From the showstopper of Kalyanji-Anandji’s show Little Wonders in the early ‘90s to her first recording for the duo in Masoom Gawah and later for Aadesh Shrivastava’s Shastra, Sunidhi Chauhan has come a long way. She is one of the most sought-after playback singers in the Hindi film industry along with Shreya Ghoshal for almost eight years now.
Having quickly made the transition from ‘item song girl’ (her breakthrough song Ruki ruki thi zindagi from Mast and Mujhe mast mahoul mein from Fiza) to someone who was as effectively the voice of the heroine (for which she credits Anu Malik who fought for her for the title-track of Ajnabee when she was a struggler), Sunidhi has evolved into a diva and is known for her live shows, regional songs, albums and her penchant to perform the occasional international number as well.
When she was barely 15, she had expressed her desire to go international. She has achieved her dream with the song Heartbeat, which she recently recorded for Enrique Iglesias’ Euphoria. “The original version in 2010 was sung by Nicole Scherzinger but for a 2011 edition they wanted to add an Indian touch which was provided by music director Shamir Tandonji and me. We have even added some Hindi words to the track.” The song was partly recorded and mixed in India. But ask Sunidhi if she expects big things from this break and she shakes her head. “I have no expectations. I am happy with where I am now. This is just a small step towards global recognition.”
In India, Sunidhi is as busy as ever. She is working on a project very dear to her heart — a Bengali Rabindra Sangeet album — and has to render songs composed by Sajid-Wajid for Priyadarshan’s film Tezz. Sunidhi is also a part of Pritam’s Dum Maaro Dum and Vipul Shah’s new film, besides Murder 2, where she will be working with a new composer duo.
What are her thoughts about the changes that the music industry has experienced in the last decade? “I would say that the sound has changed more than the compositions,” states Sunidhi. “Very few compositions are pathbreaking. Also, many songs today sound the same; they hardly have any distinct quality. But, unfortunately, the masses still love this kind of music.” Sunidhi blames filmmakers for this trend in the music industry. “Earlier, producers and directors accepted the composers and their styles as they were. Today, oddly enough, a filmmaker who wants the Jatin-Lalit style of music for his film will go and sign Vishal-Shekhar and asks them to compose what they are not comfortable with!”
Asked why no new female singer has made a real impact since Shreya arrived in 2002, Sunidhi replies, “Today, new talent is welcomed, unlike before. I think when a singer has some special quality there is bound to be a lot of buzz around him or her. We live in an era where music lovers crave for new voices, so if an exceptional talent is discovered, why wouldn’t it be a success? That it has not happened after Shreya is self-explanatory, though some singers are promising. Also, getting opportunities and success is one thing, but maintaining it is not easy.”
So how does she feel to have reached and lasted at the top? “Being called numero uno makes me happy. All I do is strive to be better with every song I sing. There are so many singers who have consistently sung well through ages — Lataji and Ashaji to Alka Yagnikji.”
Does it scare Sunidhi that she might, one day, have to sing for elderly actresses? “If you grow and reinvent with time, why should this happen prematurely?” she counters. “After all, Lataji sang for six generations of heroines while Alka Yagnikji has been going strong for the past 25 years.”
Is she in touch with Sonu Niigaam, her friend, guide and mentor? “He is my inspiration!” she replies. “Sonu is a legend. No one else can even think of doing what he has already achieved. We have a bond that remains strong even if we are out of touch for a while. Sonu Niigaam’s rise as a singer has been phenomenal. He is a star in his own right as he has dabbled with all genres of music.”
Finally, what does she feel about a classic like Udi from Guzaarish not getting its due. “I have stopped getting upset. Such things keep happening,” says the singer. She adds, “Should every song be bombarded on radio and television or written about as much as a Sheila or Munni? Udi was not written about, but it is a special song. I have to include it, on demand, every time I perform on stage.”