I don’t think anyone has ever met someone as multifaceted as Ananya Birla. Being able to be a part of so many industries and still make time for her passions is something everyone should aim for. We sat down with the business tycoon to discuss her upbringing in India, her music career, mental health and much more. Keep reading to learn all about how she does it.  

Let’s start from the beginning in Mumbai Maharashtra. Talk to us about your upbringing and culture in Mumbai. 

I was born and raised in Mumbai. I had a very sheltered upbringing. I grew up in the confines of a conservative Marwari society. My views didn’t match with a lot of people around me. So, I was always in a state of internal conflict.  

While I am grateful for my roots, I often felt like an outsider. My friends and core family mean the world to me. Music has been a refuge for me, offering a space to express my authentic self. Additionally, I regard London as a second home, having frequently visited our family residence there during my upbringing. 

When did you first fall in love with music? 

My relationship with music started at the age of 8, inspired by my mother’s passion for the Santoor. She trained under her revered teacher, Masterji, and the hypnotic sound produced when the mallets caressed the strings captivated me. I was compelled to learn the Santoor, then and to this day, playing it feels akin to meditation for me. 

During my early teens, my musical horizons expanded when my mother introduced me to pop music. I distinctly recall being entranced by Elton John’s “Sacrifice” and “Candle in the Wind”.  

While my affinity for Bollywood music remained strong, these introductions ignited my interest in pop music further, leading me to appreciate tracks like Rihanna’s “Good Girls Gone Bad” and Eminem’s “Mocking Bird”. Music became my refuge, validating my emotions. In moments of distress, I found solace in melodies whose lyrics echoed my feelings, offering a comforting embrace during turbulent times. 

Although you realized your passion for music early on, you still attended college at Oxford University in England in a field unrelated to music. Talk to us about what you went to school for and how it has helped your career as a musician.  

I pursued Economics and Management at Oxford University. During my gap year, I founded Svatantra, my first venture—a microfinance organization empowering women to establish their own businesses. 

 At the time, I was staying away from home for the first time. While pursuing my studies at Oxford and managing Svatantra remotely, the combination of academic rigor and business responsibilities started to strain my mental well-being. It was during this challenging period that I turned to the guitar for solace.  

Whenever possible, I would journey to London to showcase my musical talents at pubs and clubs in neighborhoods like Camden and Brixton, connecting with local audiences. Through this experience, I realized that, despite my business aspirations, music was the key to maintaining inner peace and harmony for my soul.  

Oxford helped me blend my artistic aspirations with entrepreneurial pursuits. At Oxford, I discovered my desire to write music and build businesses. I started writing my own songs and it led to a contract with Universal Music. So, I dropped out of university.  

You’ve been in the music industry since 2016 and since then have accomplished so much. Tell us about how you began your music career and how it feels to have over 350 billion streams.   

When I released my debut single as an Indian artist singing English songs, it was a novel concept in India! Many doubted the viability of such music in the market. Despite the skepticism, I remained unwavering in my commitment to music. I felt better when my single “Meant to Be” attained platinum status in 2017, marking a historic achievement as the first Indian artist with an English single to do so.  

This significant milestone not only validated my musical journey but also reinforced my belief in the transformative power of music. As a singer-songwriter, I discovered a potent medium through which I could connect with and represent the experiences of misfits worldwide.  

Now I’m signed to BMG. It has been an amazing journey in music since the year I started in 2016. There’s one reminder I hold close to my heart – that I should be making music for the love of music – just like I did in my dorm room, while at Oxford.  

In addition, I embraced my roots by venturing into Hindi music, making me a bilingual artist. This dual linguistic capability allows me to connect with a broader audience and authentically represent both aspects of my identity. 

You are the first Indian artist to have an English-speaking single go platinum in India. How did this song come about and what did you do to celebrate this accomplishment?   

I’m honored to be the first Indian to have an English-speaking single go platinum in India. My mother would say ‘If it’s meant to be, it will happen’. The phrase ‘Meant to be’ subconsciously was embedded in my psyche and found a way into this song. Most of my music is based on my personal experiences. 

The inspiration behind “Meant to Be” stemmed from a personal experience of both being in and of coming out of my first relationship. When I started writing the song, I had just entered the relationship and when I started recording the song, we had broken up. 

The song captures the sentiment that while some relationships may not endure, they remain meaningful and destined in their own right – ‘meant to be’. The music video portrays me breaking down a wall adorned with a sign – a plus sign with two brackets. It was a tattoo I shared with my ex. I still have that tattoo. Every song of mine holds a small secret of mine, which only I’m aware of. 

