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Madonna makeovers

A new look and some arm candy is what it takes pop singers to resurrect their careers, writes Kshama Rao.

india Updated: Feb 22, 2006 04:40 IST
Kshama Rao
Kshama Rao

If Madonna can do it at 47, then why can’t we,’ seems to be the common refrain of the international diva’s Indian counterparts. If she can continue to whip up a frenzy each time she performs, then so can we, say our pop singers. And so, that was enough to make Sunali Rathod step out of her husband and singer Roopkumar Rathod’s shadow. Not only did she replace a vowel in her name (she called herself Sonali earlier), she has also attempted to do something she has never done before. She’s not singing ghazals; besides, she has exchanged her sari and flowing hair for a more trendy, youthful and chic image. A couple of weeks ago, when she released her album, Sunali, This is Me which has club songs, hip hop and so on, you actually did a double take (it’s as though she too wanted to ensure you recognise her through the album title).

While we will reserve our comments on her album, what we are definitely sure of is that the new look works for her. What prompted this change? “I have always been inspired by Western singers like Barbra Streisand, Madonna, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston. It feels great to see them reinvent themselves every time they bring out a new album and so, I thought, why can’t Indian singers do the same? I have always been open to change. I’d like to do something exciting.”
She has got herself a spanking new wardrobe. “I am looking so many years younger that Roop says he’s fallen in love with me all over again.” About her new haircut she says, “Parting with my long hair was very painful.” In her youthful music video she also has a young male model as her arm candy.

“Today, it’s the day and age of being seen and seen well, and since I was going for a makeover, not only in terms of my clothes and look, but also my genre of singing – I was always known as Roopkumar’s partner for singing ghazals – I decided to go the whole hog. As for not casting Roop in the video, it was mainly the idea of my video directors, Aban and Kiran Deohans. They thought that Roop and I were known more as a ghazal couple and viewers could have an identity crisis looking at us. I was convinced and went along with it.”

Alisha Chinai, whose singing career was recently resurrected with the Kajra re number, isn’t new to image makeovers. The Babydoll sure knew how to woo her fans when years ago she featured in her Made in India music video which had the hunky Milind Soman. The last shot of the song showing Soman sweeping Alisha off her feet stayed on in the viewers’ minds even as sales of her album soared.

Says Chinai, “I think it’s all about changing your style, your sound, your image every time. And why not, when today’s audience gets bored very easily and
very soon. Every time they want something new and if we can give it to them, we should. Change is everything.”

Chinai also feels that a pop album has a short shelf life, so when you are at it you might as well do something which has high recall value. “I rediscovered the mujra with the Kajra re number. My next album, recorded in London, will be out in May and will surprise my fans some more.”

Sharon Prabhakar, one of the original pop divas and someone who isn’t new to image changes feels all the hoopla about a makeover is pointless. She says, “Two months later when my album comes out which is going to be very, very different, you will ask me the same thing. I think change is dynamic. I think these days it’s all about how you market and package yourself. I don’t see anything wrong in it provided you have the talent to go with it. Only then are the makeover and the image reinvention worth it. It doesn’t always work.

“Look at Madonna. At the age of 47 she has her fans eating out of her hands and she’s literally singing herself all the way to the bank. Similarly, if you want to do something commercially viable then it’s not wrong to undergo that makeover. Because if your album does well, everything becomes worthwhile.”

Prabhakar, Chinai and Rathod are unanimous about changing with the times and keeping up with today’s youth. Claims Rathod, “My daughter, nephews and nieces are absolutely loving not just my look but also my songs. The youth today are clubbing and going pub-hopping and so it is important they like the music.”

Rathod adds that she is probably lucky to not just have the looks but the talent as well. Atul Churamani, vice-president, A&R and Publishing, HMV Saregama, which has brought out Rathod’s album says, “You need to see the larger picture and it’s not just about the makeover. The music that you choose to do should be reflective of the singer you are. You can’t have Daler Mehndi prancing around singing a ghazal.

“Sunali has carried the change within herself and that’s how it should be. When you see Madonna it’s not just her new look but also the new sound she offers with every album. Finally, it’s the credibility of the singer, which matters to the audience. How honest you are to your art is what counts more than image makeovers,” he says.

We still do not know though if all that pays off in terms of high sales. As Churamani says, “Sunali’s album has just been out in the market. Talking about sales figures is early days yet.”

First Published: Feb 22, 2006 04:40 IST