Sunidhi Chauhan. The name may not ring any bells with the general American public, but among moviegoers the world over and an ever-growing stateside Bollywood fan base, the voice is one of the most recognizable and unmistakable. Chauhan brought her ample array of chart toppers from hit movies as well as other Indian entertainers to the Los Angeles area in a lively show on July 8, 2006 at the Long Beach Terrace Theatre.
Emceeing the event was Manasi Parekh, an actress on the Indian television serial India Calling. While some of her host patter was delivered in Hindi, her engaging manner and improv skills kept the proceedings moving at a quick pace through its two acts. Ayub Patel kicked off the evening with the familiar title tune to Kal Ho Naa Ho (Tomorrow May Never Come) and older filmi hits. The energy kicked up a notch whenever Rahul Vaidya took the stage--and the audience sometimes had no choice but to bring their spirits up to his exuberant level. The second-runner up on Indian Idol, he parlayed reality show stardom into a recording career and playback singing for feature films, and whenever he received less than stellar participation from the audience, he would jokingly take everyone to task until they got it right. Needless to say, such good humor just won the audience even more than his superb singing, and perhaps he got the crowd even more excited than anticipated, as later in the evening he brought up an especially excited audience member onto the stage, and his impressive dance moves made for a spontaneous highlight of the night. A considerably lower-key Javed Ali, who provided the male vocals for the memorable Aishwarya Rai-Amitabh Bachchan-Abhishek Bachchan item number "Kajra Re" in last summer's smash Bunty aur Babli (Bunty and Babli), paved the way for another nice surprise; when time came for him to perform that hit song, joining him on female vocals was none other than Parekh herself, and she more than held her own against Ali.
What really got the crowd excited, of course, was the headlining diva herself. While a female dance troupe called the "Pop Chicks" provided backing for a few of her numbers, it seemed an unnecessary indulgence as Sunidhi was more than capable of holding the stage on her own. Her remarkably elastic voice proved to be even more powerful and emotive in person as she wrapped it around a wide variety of material, from dance hits such as "Dhoom Machale" from the 2004 action smash Dhoom (Blast) and emotional ballads such as "Mere Haath Mein" from this summer's hit romantic drama Fanaa (Destroyed in Love) to the jazzy throwback sounds of "Kaisi Paheli Zindagaani" (a Hindi cover of "A Kiss to Build a Dream On") from last summer's acclaimed Parineeta (Married Woman) and her self-professed favorite song of all time, a certain familiar song by the name of "I Will Always Love You." Her amazing versatility in tackling songs in both Hindi and English, not to mention how she is just as credible tackling more classical sounding tunes as she is modern, Western-influenced pop, and her incredible on-stage charisma and performing ability--and at only 21 years of age--shows that she has more than what it takes for major crossover stardom. If only the popular American music landscape were more open to welcoming artists from the Asian market into the industry, as her undeniable and overwhelming vocal talent along with her beauty and star quality would make her a major musical force with the proper label and producer support. It can't be long, however, her devoted, ever-growing following in the States becomes impossible for the powers that be to ignore.