She goes mad on stage
Bollywood's behind-the-scenes singers claim a place in the spotlight
By Sheela Narayanan
May 18, 2006
IT would be easy to mistake Bollywood playback singer Sunidhi Chauhan for a university student.
Stars like Aishwarya Rai (top) are the face of Bollywood, but singers like Sunidhi Chauhan (right) give voice to the songs.
When the 21-year-old chanteuse was in town earlier this month, she was sans makeup, in a pair of dark blue jeans and a dark pink floral top, with brown and cream adidas sneakers adorning her feet.
The only thing missing from the ensemble was a stash of books and a school satchel.
A fan at the meet-and-greet session at Kinara restaurant at Boat Quay even asked: 'Is that really her?'
But when she sang a few bars of her hit song, Dhoom Machale, from the 2004 Bollywood hit, Dhoom (which starred Abhishek Bachchan, John Abraham and Esha Deol), her sensuous pipes left fans in no doubt that she was Sunidhi.
Sunidhi was here to plug her concert with fellow playback singer KK. The concert is on Friday.
Playback singers are the faceless but distinctive voices behind the lip-synching stars in Indian films.
While Sunidhi has sung for the likes of Aishwarya Rai, Priyanka Chopra and Rani Mukherjee, playback singers like her seldom share the daily hysterical limelight that the actors bask in.
But this is changing as these behind-the-scenes songbirds are becoming more recognisable in the public arena.
'Good. It should happen more often,' said Sunidhi bluntly, when asked if playback singers should get more exposure.
'There are a lot of great singers who are behind the scenes, and people don't know who they are but know their songs.'
As an example, Sunidhi talked about playback singer Mahalaxmi Iyer who is in demand in both Hindi and Tamil films.
She said: 'I am a fan of hers but people hardly know her by face. They should come in front, be highlighted more.'
Her fellow playback singer, Krishna Kumar Kunnath, popularly known as KK, pointed out that at one time in Bollywood's history, playback singers were more popular than the actors who borrowed their voices on-screen.
'We had the biggest of the biggest playback singers (in the 1960s) - Kishore Kumar, Mohd Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle - they were better known than the stars themselves,' said the 25-year-old father of two.
Sunidhi's suggestion? More music videos.
'If you've got an album, people see your face, they connect with you more. Screen presence helps a lot,' she said.
And stage presence too.
During Sunidhi's concert held in Dubai last year, the New Delhi-born singer, in her own words, went 'mad' on stage.
She shimmied, shook and shouted at her fans to boogie with her.
'Onstage you need to be natural. You need to shout, jump. I love to sing. I enjoy myself on stage and that's the best part. I don't get tired,' said Sunidhi who recently performed at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia.
She started singing at the age of 4 and shot to fame on a nationally-telecast music talent show in India called Meri Awaaz Suno (Listen To My Voice).
At 11, she became a singing sensation, which led to her first gig as a playback singer in the film Shastra (Weapon).
However, for the next two years, she took a break. Her voice was changing with the onset of adolescence.
In 1998, popular playback singer Sonu Nigam asked her to sing a track for director Ram Gopal Verma's Mast.
The rest is playback history.
With close to 1,000 Bollywood films being churned out a year, Sunidhi now records four or five songs a day for various films. In the pipeline is Dhoom 2, the follow-up to the 2004 hit.
Her hit song Right Here, Right Now, from the soundtrack of the 2005 film Bluffmaster, which starred Abhishek Bachchan, was on top of the Hindi music charts for several months in India, reported the Indo-Asian News Service.
As a result of her successful stint on a television talent show, Sunidhi is not averse to reality TV talent shows like Indian Idol and Fame Gurukul (Fame Academy), that churn out new singers every year.
Both shows are on Sony Entertainment Television channel which is available on StarHub cable.
'That platform really helps. I like the concept of finding talent and talent is everywhere now, you just have to look for it,' she said.
But whether these reality talents can make it in the cut-throat movie business is another story.
'We all know people who are really talented will sustain. The rest will not. But it's good to have competition. It's good for all of us to sing better,' she said.