When I was signed by UMG, I received an official plaque, which was a thrilling first for me. At IMI too I received a plaque with an Indian flag. It was a very proud moment for me. As for celebrating milestones, I cherish them with my friends and family, as I do with all significant moments in life. I am not a party person, so I think my friends may have got a cake for me. 

This wasn’t the only historical moment you’ve achieved in your career. During the pandemic you had two songs featured on Sirius XM Hits, making you the first Indian artist to be featured on an American top 40 pop radio show. Tell us about what songs helped you achieve this and what this did for your career.   

One of the standout moments in my artistic career came during the pandemic, when I was in LA. Two of my songs were featured on Sirius XM Hits, marking me as the first Indian artist to grace an American top 40 pop radio show. The song that particularly resonated with audiences was “Let There Be Love”.  

Hearing it play on US radio while being away from my family was deeply emotional and bittersweet for me. Some of the lyrics go as – Pray for your brother, feel for your sister, why can’t we come together— I was moved to tears listening to my song on the radio. It was a milestone that I wished I could have celebrated with my loved ones. 

You’ve performed at huge festivals like Global Citizen, Oktoberfest and Sunburn – just to name a few. Take us back to your first big performance and talk about what that experience was like.   

I remember watching the audience from the wings and the overwhelm I felt. It was a ‘larger than life’ feeling. I was not perfect in any way then and it took a lot of hard work to get here. Witnessing how my music resonates with audiences today is incredibly gratifying.  

I’m deeply thankful to everyone who takes the time to attend my live performances. Whether it’s 1 or 1000 – the size of the crowd doesn’t matter since time is something you never get back and it means so much to me when my fans spend that time attending my performance. Reflecting on my first major performance, the sensation of singing live and hearing my lyrics echoed back by the audience was indescribable. 

Your song “Hindustani Way” was the official cheer song at the 2021 Indian Olympics. Tell us about how this came about and what it felt like when you found out it would be used at the Indian Olympics.   

Being chosen for the official cheer song, “Hindustani Way”, for the 2021 Indian Olympics was a moment of immense pride and joy for me. It’s a profound honor and responsibility to contribute to something that represents your country on such a grand stage.  

Collaborating with the legendary A.R. Rahman, an iconic figure in Indian music, was a dream come true. Working alongside him was a learning experience that I deeply cherished. He was like a mentor to me, and he was the first one from the Indian music industry to say that I have a beautiful voice. 

You’ve used your platform to share your battles with mental health as well as provide resources to those who may be experiencing the same thing. Tell us about how you have overcome your battles with mental health issues.   

Throughout the years, I’ve faced my own struggles with mental health, like so many people out there. I’m thankful that I had the resources to discover what methods worked for me and what didn’t. Now, I want to extend that same opportunity to anyone out there who may be suffering and in need of support. 

The brain remains a mysterious marvel, governing every aspect of our existence. Despite significant strides in neuroscience, its workings still challenges scientists. I strongly emphasize the significance of data and research in the field of mental health.  

Understanding the root of the problems and the specific support individuals require is crucial before offering effective solutions. By focusing on evidence-based approaches, we can make a more significant and lasting impact on people’s lives and the overall well-being of our communities. 

What initiatives have you been part of regarding mental health awareness?  

I launched ABF during the pandemic, sensing the collective trauma and grappling with my own mental health challenges. Amidst prevailing stigmas that hindered people from seeking help, it felt like a timely move. Mental health is the core of our work at Ananya Birla Foundation. Aimed at forging a realm of compassion, equality, and inclusivity, it strives to democratize mental health, making it accessible to everyone. 

 Ananya Birla Foundation makes grants that support: mental health, children in need for care and protection and humanitarian relief efforts among others. As part of its’ preliminary efforts, the Foundation in partnership with Svatantra Microfin Pvt. Ltd. worked on Project Blank Slate, a 3-phase study in rural India with the intent of understanding mental health issues that the women of rural communities, grapple within their day-to-day life and identifying the barriers in mental healthcare.  

The research was published by the Cambridge Prism Journal. When I was younger, I co-founded MPower with my mom. We offer a range of specialists in mental health – from therapists to psychologists and psychiatrists.  

To empower professionals, teachers, parents and families of the community, we, at Mpower, work towards creating a body of knowledge, expertise and specialists in the field of mental health & providing those in need with resources and information, training and guidance, diagnostic evaluation, therapeutic interventions and counseling. We have partnered with universities, prisons and the police forces to provide mental health resources. We also started a 24/7 mental health helpline during the pandemic. 

