Sunidhi Chauhan Curated
Singer & Performer
CURATED BY :
Do you think musical talent hunt shows help contestants get a foothold in Bollywood playback singing?
I don't think so. Musical reality shows give you a platform to showcase your talent to the world. But that doesn't mean that success will come easy to you. Only if you are genuinely talented, you can make it to the top. There are no shortcuts. But then, I hope we will keep on providing platforms to people so that the real talents can come to the limelight.
What took you so long to debut as a reality show judge?
No special reason. I got many, many offers to judge reality shows till date. But I didn't want to do it them, so I stayed away. Now I felt up to judging Indian Idol 5, so I am doing it.
What are the differences you can see between Meri Awaaz Suno and today's music hunts?
Meri Awaaz Suno was a musical show that was pure. There wasn't any voting system or elimination round. It was the panel of judges who would decide who is a better singer. So, I would say that it was a rather tough and a proper competition. Now, a lot depends on voting. As a result, at times, good singers get eliminated, while average singers win the show.
From being a contestant of a music reality show (Meri Awaaz Suno) to a judge of another (Indian Idol 5), how do you define this journey?
The journey has been pretty exciting. In 1996, Meri Awaaz Suno was the greatest musical talent hunt show. I was a part of it. In fact, I won the show. Getting the trophy from Lata Mangeshkar's hands is still the most memorable day of my life. And now, in 2010, I am part of Indian Idol, which is a first-of-its-kind music reality show.
What are some of your favourite songs?
There are just two of them. Le Chale from My Brother Nikhil and Aa Zara from Murder 2. I think I have done a decent job only in these two songs. Dil Mein Jagi Dhadkan Aise from Sur was very difficult because the whole song was in one breath. And [composer] MM Kreem didn’t want to punch in between. He told me if I could get it in one breath, he would be very happy. It took me a lot of time. It was almost like a breathless thing, but I somehow ended up doing it.
What draws you to signing a song and what makes you turn down one?
Apart from the people I have regularly worked with, if someone new approaches me, then I like to hear the song first so that I know if I am good to sing it. The only thing I say no to is uncomfortable lyrics. I don’t look at them as good or bad compositions, since any song can sound good if you do a good job. Even if it is an average song, then it is my responsibility to make it sound good. But if it is a real bad song that anybody can sing it, then I probably let it go.
Singers used to be assigned to movie stars: Abhijeet for Shah Rukh Khan; Udit Narayan for Aamir Khan. That doesn’t seem to be happening anymore.
That happened much earlier. There were a lot of popular songs with Abhijeet and Shah Rukh Khan together and also Udit Narayan and Shah Rukh Khan together. It was way back then when Kishore [Kumar] da was the voice of Amitabh Bachchan most of the times or Mohammed Rafi saab was the voice for the others like Rishi Kapoor. But it all changed as time passed and things started getting easier and the industry became more open to welcoming new voices.
When did the music industry become open to the kind of deep voice that you are known for?
It didn’t start from me, but with Usha Uthup. A lot of people have deep voices. But music directors would look for originality and conviction in talent. Before me, there were many people with new voices. There was a time when Usha ji was there, and Nazia Hassan and Salma Agha. But there was a time in the late 1990s when things were kind of static. All the songs were sung by one person because it was for the heroine and there was no change there. There were three people singing most of the songs: Kavita Krishnamurthy, Alka Yagnik and Poornima Shrestha. It was all set and it didn’t need to get disturbed. In that scenario to let myself in was difficult, but it happened.
You made your debut in Hindi films at the age of 13 in ‘Shastra’ in 1996 and have been singing ever since. What has changed?
Music is something that keeps changing. We are so spoiled that we need new sounds, music and voices. When I entered the industry, it was very difficult to get in because people were used to certain kind of voices and I was in a totally different zone. But I also must thank my music directors who were open to new voices at that time, which was very daring. Ever since, the music scene has changed and I am just happy that I have been a part of every change till now. The reason is that I like to keep up with the times. That is how you grow as an artist.
You won the first talent hunt show ‘Meri Awaz Suno’ in 1996. How different is the reality music television today?
The show that I was a part of had no voting system. It was a purely musical competition. They rated us on our merit and singing only. No background stories. The panel of judges was insane, especially in the mega finals. We had Manna Dey, Lata Mangeshkar, Pandit Jasraj, Bhupen Hazarika and Parveen Sultana. I was the only 13-year-old in the lot. All the others were above 20 years of age. I just got lucky, I think. My whole point of participating in that show was to see Lataji once in my lifetime, because I never thought I would get that chance. So I thought maybe if I win the show or even get to the mega finals, I would get to see her. There have been only more platforms since. It is good, because India is full of talent in every corner and every interior. We are musically very rich. It is good to have all these platforms, but I also feel that these platforms are getting a little confused in the way they want to portray these singers. It is more about where they have come from and what they are doing in life than singing. It should be purely about singing so that even the contestants feel the need to get better and the drive is intact. Because of all these backstories, when you praise them too much, they think they have reached their threshold and they don’t want to grow further. So the whole hunger about learning music and trying to get better is kind of not there.
