Ahead of her concert for The Hindu on June 30 in Chennai, Sunidhi Chauhan talks to Chitra Swaminathan about her formula-free singing and journey to fame

She is no longer a plain-Jane crooner. Mascara-clumped lashes, eyeshadow-brushed eyelids, chic western gear and hair in stylish disarray...Sunidhi Chauhan has acquired haute looks to match her many robust, seductive super hits.

There’s been as much drama in the young songstress’s life as in her voice. Like a quintessential Bollywood plot, there are the twists, turns and thrills.

A girl of four takes to singing and performing at local shows in her city (Delhi), comes up trumps in a music competition on Doordarshan, gets noticed by a music director and arrives in Mumbai to be a playback singer. Her debut song goes unnoticed but the song ‘Ruki ruki si zindagi’ from Mast turns her into a flexi-voiced teen queen. After crooning several chart-stirrers, at 18, she secretly ties the knot with choreographer Bobby Khan and is estranged from her parents. Within a year she ends the marriage, reconnects with her family and hits the high notes again. Top composers, big banners, a wide range of songs, live shows across the world…the singer gets a taste of musical stardom. A few years later she marries composer-friend Hitesh Sonik. Although a year away from 30, Sunidhi has been there and seen it all and nonetheless racked up 17 years of professional experience.

“No regrets about the journey so far. When you get to do something you are passionate about the odds get evened out. It’s easy to drown one’s setbacks and sorrows in sur,” she laughs mildly, even as she gears up for her show in Chennai on June 30.

“It’s been long since I did a solo gig here. It’s always exciting to be recording or performing in such a culturally dynamic city. I have sung for films in all the South Indian languages. I find songs here more challenging to render because of the rich quality of music. It’s any artiste’s dream to work with the likes of Ilaiyaraaja,” says Sunidhi, who will also sing a few Tamil numbers in her show.

Though her high-energy vocals have been stereotyped in item numbers in Hindi cinema, the singer says every composition has melody, only the measure varies. “It could be a fun, folk or a gayaki-driven song; it’s up to the singer to enhance its beauty through a nuanced rendition. You cannot approach any music, particularly film music, with blinkers on,” points out Sunidhi who has never been classically trained — or trained at all.

“I am a keen listener and learnt a lot from the record player in my house. There’s no end to learning an art. I enjoy the process of reinventing myself with every song and growing as an artiste. There’s so much to explore. Hence I plan to do more independent music. The environment now is extremely conducive to experimental work. People have become receptive to innovations and the social media is the best laboratory to put your ideas to the test and get instant likes or dislikes.”

Sunidhi might be part of the next season of Coke Studio. After releasing a single ‘Ab Laut Aa’ in April this year, she recorded Tagore songs in Bengali and another single ‘Sawaali’ for music composers Vishal-Shekhar.

Having a composer for a husband, does music dominate conversation at home too? “No not always. We are like any other working couple busy doing our own thing and sharing the household chores. And many a time we are not in tune with each other’s thoughts,” she laughs, her perky voice still ringing in your ears much after the conversation ends.