Thursday, June 07, 2007

The A list of Indian playback singers

Although I miss Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Geeta Dutt dearly – there are a number of Indian playback singers out there that collectively fill the rather large chappals left behind by these legends. The playback landscape is a curious one – singers get typecast, they get drawn into this camp or that camp, they do excellent work on flop songs and get tucked away somewhere or they do middling work on hits and their phones ring off the hook.

Take Alisha Chinai for example. Admirably negotiating the twists and turns of “Tinka Tinka” on Karam did little for her – it took the bhaiyaji cabaret “Kajra Re” from Bunty Aur Babli to make her known to a new generation. And although she’s heavily typecast she does seem to have fun doing what she is asked to do – even vamping things up as she does on the complex, energetic “Qatil” from Raqeeb.


Sonu Nigam is the most complete singer I’ve heard in recent times and in retrospect we will come to believe that he played in Mohammad Rafi’s league –even surpassed it. Sure, his awkward excursions into acting (Love in Nepal, anyone?) and self-indulgent stunts (“I don’t know why everyone has to talk about my long hair!” Really? I had no idea until you brought it up, Sonu) can be annoying. But his voice quality is fantastic and such is his control over variation that his voice often flows like a river around anything a producer can throw at him. He has it in him to take even a middling song and make it extra-special (try Bunty Aur Babli’s “Chup Chup Ke”).

Udit Narayan’s voice reminds me a warm phulka puri. It’s cuddly, it’s soulful and it makes you want to find someone to hug in your nearby vicinity. He’s also a master of tweaking a tune (he doesn’t have a big voice) – bringing it into his comfort zone and rendering it perfectly. He was a lot of fun to listen to on Ek Main Ek Tum’s “Sau Chand” and he made “Chori Chori” on Krrish memorable.

Hiring Sukhwinder Singh to sing a song gives a producer a lot of options. He can belt out a pop tune, a bhangra, something sufi or step into Hindustani classical. And he does it all in that booming voice that seems to carry raw masculine power. His work on “Zalzala” from Dus still thrills me whenever I listen to it.

Shaan sonically falls somewhere between Sonu and Sukhwinder. He has a lovely rasp to his voice but he can bend a tune beautifully. He’s gotten a lot of attention lately for “Chand Sifarish” from Fanaa which gorgeous song that it is, is not much of a challenge for a top drawer singer. Instead Shaan’s wringing of drama on “Main Hoon Don” or guarded vulnerability on “Chhua Mere Dil Ko” from Game are more representative of his diverse talent.

From singer of item numbers to someone with a broadening range, Sunidhi Chauhan has come a long way. And it has been a wonderful journey to hear. Initially she sounded fragile, muddled, even unsure when she sang. But now, her voice has developed genuine clarity, she can hold a sur without wavering even once and her diction has improved dramatically. She is equally at home with something like “Imaan Ka Asar” (Dor) or “Mundiya” (Shaadi Se Pehle). What I appreciate about Sunidhi is that she has consistently challenged the traditional demands on women playback singers to sing in squeaky voices. And her success makes her a landmark performer if not a great singer.

Early on in her career, Shreya Ghoshal sang a song that captured my total attention. It was the semi-classical “Har Taraf” from Saaya and such was her confidence and abhinay that you could sense she was going to be a major singer. Yet in my opinion she failed to live up to the early promise. Often producers played up the ringing clarity in her voice for innocence and freshness and consequently limited her. Lately she’s shown the ability to take a song by the scruff of its neck and own it whole-heartedly – she did that on Guru with “Barso Re” and then again on “Tara Ra Ra Rum” from Tara Rum Pum.

Also: The B-list of Indian playback singers

10 comments:

thoughts of a blank mind said...

wonderfully compiled and shortlisted!! is there a B list coming up??

Chewingums said...

For the B list watch saregamapa. Indian Idol is the C list. And don't bother with the D list.

Aspi said...

Amit, thanks. There is a B list and its here.

chewingums, thats funny. But you know there is a D list - those singers at the receiving end of favors for obligations from the past.

Anonymous said...

The E - F & G list should add a few of the newly discovered singres from these reality shows !

ravindra said...

Hi Aspi,

Ya I agree with your A list of singers in to to. Shaan at times seems to try and be "too sweet/sugary" in his voice quality and his naturalness goes away, but he is the one slowly creeping up.

Sunidhi is maybe the future Asha Bhosle - the range she has.

Ravindra Joshi

Aspi said...

Hey Ravi, good to hear from you. I think Shaan is feeling the pressure of catching up with Sonu.

ajit said...

Good compilation there, but I was surprised not to see KK here, and not even in the B-list. Not only does he have a great range, but he has sung some really lovely numbers.

Aspi said...

KK was an oversight I'll have to admit. I'll work on a less personalized list soon - I'm learning a few things about the Bollywood music industry these days.

mamu said...

i realy agree with your A list.but i must say that shaan doesnt comes in between sonu &sukhi he is far more better than

Aspi said...

mamu, this is an old post. I agree - Shaan has built a unique identity since then.