How do you react to the remixing and remastering of Hindi movie songs?
Remixing in the show is perfect as you are revisiting and recreating these songs. The songs in this platform are treated in a new fashion. They are not just commercialised. They are about skills and are about the details of DJing and picking elements that people have never heard before or do something with the song that is irrelevant. This is the real thing. and I’m glad that something like this is coming on Amazon because people will get to see the song’s journey and how it is done. What you hear remixes in movies, they are more commericialised. They have a little masala to the song added and that’s it. By doing that, they actually make every song sound the same. There is nothing different. It is getting too much now and it is an overdose. It doesn’t tickle me and I don’t enjoy them. If you pick something from those times, you might as well nourish and beautify it.
Apart from singing, you have also been a judge for reality shows. How different is ‘The Remix’?
The Remix is totally different as it has a totally new concept. I have never seen a DJ and a singer coming together and creating something new within a given time. This show is about revisiting those songs that we have all heard before and trying to make them their own, musically and lyrically. It is basically presenting a song in a total new fashion with the current vibe. The Remix has also concentrated on how the performances should be in terms of the lights, sets and graphics. They have gotten into the details, such as graphics being customised according to the song. You won’t just like the sound of it, but it will also be a treat to watch. And all the contestants are known stars. More than competition, the show is more into creating something new.
You’ve been singing for 22 years. How has the journey been?
I only realise it’s been that long when I read tweets from my fans pointing it out. I started out when I was just 11 and I’ve constantly been working since then. I never paid attention to time and now it feels like I’ve been singing for just 10 years. I’m happy that the feeling is the same when I record the song.
In a career spanning over 20 years, which five songs do you rate as your best?
Le Chalein from My Brother Nikhil, Aa Zara from Murder 2, Dekho Na from Fanaa, Deedar De from Dus, Swing from Dil Dhadakne Dekho. I actually have 15-20 songs of which I am very proud.
What made you sign up for ‘Playing Priya’ as an actor?
Over the past four-five years, I have started looking at films in a very different way. My interest has shifted from just watching them to trying to understand them from the point of view of the performer, director, writer and art director. I begged Imtiaz Ali to be a part of Tamasha, which he was preparing for. He made me an assistant – not technically, but I was there on the sets for 80% of the shoot and I learnt a lot from the experience. After seeing how it works, I wanted to be in front of the camera.I am also friends with Arif Ali, who is Imtiaz’s brother. We used to discuss films. I happened to perform in Bangalore in March. Arif was keen on seeing me on the stage. He met me backstage after the show and said, “Sunidhi, now I am sure you should act.” He later came with a script. And that’s how it happened.
What do you think about actors singing in the films?
Several female singers complain about the lack of solo melodies. What do you think about it?
How has your life changed after marriage?
Did you always want to become a singer or it was Meri Awaaz Suno that decided your career course?
Since I was 3-4 year old, I used to sing. That time obviously I didn't know that I will become a singer. Then, gradually, I started doing small stage shows...just for fun. My father and one of his friends started encouraging me that I should take my singing seriously. Then I started participating in more shows...and even before I could realize, my hobby became my profession.
What was it like working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali?
Great! I thought he would be very difficult. He was very particular about what he wanted. He was happy, I was happy. We both complimented each other. The difference of working with him and other composers is that he is looking at the song with visuals in his head, so he has a broader spectrum. He has more ideas, things that musicians cannot add to the screen.In fact, he complimented me for Behta Hai Mann from Chameli (2003). He wanted to me sing songs like that one. I got Udi in Guzaarish much later. Then for his home production film My Friend Pinto, for which my husband, Hitesh Sonik, was doing the background music, there was a snippet of a song playing in the background that Bhansali heard and asked Sonik and me to develop into a full song. It was called Tu Taare Se Toota Hai.
After you sang ‘Beedi’ for Omkara you were flooded with item songs. Did that bother you?
That did happen to me around Aisa Jadoo Dala Re [Khakee, 2004] and Dekh Le [Munna Bhai M.B.B.S, 2003], but it had changed long before. Anu Malik had given me my first love song Meri Zindagi [Ajnabee, 2001]. I started singing love songs for Armaan, Meri Zindagi Mein Aaye Ho and Le Chale. Anu Malik actually fought for me, he broke that label down.I have had the fortune of singing eccentric songs like Bhoot Hoon Main, a jazz standard Kaisi Paheli and Deedar De, which is very Arabic.
You have sung in Tamil, Marathi, Telugu and even Pakistani films. How do you prepare for various accents?