You are a part of Maybelline’s Empowerment Initiative as one of the faces for their “Brave” program. Tell us about what role you play in this initiative and what it’s all about.  

When Maybelline asked me to be their face in India, I was very excited about the Brave Together program. I sang the track, and we shot a cool music video, aiming to capture Gen Z’s struggles with mental health. When we talk about our feelings in a safe space, we create bridges to healing. While the treatment of the video is vibrant, the message is profound.  

It’s great to see a cosmetic giant like Maybelline championing mental health. Maybelline’s platform offers online resources designed to foster open and candid conversations about anxiety and depression. The aim is to equip people with the know-how and skills necessary to identify signs of anxiety or depression in their friends, family, or peers and navigate that conversation. I help them reach out to more people through the program. 

At only 17 years old you founded your own microfinance institution “Svatantra Microfin Private Limited”. Tell us more about how you started it and what this business does for your community.  

I founded Svatantra Microfin during my gap year at the age of 17. The aim was to bank the unbanked, especially women. In my community, I had noticed how women are first controlled by their fathers and then their husbands. I wanted to do something in my capacity to change these archaic patterns.  

 I believed that if a woman is financially self-sustainable, she can truly be in control of her own narrative. Microfinance fits the bill perfectly. Witnessing a substantial income gap in our country, I felt a deep desire to contribute to bridging this divide. Over the years, the Indian Microfinance industry has served as a catalyst in the profound transformation of the Indian financial services sector. 

 I had immense belief that if done right, it could be a very profitable and robust business, catering to significant demand, all while creating a long-lasting impact. Today we advance the dreams of entrepreneurs who power the Indian economy. With a team strength of 20,000, It’s been truly remarkable to see the growth of my microfinance startup, Svatantra, assisting over 50 lakh clients across more than 20 states. 

Around the same time, you entered the music industry and founded another business venture, “Ikai Asai”. Tell us about how you got interested in Artisanal Tableware and more about this brand.   

I have always been drawn to the beauty of the imperfections of handmade art. It makes every piece unique. There is a dearth of appreciation for this aesthetic. Through Ikai Asai I’m dedicated to creating a home décor brand and a traditional crafts platform that emphasizes contemporary artisanal living.  

Ikai Asai celebrates the richness of heritage materials and craft techniques, blending it with modern designs. This also helps to conserve Indian art forms. Though a niche, Ikai Asai has found a committed audience. 

Last year you made your acting debut in a spy thriller film, “Shlok: The Desi Sherlock”. Talk to us about your acting experience shooting this film and what type of projects you’d like to be a part of in the future.   

I never intended to act, but fate had other plans. Director Kunal Kohli spotted me at Soho House and cast me as his Jane. Playing Jane Watson taught me so much; like me, she’s an “alpha”. Through her, I learned the importance of asking for help and sometimes taking a backseat and allowing others to take the lead. 

Making my acting debut in the spy thriller “Shlok: The Desi Sherlock” was initially nerve-wracking, given my lack of prior acting experience. However, the director had faith in me from the start, believing I was the right fit for the role. As filming progressed, I grew more comfortable and genuinely enjoyed immersing myself in a different character. The experience was incredibly rewarding. I had a 35-day schedule in London, and it will always be close to my heart. I’m eager to see the audience’s response to my performance when the film comes out.  

What’s next for you? Anything you can share exclusively with Galore readers?   

I’m driven to continue building businesses that leave a lasting impact and create music that deeply connects with people. As an artist and entrepreneur, I strive for greater self-awareness and meaningful contributions, always seeking to reinvent myself authentically.  

Exciting and exclusive news for Galore readers: my next song, “24” is out now. Inspired by a London love, it’s a musical daydream of what 24 hours with that special someone would be like! 

The coming years are going to be packed with back-to-back song releases, new business ventures, my debut movie, and a whole bunch of other announcements. I’m also very excited about the launch of my poetry book. It carries poems that I have been writing since my pre- teens. I have poured my heart into it. 


Feature Editor: Taylor Winter Wilson (@taylorwinter)

Photographer: Anirudh Kothari (@aniphotoguy)

Photographer: Sheldon Santos (@sheldon.santos)

Photographer: Conor Clinch (@conorclinch)

Photographer: Alexi Lubomirski (@alexilubomirski)

Photographer: Dennis Leupold (@dennisleupold)

Gimme More

Do You Like?

Some things are only found on Facebook. Don't miss out.