India’s answer to Mariah Carey is touching down in Dubai this week. James Wilkinson has the lowdown on who she is
She’s Bollywood’s premier Western crossover artist. Though she has made her fortune as one of Bollywood’s most famous singers, Sunidhi is heavily influenced by Western artists and has dabbled in everything from rock to classical to jazz, including a famous performance of Mariah Carey’s ‘Hero’.
Her tempestuous teenage relationship was the stuff of a Hollywood drama. In 2002, at the age of 18, Sunidhi eloped with music video director Bobby Khan. Her parents, who loathed their relationship, subsequently disowned her and cast her out. This can’t have been easy for Sunidhi, whose father had been helping her build her career ever since she was a child. Perhaps this influenced her decision to file for divorce the following year, citing differing life goals from her husband. Happily, the divorce helped her reconcile with her parents.
She’s in High School Musical. Kind of. Sunidhi is a ‘playback singer’ – that is, her voice is recorded and produced to dub over actresses in Bollywood musicals. Playback singers are big business, and when Disney decided to do an Indian dub of its biggest musical success in years, Sunidhi was tagged to do the vocals for female lead Vanessa Hudgens.
If you’ve seen a Bollywood film since 1996, you’ve almost certainly heard her. Even by the high turnover of many playback singers, Sunidhi is a hard worker. She performed her first playback song in 1996 at the age of 13; by 2002 she’d performed more than 350. Her gifted vocal cords have now overdubbed most of Bollywood’s leading ladies, including Aishwarya Rai, Bipasha Basu and Priyanka Chopra.
The first album she released completely bombed. But she was only 13. Sunidhi’s first Bollywood gig came as a result of her 1996 appearance on TV talent show Meri Aawaz Suno. She won the grand prize, which included recording an album for record store HMV. But the resulting CD – Aira Ghaira Nathu – was marketed as a children’s record, something that she subsequently blamed for its terrible sales. Still, the competition got her some attention in the right places and led to much greater things.
She might take her job a little bit too seriously. We’re all for being passionate about your art, but few musicians take it as far as Sunidhi reportedly does. As she told a journalist last year: ‘Music consumes me, so I forget to eat or rest. Recently I was on a drip.’ Hardcore. In a discussion on her life with Indian national newspaper The Hindu, Sunidhi had this to say: ‘I perform like a free bird. You get a glimpse of the “me inside” in my performances… When I am upset I sing better. My sorrows inspire me. I am a very emotional person.’ Fans will be hoping she bashes her funny bone before going on stage this week.