship where I feel like I can talk to her about anything. Yes, there are certain things that every girl keeps to herself but if I want to go to her for advice, I will. I also think that my generation and the generation before that, our relationships with our parents includes a huge amount of respect and a very fine line that we don’t cross. I actually like that because I don’t see that in kids today. I don’t think kids have that kind of respect for their parents anymore and will say whatever, however. So, yes, there is this fine line that we keep but my mum is my best partner when we’re travelling or we’re shopping or when we’re catching up on Netflix shows.
Sophie, you’ve been an integral part of the urban Indian millenial’s upbringing – was there an age gap with your mother that you had to deal with during those days?
S: No, I think it’s been the other way around. My mother is more forward-thinking and progressive than me, actually. Even when I had questions . . . like when my song, Ek Pardesi became so huge and I was wondering if it was working, my mum would be like ‘it’s working across the country’. Even when it came to the costumes which were quite risque for those days and very glam and trendsetting, my mum had the titular role in putting together the outfits and the styling. I also think that by nature, my mum is more of a risk taker than I am.
Yasmin, you give Sophie a lot of space but there must have been times when there were friends or lovers you didn’t approve of. How did you tackle that?
Y: As Sophie says, I have very strong opinions about the people she likes. But, the problem is that I’m not just the mother – I’m her father as well. So, the father in me is immediately standing up to be the bodyguard. Having said that, I haven’t been strict with her and she’s allowed to go wherever she wants but yes, I do worry about her. I know that she is very level-headed but when it comes to matters of the heart, she does get hurt. I’ve seen that happening and I guess, that’s why I’m over protective.
S: I also think that all our mums have X-Ray vision because she’ll see someone for 30 seconds and she’ll go ‘I know what’s right about him and I know what’s wrong about him and he is not for you’. (laughs)
Y: True that. Sophie tells me that she needs to make her own decisions and I agree with her.
S: The annoying thing is that barring maybe one, my mum has been right about everything. So yeah, when they say that mums know best, it’s actually true.
Yasmin, what is the one thing about Sophie that you love?
Y: I love the fact that she’s got very strong values. Sophie has really kept herself away from a lot of scandals. I admire her for that because she has never taken shortcuts and it’s not easy to do that, especially in this business. She’s also very loving and honest and outspoken.
Sophie, what would be your advice to the kids these days about being cool and also, in touch with their roots?
S: I think there’s nothing cooler than being able to balance your dreams and ambitions and at the same time, learning to love your family and upholding the values they’ve brought you up with. I think that’s what keeps you level-headed and grounded because whatever career you are in, especially if it’s show business, it will not last forever. What will last forever are your values. I know that being a millennial in this social media age puts a lot of pressure on them to do things way out of their comfort zone to prove that they’re cool but listen, you don’t have to be that person. Challenge yourself and push yourself to do better work but there’s no point trying to be someone you’re not.