Sharing notes with Sunidhi

Author: Dr. Mandar V. Bichu

It’s always good to boast- ‘I told you so’! When it comes to Sunidhi Chouhan’s singing success, I have that kind of feeling. It seems like a long way ago but actually it was just seven years back. I was reviewing an Indipop album- Aira Gaira Natthu Khaira by a debutante singer named Sunidhi Chouhan. I was so impressed by that young singer’s vocal range that I specifically mentioned in my review that this singer would go places!

Times have changed. The same young singer has now become Bollywood’s reigning diva, belting hits at will, sweeping awards by the dozen. Verve and versatility have been her strong points and songs like Beedi Jalai Le and Mere Haath Mein Tera Haath Ho are recent examples. Recently she was in Dubai for her show – ‘The Don and the Diva’ and I got my opportunity to meet her and discuss a few things about her life and career.
At close quarters, she looks short- and sweet! She is just 23 but she handles the questions with a veteran’s assuredness. Not surprising, when you consider that her showbiz career started almost a decade and a half earlier, when she was just a small kid! Now she has blossomed into a young and beautiful- and confident and successful woman and not to forget- an exceptionally talented singer! Here is Sunidhi Chouhan- up close and personal!
How difficult or different was growing up as a child artiste?
It wasn’t too normal. When other teenagers were going out for movies, I was busy doing shows or recording in studios. So my childhood was different but looking back I would say- I have no regrets for that. Because what I am today is because of what I did back then and not everyone is lucky enough to achieve what I have managed to do.
From a child prodigy to a talent hunt contest-winner to Bollywood’s premier playback singer, not many artistes have successfully managed this transition. What do you attribute your success to?
I will contribute it to the X-factor. There are many good singers- sureele (tuneful) singers but may be they lack that extra something- call it commercial angle or whatever, to succeed at the highest level. That quality also comes to you with experience. I wasn’t as good as I am today but over the years, slowly I have improved. I strongly believe that if you are good enough then no one can stop you from getting your due. It might take some time but it will finally happen.
What do you think of the parents pushing their small kids into these musical talent hunt programs?
These programs have certainly provided a great platform for new and young talents but one thing that bothers me is the haughty attitude they develop after proving successful in such programs. Recently in one of the functions, one such little champ singer just looked through me as if I were nobody! Man, I never had this attitude!
I feel such attitude problems happen mostly because of their parents or the surrounding people who keep praising them sky-high! They have to keep their heads on their shoulders and accept the criticisms in right way.
You have always been labeled as an item numbers-singer, which I feel is demeaning in a way, considering your immense versatility. Have the Bollywood composers done full justice to your versatility?
I think this ‘Item song’ situation was there around one and a half years ago. Then I was singing a lot of item numbers and many people thought that I was unable to sing other types of songs. But since then my songs in films like Ajnabee, Chameli, Sur and Fanaa have changed this perception. Now I am singing around 80% romantic melodies and 20% item songs, so there is a good balance. It is nice to hear people now praising my versatility.
It must be difficult to get that energy and attitude into an item song to make it click. What are the challenges of that genre?
Item song is perhaps the most difficult song to sing. When I am singing a romantic song, I can just sit and hum but for an item song, I have to give it my all into that mike, I have to sing it powerfully! I don’t really understand why people call it an item song- it is always the most important song, which is chosen for promoting the album. If it becomes popular, then it becomes an item song. I think I am lucky to get so many item songs because all of them become popular! When I am on stage, people always demand my item numbers, that time they don’t want to listen to Kaise Paheli (a softer number).
So what do you feel when your good numbers are not appreciated?
I feel sad. Actually 70% of my numbers have been wasted in such a manner but I have learnt not to crib and take it into my stride because on the other hand I have got so much of success!
Do you think that there are good composers in Bollywood today?
(Smiles) Yes, I am working with them! I won’t ever compare the old times with current times. That era was too good and this one is not so bad!
Do you feel that contemporary composers are open to improvisations from a singer?
There are a very few composers who are open to such suggestions. Composers like Vishal Bhardwaj, Vishal- Shekhar and Anand Raj Anand just give me the tune and tell-“Sunidhi, now it’s your song, your baby!” But there are others who don’t like these things. I don’t blame them- because finally that song is their creation, their vision. But when they give you that freedom, you have to grab it. Like in Beedi Jalai Le, Vishalji (Vishal Bhardwaj) just told me to imagine as if I was on a stage, surrounded by a raucous, whistling crowd and then render the song. I did just like that and it worked!
Do you feel that advanced recording technology- like separate recording the male and female parts of the duet, takes away something from today’s songs?
Nowadays, we all (singers) have got so used to this technology that it doesn’t feel odd. I just imagine that there is another singer singing with me and accordingly give my expressions. It is more difficult than before.
Earlier the singers would rehearse for fifteen days before the song and even do rehearsals at the take. Now in fifteen minutes I learn the tune and if it is a solo, I take around an hour to record and for a duet, it takes 40 minutes. Sometimes in that time, I even do the harmonies and double-tracking. So in just one and a half hour’s time, we have to get into the mood of the song and record it. It has become very mechanical. This way, it is very difficult to put your soul into the song but somewhere along the road, that magic take does happen!
Once you had said that you would like to be a performer like Mariah Carey. Is that dream still alive?
(Laughs) No, now my thinking has changed. Now I have stopped thinking about who I want to be. I do not dream now. Let’s see where my destiny takes me. I could be more than what I want to be or I could be nowhere. Now, I just work hard without bothering about where I want to be or who I want to be.
So is this the new spiritual, philosophical Sunidhi that we are seeing now?
(Laughs) Yes, you could say that. Now I feel Mariah Carey is too good to emulate. I just want to be Sunidhi Chouhan and carve my own small niche internationally.
Microsoft recently chose you for the Windows Vista song and you are also singing for Disney’s High School Musical’s Hindi version. So is this your foray into English music?
My ultimate dream is to cut an English album on a huge international scale. These recent efforts are just small steps towards that goal.
What’s your daily schedule like?
I wake up at 9 o’clock, go to work by 11 am and come back home by 10.30- 11 pm. On an average, I am singing 2-3 songs, sometimes even 4 songs in a day. Sometimes I also have some Page 3 appointments. I practically have no time for myself.
How do you train yourself as a singer?
I have not officially learnt music but since I was very young- from about eight-nine years of age, I have been listening to Lataji’s (Lata Mangeshkar’s) songs and singing with them. That has been my only training. So far I have never had a formal Guru in music but I would love to learn classical music.
What is next on Sunidhi’s radar?
I am planning to do my own album where I can show different side of my singing. Mostly by the end of 2007, I should be able to manage to cut that album. There are many interesting soundtracks like Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom and Cash lined up for release. In fact, in this year practically in every soundtrack you will be hearing my songs.

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