Friday, May 16, 2008

The evolution of Sunidhi Chauhan

Sure the advent of item numbers at the turn of the millennium helped surge Sunidhi Chauhan to the forefront of Bollywood singers, but she's also made a contribution of her own - namely, she's helped draw the squeaky Lata era to a close.

The big break

As is well documented, Sunidhi started her career via singing shows, made an unremarkable Bollywood debut and helmed an independent album that tanked at the sales registers (her father maintains HMV botched the product placement). A chance introduction with Sandeep Chowta (whose career has cooled of late) via Sonu Nigam resulted in two duets on Mast and her first Bollywood success.

At the outset Sunidhi's voice and looks made her an ideal candidate to sing item numbers. In fact, her breakthrough song - Mehboob Mere - was one of the first in which a song was inserted in a movie for dubious reasons purely as spectacle. And as item numbers were supposed to, it spiraled the movie (Fiza, possibly Anu Malik's career zenith) and the song to hit status.

A quick evolution

Sunidhi's voice hadn't hit prime time yet. But her base voice was terrific - a low purr - and she brought a lot of youthful energy to her songs. She developed instant chemistry with a younger generation of music listeners but to her credit she seemed to understand the limitations in her voice.

Over the years, Sunidhi's progress took me by surprise. She steadily fixed the gaps - her live singing improved dramatically and her ability to move up and down on the scale with the speed required of a genuine playback talent got better.

Putting her divorce after an eloped marriage at 18 behind her in 2004, in a short five years since her first successes, she was hitting her straps on Khakhee (Aisa Jadoo) and Dhoom (Dhoom Machale). Some terrific singing ensued in Dus (Deedar de) Shikhar (Fitna Dil), Taxi No. 9211 (Ek Nazar), Pyare Mohan (Rabba De De Javaani), Shaadi Se Pehle (Mundiya - a personal favorite) and 36 China Town (Aashiqui Mein Teri).

The coronation is complete

By the time Omkara rolled around and Sunidhi sang the sensational Beedi the ascension to the throne was complete - and this was regardless of a little train called Shreya Ghoshal who was picking up plenty of steam.

Surprisingly enough, Sunidhi did keep challenging herself. And the second phase of her expansion can be heard on CDs today. Much of it seems tied to her fascination with American R&B and Soul (she's been known to be fond of Mariah Carey - who despite her tacky troubles and squishy song choices - has impeccable vocal credentials not to mention peerless sales)

Here Sunidhi's results have been choppy. And its a little unfair to expect her to get results immediately. Because of the scale of her speaking voice - which is ironically her strength - she can't hit the high notes without losing tonal quality. In this respect singers with thinner voices have the advantage. So while Sunidhi has tried some stuff and crashed and burned a little, occasionally she does something different with more success.

A career full of possibilities

There are several places Sunidhi can go from here. Although the magnificent Richa Sharma of late has been threatening to cut loose, most of her competition is still too stereotyped to be an immediate threat. There is, of course, Shreya but if you listen to their songs you'll see them circling each other's territory without completely encroaching on it.

There is a charted journey for Bollywood playback singers. But I think Sunidhi has enough talent to do something different. And personally my phaltu Drift advice for her would be to start talking to someone else on the bottom run of the music food chain: musicians, and putting together a kick ass band. Then take a hotshot composer with youth appeal who is struggling to get work in Bollywood (like say Raghav Sachar) and get a bunch of original songs together.

Next step, negotiate license deals for Sunidhi's most popular songs. Then book a ten city tour playing small places - probably major hotels or metro lounges in India and test out the songs. Because Sunidhi is a really good live performer and she has some famous songs, the audiences will listen to the other music just as carefully. And there might be enough immediate cash to end up with a distribution deal on the songs that allows Sunidhi to maintain control.

If the independent music scene in India won't give us a non-filmi star, maybe Bollywood can!

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very Sound advice Aspi! I love Sunidhi's voice as well...my only fear is, non-filmi Hindi-pop seems to have the most inane songs ever - maybe just a function of my old-foginess, but to me, the lyrics of the song itself matter as much as the tune/melody etc.
She needs a good lyricist as well...so far I haven't been impressed by Raghav Sachar or any of the other ones I see on B4U!

Bitterlemons

Pitu said...

