His number Chaiyya chaiyya from Mani Rathnam's Dil Se stormed the nation and he became a top ranking playback singer overnight. Seven years later Sukhwinder Singh crooned the chartbuster Omkara. His voice can be heard virtually in every Friday's release, where he belts out heart-felt high-octave melodies often used in the background.
Meet the versatile singer in conversation with Arnab Banerjee.
You are back after a long time with Is Dil Se …… What is it about?
Is Dil Se comprises eight songs. Each song reflects an amalgamation of pain and happiness. The entire album is a unique combination of romantic, sad, Punjabi folk and fast tapping rock-n-roll songs. But the message is clear: it comes straight from the heart and I want to reach out to my fans' hearts.
Do you think there's room for romantic melodies in an age of techno beats, fast paced tempo?
I do and very strongly believe that anything that's a labour of love would find its niche in the market. The songs have been penned by Sameer and Dr Harjeet Singh has directed the music videos.
You have co-written and composed for the album.
It was while recording that I suggested to Sameersaab that the song Sukhiya… could have a second line which rhymes and takes the thought forward. In fact he shared how he was struggling to get the right rejoinder and I came up with Tauba Tauba aisi tanhai ke bas. Fortunately he loved it and then I even worked on the compositions briefly but not without the nod from Harjeet Singh saab. You seemed to have changed your looks too.
I don't think I have. In my sixth year in Bollywood, you can't take away what I have earned and people have accepted me the way I am. I don't feel the need to change at all.
But you were never this hip?
May be in terms of a few accessories and some as youngsters would like to call them - hip clothes, I think I am just the same. I have always been very health conscious since my gurus always advocated that only a healthy body and can have a healthy mind and in my case, a healthy voice. Yes, to some extent with changing times, I have changed.. I now have a gym in my apartment. But don't get me wrong.
It's not to pump iron to build muscles but just a device to keep fit.
You are on the defensive…
No, the point I am trying to make is that unlike other singers who resort to tactics and gimmicks on stage by wearing long hair or swaying their heads from left to right or right to left, I concentrate on my renderings, and nothing else.
Keeping good health is a fitness mantra for long. How important is a foundation in classical music today?
It was always a must and will always be the basic ingredient in any style of music. People who don't learn have a great disadvantage. After a point they tend to stagnate no matter how good they are. But you don't get to sing the regular romantic songs in films. With the release of Is Dil Se.. that myth will be dispelled.
I have sung all kinds of songs here. In Bollywood there is a trend to brand you as a certain kind of singer or typecast you. But that era is fast changing and I have started recording some melodious romantic numbers.
It's just the beginning for me. Just wait and watch… You have a special affinity with Sufi music. It has always been my first love. This year it was an honor to sing for Muzaffar Alisaab's festival.
In India, people are still groping in the dark and straining themselves to reach higher notes to sound like ''Sufi' singers.
I pity them because Sufi is not a particular kind or a style that requires third octave notes…it's a form of music that connects with the heart and there are several ways to reach out to Him. Not merely by singing in high pitched tones.