Sunidhi Chauhan made her propitious debut in 1996 among the greats. That year, the 13-year-old singer was judged by Lata Mangeshkar, Manna Dey and Pandit Jasraj to be the best female singer of the talent hunt show Meri Awaz Suno on Doordarshan.
Since then, Chauhan has had a prolific career across the Hindi, Tamil, Marathi and Telugu film industries. Her rich and raspy voice has been lent to numerous earworms, including Mehboob Mere from Fiza (2000), Dhoom Machale from Dhoom (2004) and Beedi from Omkara (2006).
Chauhan is now in the judge’s chair for Amazon’s Prime Video’s first 10-episode music competition show The Remix. Based on the Vietnamese and Indonesian show of the same name, the competition will feature noted singers and DJs and will serve remastered versions of classic songs. The Remix will be aired in early 2018.
Chauhan will sharing her duties with Nucleya and Amit Trivedi. “I truly feel that there could be great singers coming out of nowhere,” the 34-year-old singer told Scroll.in in an interview. “But we just stop them by giving them everything too soon.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.