Wonderful write-up Aspi! Unfortunately, I don't like Sunidhi at all. The only 2 songs of hers that I love are Beedi (Omkara) and Ek main aur ek tu hai (Bluffmaster). This is going to be hard to put into words, but her voice has this 'bratty' quality to it somehow. That makes her singing sound very amateurish to me. For eg, when I hear Jaspinder Narula, Richa Sharma or Rekha Bharadwaj's one and only 'Namak', I get this 'I am woman hear me roar' feel from them. Sunidhi sounds like a poseur, I'm sorry. Even her supposed sensuality does nothing for me. If I wanted langor, I'd reach for a Geeta Dutt cd and if I wanted honey-toned hawtness, there's always Ashatai. Maybe Sunidhi will improve :-p

Lin said...

"non-filmi Hindi-pop seems to have the most inane songs ever"

It depends, though. If it's the basic pop-remix types they are pretty inane.

But Kailasa, Sona Mohapatra and others are actually better than a lot of the crap B wood spurns out, imo.

Speaking of Sunidhi. I don't have a list right off the top, but the the best songs I like of hers are the ones where she is doing non-item number type songs. I do like her fast paced songs, too. But when you hear the other songs, it's a little bit of a surprise to know it's Sunidhi.

There have have been quite a few, but the one in my mind right now is the song from Armaan.
I would say the jazz number from Parineeta, but that's an item-number..so.

Lin said...

Oh, and I forgot about Fitna Dil.

Lin said...

Ehh, sorry for the third post in a row, but I was clicking on your links. :)

I had never head "Don't I love or Do I love You" and Lagee Lagee

And I am addicted to both. I must admit, even with the stupid lyrics that make no sense. Don't I love or Do I love you. Ehh? What does it mean? And that's Adnan Sami, right. And is the rapper

Even then, I really like the beat of the song. I'm not even too crazy about most of the rap/reggae that I hear in Indian music. But I don't really mind this one. (By the way, is this the South Indian dude that's always rapping in Tamil songs?)

And I really like Lagee Lagee as well. Where is it from? Some Film CD or a non-film album?

Aspi said...

I think Sunidhi gets way too much publicity because of item numbers and her general personality. But having said that I also think it makes her an underrated singer.

Lin, Laage Lagee is one of her better recent songs where she's trying something different and pulling it off well. Its from Anamika (music: Anu Malik).

Lin said...

I agree. I always say that she is underrated.

Drift Memsaab said...

From one Sunidhi fan to another:

Maine bola kem che kem Che ;-)

Cinderella said...

item/situational/watever...she does a great job and i love hearing her voice.especially in the bluffmaster 'right here right now'...her few lines leave a more lasting impression than Abhishek Bachchan.that's one of my favourites:-)
shreya goshal is too classical for my liking.

ritha said...

I have begun to appreciate sunidhi a lot more over the past few years. She was extremely limited in her vocal range when she started off. Eg: Chand chahiye from Supari
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zc7BjYLYU2Q).
Nice song, but u can hear her going all falsetto in the stanza(3:23 in the clip). But listen to her hit the high notes now!!
Its really creditable having a heavy / husky voice and still being able to pull off soft numbers successfully. Mighty impressed with her variation in Chameli - Sajna ve sajna vs. Bhaage re mann vs. Yeh lahma.
Everytime i think her item songs get repetitive, she comes out with a killer. Not to mention her romantic songs in bas ek pal. I think shes the most versatile among the female singers today. Rekha bharadwaj, jaspinder narula, richa sharma seem to be very stereotyped right now.
Personality wise, i think shes very chilled out and laid back (cnn-ibn interviews, judges on various shows). Doesn't try too hard looking like a wannabe.
Kudos!

megan said...

I used to like sunidhi at one point (last year) when i started listening to Hindi songs. But now I can't stand her voice. Its too repetitive.

After a certain point you start hearing hindi songs and they'll all start sounding the same UFFFF where's the variety..

and shreya goshal and alka etc are too screechy for my liking. I call them "The Karelis" collectively

Amit said...

I like Sunidhi a lot in terms of her raw voice quality. Right from the time when she hit the right notes on "Meri Awaaz Suno", the first singing contest show on DD.
However, the post could have avoided berating Lata Mangeshkar in the first para itself. I do believe that she has achieved and mastered what many others would only hope for. And that includes Sunidhi...