I listen to it when it is dictated to me. I watch the lips. A lot of people know that I like to do mimicry. I am good with it, so I copy fast. I also first find out the basic meaning of the song. For regional languages, I usually listen to the feel. I remember when I was 13 and I performed in Kottayam after Meri Awaz Suno’s win. It was difficult singing in Hindi because the audience wasn’t there for Hindi songs. So they said, “Sing one Hindi song, the other 2-3 sing in Malayalam.” I prepared immediately and the newspapers said the next day, “Probably her background is Malayalam.”
Any song during the initial days that you thought should have fetched you an award?
I should have got a Filmfare trophy for Dhoom Machale. It was the anthem, but it didn’t happen. When I was nominated for Dhoom (2004), it was the 50th year of Filmfare, the golden trophy. I was certain of taking home one.
What was your turning point? Was it with ‘Ruki Ruki Si Zindagi’ in ‘Mast’ in 1999, for which you received your first Filmfare award nomination?
Strangely, I got the Filmare RD Burman award for new music talent the next year for the song Bumbro [Mission Kashmir, 2000] when ideally it should have been for Ruki Ruki Si if at all. They had nominated me in the main category. Ruki Ruki was a major break. I was singing for Urmila Matondkar. Everything changed after that.
Your first film song was ‘Ladki Deewani Dekho Ladka Deewana’. Any memories from your first recording?
I was 11 when I recorded it, the film was released after two years. When I finished recording the song, Aadesh ji said, “Beta, yeh tumne heroine ke liye gaaya hai” (You have sung the song for the film’s heroine). I reacted “Kya?”The other song from the film, Kya Ada Kya Jalwe Tere Paro, was a bigger hit. I was so happy that day that when I reached home, I had fever for the next three days. I couldn’t believe that I had sung for a heroine.
You won the first ever talent hunt show ‘Meri Awaz Suno’ in 1996, for which Lata Mangeshkar and Manna Dey were among the judges. What did they say about your voice?
I was 13 when I participated in the show just to see her [Mangeshkar]. She is my goddess. I told dad to allow me to participate, he was against singing competitions. When I reached the mega final, Lata ji was sitting right in front of me. Manna Da, Pandit Jasraj ji, Parveen Sultana ji and Yash Chopra ji were there. Before my performance I was afraid that if I saw her, I would start crying. I sang without looking at her, kept my eyes to the ground. When I was done, I looked straight up into the audience. I was too nervous to look at the judges. When I won, Lataji stood there with a trophy. I cried. She wiped my tears and said in my ears, “Whatever you need, ask me, if you want to learn from anyone, just let me know.”
Over the years, have you become choosy about the kind of songs you sing?
Slightly. Mainly because I do not wish to repeat myself. People approach me for the skills I am known for, but even in an average song I make sure I give my 100%. and make it sound great. The kind of songs I was offered in between made me feel that someone else could sing that track and add their colour to it, which is why I chose not to sing them. Not that the songs were bad, just that I want to keep doing something new which excites me.
You acted in the short film, Playing Priya. Are you open to acting in films? If yes, what kind of roles would you prefer doing?
Of course I am open to acting, but I am too new to list out the kind of roles I would want to do. Whatever I do next, I want to make sure that I excel at it and am able to break away from the image of singer Sunidhi Chauhan. When I am acting, I would want to be known as the actress Sunidhi Chauhan and not the singer Sunidhi Chauhan. After Playing Priya my respect for actors has gone up immensely. I thought it was going to be simple considering it’s a 5-minute film, but we shot for 23 hours and I had to stay in that character throughout the film. However, I loved the process and would want to do more films. I have been getting a lot of offers but haven’t signed anything as yet.
The number of songs in Bollywood is reducing. Do you feel insecure about it as a singer?
No not at all. Today, film making process has undergone a drastic change. Now, the film is the hero and songs happen for the movie, toh requirement he change hogaye hai. In fact, ab toh singers saath mein gaana bhi nahi gaate. We just do our jobs and vanish. Sometimes even the music director is not in the studio with us. Earlier, producers, directors and even the actors would be present in the studio just to celebrate the process of music making. I miss that a lot. I remember singing duet songs with KK, Shaan, Sonu and many others. It used to be fun, but it doesn’t happen anymore. However, it’s okay. Times have changed and people are in a hurry. Every time and anytime is a deadline. I started in 1995 and we are in 2018, so I am glad that I am a part of every change. I like to go with the flow and have no complains.
What do you think about the concept of multi- composers?
It’s a good thing because everybody is getting a chance to display their skills. However, I don’t know why filmmakers rope in 3-4 composers to do one project. According to me, it takes away from the film a little. Just like a director has a particular vision for a film, a composer does too. Hence, it’s a single composer is a better option. But, as I said, times have changed and so have the songs. There are times when a song, which is made to promote a film, has nothing to do with it.
A lot of singers today try and imitate your singing style. How do you feel about it?
If I can be somebody’s inspiration, what more do I want in life? But let me tell you that all singers now are brilliant. This is the best time for singers as there are a lot of opportunities and there is a room for everyone. People who can or cannot sing are singing, so it’s good. Now it’s for the audience to decide what they like or dislike.