Chaiyya chaiyya remains a phenomenon because of Shah Rukh and Malaika: Sukhwinder Singh

Sukhwinder Singh on the music industry, recording Chaiyya chaiyya and his favourite music directors

By Samarjit Guha
  • Published 21.12.18, 12:39 AM
  • Updated 21.12.18, 12:39 AM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
Sukhwinder Singh The Telegraph picture

Twenty years ago Chaiyya chaiyya set the nation pulsating with a dashing Shah Rukh Khan and a sultry Malaika Arora atop a train gyrating to A.R. Rahman-powered beats in Dil Se... The voice behind that beautiful vignette was Sukhwinder Singh, who got instant recognition and is still very much a part of the music firmament. In a telephone chat with t2, he talked about his love for the city and music, ahead of his performance on Christmas eve at the Calcutta Swimming Club.

Samarjit Guha:

When you recorded Chaiyya chaiyya 20 years ago, did you think it would become such a rage? What are your memories of recording it?

Sukhwinder Singh:

It was definitely the blessings of Bulleh Shah that made me and Chaiyya chaiyya. He wrote the original lyrics in Punjabi called Thaiya thaiya. I happened to meet Rahman and explained the verses to him and a genius like Rahman lost no time in composing the song which I then sang. I was sitting behind Lata Mangeshkar when the film was first screened and then came the hero and Malaika Arora atop the train and my voice on Shah Rukh. I can’t explain the feeling and I straight went for Lataji’s feet to seek her blessings. Till then, I had never been anywhere near her. Both Shah Rukh and Malaika enhanced the song many folds and it remains a phenomenon. 

Samarjit Guha:

When you first came to the playback scene, there was already a Kumar Sanu or an Udit Narayan well-entrenched. How did you find your feet?

Sukhwinder Singh:

I never witnessed any competition as I simply love music. I really don’t get into who is ahead or behind me or put it this way, I am never into any kind of aggression. Even with films without a stellar cast, I have put in the same passion. If you hear the recent song (Kar har maidaan fateh) in Sanju, you will realise how I still love music. 

Also Read
Samarjit Guha:

Yesterday’s singers were heard, not seen. Now it’s the reverse. What are your thoughts?

Sukhwinder Singh:

You said it. No wonder singers of the past were much better. I always feel it should be a combination of looks, talent and presentation. If we are aping western culture, then it’s not just good looks or a fab body, it’s a huge amount of talent as well. I was once with Shakira and saw her from close quarters. She is so dedicated. Ditto with Whitney Houston or Britney Spears. They take feedback and put in hours of practice. Look at Lataji or Ashaji. When they sing, they look as beautiful as they sing. So while times have changed, a singer has to have the combination I mentioned before coming on stage or television or public place.

Samarjit Guha:

I believe you are highly influenced by world music. How did that happen?

Sukhwinder Singh:

As a student, I was bundled off to the United Kingdom for higher studies. But once there, my love for music surfaced and I travelled to Ukraine and listened to operas. I went to concerts of Whitney Houston. I even bought a slapback microphone that Elvis Presley was known for. I still use it for my shows. I just love Elvis’s style. But what irks me the most is when any rookie foreign singer comes to India, they are labelled an international artiste and so much is made out of their concerts, even though they cannot sing well. When we go abroad to perform, we are still called Indian artistes. 

Samarjit Guha:

Does a playback singer need to be classically trained?

Sukhwinder Singh:

A bit of training is definitely necessary. When you go to Lata Mangeshkar’s rehearsal room, you can still hear her singing though she has retired from active recording or stage shows. How can she do it? Only because she has had extensive classical music training. I have huge praises for Kaushiki Chakraborty because she can balance this very well.

Samarjit Guha:

Why Kaushiki?

Sukhwinder Singh:

She is the only classical singer who sings with a smile and has an amazing stage presence. I always admire her and someone has even spread this rumour that I have a crush on her (laughs). But to tell you the truth, I’m willing to turn to the black market for tickets just to listen to her. She comes from an amazing gharana.

Samarjit Guha:

Any new music director that has caught your imagination apart from A.R. Rahman or Vishal Bhardwaj?

Sukhwinder Singh:

Definitely Ajay-Atul. Their sense of rhythm and the way they mix tracks is amazing. I expect magic from them. I sang for them in Agneepath and Thugs of Hindostan. I also like Salim-Sulaiman as their music has an East-meets-West feel. Also Vishal-Shekhar.