Aspi said...

amit, my comment was about the era more than Lata. My understanding is that Lata was forced to produce this thin, virginal, little-girl voice because of the societal expectations of the ecosystem that used to produce music in her day and age. She was definitely capable of much more. She has no equal in control over sur. And I say this despite being more of an Asha Bhonsle lover myself.

I also think that just because she is a legend doesn't mean she is closed to us re-examining how music has evolved (in some cases for the better) since her time.

Sumit said...

This is for those who don't like or not heard Sunidhi (like Pitu, megan etc) I suggest u ppl to listen these songs of Sunidhi and u'll get the eg of her verstality and efficient use of her voice -
"Pehla Nasha (her album), Baghe Re Mann, Mere Haanth Mein, Le Chale (my bro nikhil), Bindas (kya kool hain hum), Ishq Samundr, Uff kya jadoo mohabbat hai, Saiyan (u, me hum) & latest hit Shut up & bounce (Dostana)".

I m sure this gonna change ur views. Although Sunidhi has proved her verstality so many times, stil sum ppl recognize herself only for item songs. For me she is a true star, gr8 performer and a diva. I enjoy her singing.

vikas said...

hi everybody. i m here to say some words for sunidhi chauhan. I think she is the most reliable & most mature plyback singer now a days. this is not my persobnal view because the songs sung by her proves itself that she is a universal & versatile singer herself n she can sing any type of song n also of any mood. she has sung a lot of love songs, item numbers etc. i know shreya has good voice but she has no competetion with sunidhio because she could not sing like sunidhi as well. i like mostly songs by sunidhi but the songs thst i like most are as:
mere haath mein from fanna.
desi girl from dostana.
dekho na from fanna.
hey shona from tararumpum.
mehboob mere from fiza.
bumro from mission kashmeer.
dance pe chance from rab ne bana di jodi.
tanhaiyan from aap ka suroor.
mar jaani from billu barber.
luck boy from bachna e haseeno.
mast from mast.
aashiqui mein teri from 36 chiana town.

i think she must more love songs with a sweet voice like fanna n tararumpum.
at last i wish a lot of success, excellent voice n bright shining future n career for sunidhi.

Koyal said...

Sunidhi is a very good singer, considering her range and tonal quality. She is defintely underrated while Shreya Ghoshal is overrated. I cannot stand Shreya at all. She has the voice of most of the females out there today with no distinction in her voice like the top singers, Alka Yagnik, Anuradha Paudwal and Kavita Krishnamurthy. Sunidhi at least has this. Richa and Jaspinder are way too shrill for my ears, and Sunidhi by far overshadows them. I have also never liked Asha Bhonsle either- and her item songs were complete garbage. Geeta Dutt reigned in that arena. Her voice was much more melodius and convicting than Asha. Anyway,go Sunidhi- you are extremely talented, and we're lucky we have you.

shambo said...

I think Sunidhi by far is the best singer of this generation... Liek some people have already emntioned few songs i would like to add some more-"Aa bhi jaa" and "dil mein jaagi" from sur,"yaadein" from yaadein,"chaha maine chaha" from supari... Her best rendition IMHO is "My brother Nikhil". Shreya has a bautiful voice but as a singer Sunidhi's way better(her voice quality is unique and distinct) yet what amuses me is the fact that Shreya garners a bigger fan following than Sunidhi-how??

tariq said...

I am a big fan of Sunidhi n Alisha too. They have proved themselves over n over again by their unique tonal quality.Shreya has a nice voice too which is suited for some songs but for others like balma from khiladi 786 n similar ones where she screeches a lot. N she doesnt seem to have too unique a tonal quality. A new singer Palak Muchhal sounds exactly like her. On the other hand Sunidhi is completely home singing soft songs too that for normal people sometimes its hard to say if she is the singer. Just listen to her song Illusive Rain. I dont agree that her voice loses tonal quality on high pitches. On other hand she has songs like billo and more piya with Ustad Sultan n then songs of Sur like Dil mein jaagi or Dil ki khushi or Chameli. I have started liking voices of Shilpa Rao, Shalmali Kholgade n Anushka manchanda too. Each of them has a recognizable voice. I hope all these singers get a lot of scope to experiment.