Sunidhi Chauhan talks about The Remix, music reality shows and how Bollywood shapes its singers
Ahead of the launch of the upcoming music reality show The Remix, playback singer-judge Sunidhi Chauhan spoke to Firstpost about why today's music seems less impressive
Bollywood playback singer Sunidhi Chauhan, whose voice remains unforgettable because of songs like 'Ruki Ruki' and 'Mehboob Mere', is all set to be seen in the upcoming music reality show The Remix, which will stream on Amazon Prime Video India. She will be judging the contestants along with music composer Amit Trivedi, and DJ Nucleya. Ahead of the show's launch on 9 March, the celebrated singer spoke to Firstpost about reality shows on TV, the state of Bollywood music these days and the lack of essence in newly released songs.
Sunidhi Chauhan, along with her contemporary (and rival, as some people view her) Shreya Ghoshal, were the most successful female playback singers in the Hindi film industry after 2002. Both Chauhan and Ghoshal are also counted among those voices in Bollywood who had a successful transition from TV reality shows to recording studios. They enjoy a massive fan following, have an array of awards and accolades to their name, and have critical as well as commercial appeal.
Chauhan in particular is known for her versatility and distinct vocal texture. There was a time when party songs and high-tempo dance/item songs were composed keeping Chauhan in mind, and she did complete justice to these compositions. Right from her debut with 'Ruki Ruki' and 'Mast', to 'Dhoom Machale', 'Beedi Jalaile', 'Sajna Ve', 'Kamli', 'Ainvayi Ainvayi' to more recent songs like 'Radha' and 'Gudgudi', Chauhan continues to leave a mark.
Chauhan was first spotted in the 1996 reality show Meri Awaaz Suno, hosted by Annu Kapoor and judged by Lata Mangeshkar, Manna Dey, Pandit Jasraj and Bhupen Hazarika. The show was backed by Doordarshan, Mangeshkar and Yash Chopra's Metavision. Since then, Chauhan has been part of many reality shows as a jury member, but she claims The Remix is very different. "While the previous ones were singing talent shows, The Remix has a DJ paired along with a singer, both contributing equally to the song and recreating it. Of course, those are Bollywood songs (old ones as well as new), but the whole idea of creating something absolutely new, regardless of whether it is relevant or not, and then making those songs sound new, is very exciting," says Chauhan.
She adds, "What I love about the show is that a pair (DJ and vocalist) is given two to three days to prepare a song, so you also get to see the whole process of how it is made. People usually don’t know what goes into it, what makes it sound so different. Also, it’s not the regular, commercialised remix that the contestants do; they actually recreate, recompose sounds, add elements to it... So it is totally different. This way, I think, people will be more educated about the remixes, in a more tasteful way."
Over the years, many listeners have disapproved of the growing trend of revamping old Bollywood classics and changing them completely. As the industry continues to use this formula of remixing songs, the distinct sound of the originals is lost in the process. Speaking about this phenomenon, the two-time Filmfare Award-winner says, "If you are touching anything belonging to the classic era, it has to be done very tastefully, with a lot of thought and with a lot of love. You have to understand the intensity and sensibility of the song, and remix it accordingly. Only then will it sound good, and sometimes also enhance the original composition. As long as the emotion of the song is kept intact, it’s fine."
"The problem arises when the emotion of the song says something and you end up creating something else. But if you get the feel within the sound correctly, you can get as close to what it actually was when it was created the first time," adds Chauhan. She further explains, citing examples from the The Remix, "There were a few songs in the show which were really nice in spite of being overly produced. They made the songs from the 90s sound totally new and fresh. I know that the genre has been done to death, but the contestants did some good rap — the right kind of rap — minimalist, to three lines, in a way that it doesn't seem imposed and overpowering. At the same time, there would also be aalaps here and there, so it is a new definition of remix that you will see on the show."
Chauhan had a great time at the show with Trivedi and Nucleya as fellow judges, and also learnt a great deal. "I enjoyed a lot, I had no idea about DJ-ing; I didn’t know what turning tables meant. I was really fascinated by the whole idea; it was a completely new world for me. When I found out that the two other judges on the panel were Amit [Trivedi] and Nucleya, it was all the more exciting as all of us come from different musical backgrounds. We were constantly educating each other, learning from each other and at the same time, learning from the performances. So it was a good change talking about something other than singing," says Chauhan.
Speaking about the creative and musical exchanges she witnessed during the show, Chauhan says it is the basic understanding of music and the feel of it which struck a chord with the three judges, in spite of coming from different musical spaces. "The basics were the same. Nucleya told me he learnt how to sing during his childhood and was probably was trained in classical music for some time. Amit is a natural composer. He likes the roots of Indian music, and at the same time he can create something which is very contemporary. His music is something anybody can sing, which is very hard to crack. See, difficult songs are difficult, but you can crack it if you are trained, know how to play the harmonium, take bits from ragas and then put it all together… but a tune that comes straight from the heart, however simple it might sound, is difficult to sing," she says. "My roots are based in Lata Mangeshkar. Whether it classical songs, thumris, light songs – she is everything. Whether she has sung it or not, she is my school; I look up to her in that way. I guess many others do too, or perhaps the whole nation does. So all of this was possible because we come from same roots. Whenever we commented on anything, we were always on the same page, all the time," explains Chauhan.
Talking about the show in particular, Chauhan claims there is no 'drama' involved in it. "There’s none of it because it is not even needed. All the contestants are known people; you would have seen them or heard them somewhere, they are established. Around 30 percent of the stuff that you see will be live, unlike other pre-recorded shows. The contestants sing it, not mime it. So the whole focus is on creating good music. They have been rated only on merit. It is going to be very crisp, and you will see us talking about just the performances."
Today, a number of female voices sing Bollywood's songs. The state and quality of music today is questionable, but the reasons behind it are often not known to the common public. Chauhan throws light on the issue of whether the quality of today's music is questionable, revealing the role that technology has played. "There are opportunities today, there are many singers. But they are not asked to do what they can, but what has already been done. ‘Sing like him; sound like him,’ they are told. Nobody in the room is sure about what to do, the music directors aren’t sure about what they need from the singer. Most of them are programmers who have become music composers. They pick up tunes from places where you can legally buy them. They are not getting what they want, as they can’t explain what they had in their minds. So it’s a mess," she says.
"The music composers are not worried about quality, they are just worried about how different it sounds. There is no importance given to the singer’s skills anymore. It is just about, ‘Oh, this sounds different’. And then if you are not happy with the recording, doctor it! They are fools; they don't realise that when you put that doctor plug in, it makes every voice sound the same. Even if they don't realise it, the audience understands it," says Chauhan.
Speaking about the issue further, Chauhan says, "If there are 50 singers, 20 are good singers and 30 are non-singers. And you will easily understand this when they perform live. I have seen people in the audience say, ‘Don’t sing like this, sing the way you’ve sung it originally.’ But the problem is the original is doctored. How can a non-singer sing that way? That is so embarrassing and scary."
Chauhan also mentions that reality shows today also contribute to the talent drain and deterioration in the quality music. She says, "If at all there is potential, that will be crushed by praising them so much that it goes to their heads. The whole scope of improvement is taken away. You will see this happening a lot in these reality shows, especially in the kids’ reality shows. When the judges say, ‘You’ve sung it better than the original,’ they feel they have achieved their best. So even if one of them had the potential to become the greatest of the great, which I am sure there is because India is full of talent, they never get the opportunity."
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