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From: bb on: Sun May 21, 2006 11:51 pm
Song of the Day: Three Songs By Chitra.
- Saravanan writes:
If she is imploring plaintively ‘kaahE sathaayE aajaa’ in one of the numerous Hindi FM stations, she is full of sensual remembrances of last night in ‘raat ka nasha abhi’ in another. The soothing ‘mayangi pOyi nyaan mayangi pOyi’ which fetched her the Kerala State Award last year is till topping the charts in the countdown in a Malayalam channel, while even two years after the album’s release, rarely does a day pass without the stirring ‘ovvoru pookkaLumE’ being requested for and aired in Shakti FM. Like most people who have a long drive to work, I try to beat the monotony by alternating between the various local radio stations. But on a typical morning I get to listen to the same voice, whichever channel I tune in to, whichever language it may be in. Hard luck on a guy who’s trying to beat monotony, you may think. But far from feeling bored, I listen with renewed amazement at the hitherto unscaled heights of glory that the unassuming Chithra has touched, and the nonchalant ease with which she seems to have bridged the seemingly insurmountable North-South divide, even while establishing herself firmly in the hearts of music lovers in all the four Southern states.
For K.S. Chithra, life has been learning to expect the unexpected, and every turn has been full of delicious surprises. If things had gone according to her father’s initial plans, Chithra would have remained a music teacher in an obscure Tiruvananthapuram school. Krishnan Nair always pinned higher hopes on his elder daughter Beena, whom he thought had a bright future as a vocalist. Krishnan Nair was himself a vocalist of repute who performed regularly for AIR-Tiruvananthapuram, and his wife Shantakumari was a veeNai player and music teacher. Beena was gifted with a wondrous voice, and Krishnan Nair ensured that Beena was trained extensively from an early age. But it was little Chithra, born on July 27, 1963 in Tiruvananthapuram, who turned out to be a bundle of surprises, and who would make her father’s dreams come true. As a tiny tot, she is said to have nodded her head happily and sang along with a childish lisp when P.Suseela’s ‘priyathama priyathama’ was being aired on the radio. Perhaps her destiny was chalked at that moment…
Playing with her dolls when Beena was being taught music, Chithra could recollect and sing whatever she had heard. She even sang a few lines for a music feature in an AIR broadcast when she was barely 5 years old. In a recent interview, Chithra remembered how academics never interested her, and even while walking to and fro on the terrace with a book in her hand and an exam on the morrow, her attention would be riveted on the snatches of the songs that could be heard from a neighborhood temple. Krishnan Nair couldn’t but notice where his younger daughter’s interests were, and applied for the National Talent Search Scholarship on her behalf. Though the rules stipulated that the aspiring students ought to have learned music for two years, the 13-year old Chithra breezed through the rigorous interview, singing an intricate piece in thOdi raagam that secured her a 7- year scholarship to learn music. Later, Chitra completed her B.A. in music, passing out with a university rank.
Chithra was learning music under Prof. Omanakkutty, when Omanakutty’s brother composer M.G.Radhakrishnan was on the lookout for a fresh voice. The perspicacious Omanakutty pointed to Chithra, and thus Chithra entered the film world, singing a song of riddles for the movie ‘attahaasam’. “I never thought that I would become a full-fledged playback singer even then!” reminisces Chithra now, wondering anew at the unpredictable twists and turns that make up life. “During my school vacation, after my SSC exams, I sang a duet with Yesudas which was released before my first song. I was literally trembling with fear that day. Till then I had only seen and admired him from far. And now I was standing next to him, in the same room, singing a duet with him! Later I sang in several shows of Yesudas all over India as part of his troupe and also for his Tarangini cassettes.” Music Directors who chanced to listen to Chithra when they came to the Tarangini Studios in Tiruvananthapuram were impressed with her, and film offers started pouring in gradually as Chithra became the favourite singer of upcoming MDs like Raveendran and Jerry Amaldev.
Raveendran was constantly urging Chithra to relocate to Madras, so that she could widen her horizons. But Chithra was reluctant to leave all that she was familiar with and come to Madras where she hardly knew anyone. She did make a trip to Madras though, to sing a song written by P.B.Srinivas and composed by S.P.Venkatesh for a Hindi film called Khushi Aur Khushi that was never released. It was at this juncture that director Fazil was planning a Tamil remake of his Malayalam super hit Nokkethadhoorathu Kannum Nattu, and wanting IR to score the music, arranged for IR to see the movie. Intrigued by the female voice that brought the same luster as KJY did to the haunting ‘aayiram kaNNumaai’ of Amaldev, IR sent for her. This was one summons that Chithra couldn’t resist, and the rest, as they say, is history. Chithra sang ‘poojaikkEttha poovidhu’ with GA and the solo ‘kaNNaana kaNNa unna enna solli thaalatta’ under IR’s baton for nee thaana andha kuyil, and there was no looking back….
* * * *
Tuning in late to thamizh sEvai iraNdu one morning in mid 1985, I wondered for a second (just for a second!!) if Jency had come back to sing, as I listened to the last lines of the JC/Chithra duet ‘dhEham siRagadikkum’ (naanE raja naanE manthiri). But the second time I listened to the song a few days later, I realized that I had not heard the voice before; and a couple of pronunciation errors notwithstanding, found myself liking the new voice. Several albums wherein Chithra sang for IR were released in the latter half of the same year: ‘anbE anbE neeyE enthan…aadharam’ (urimai), ‘andha nilaava thaan’ (mudhal mariyadhai), the entire geethanjali album (that had gems like ‘malarE pEsu mouna mozhi’, ‘thuLLi ezhunthathu paattu’ and ‘oru jeevan azhaithathu’), ‘oorOrama aathuppakkam’ (idhaya kOyil)…and presently, with poovE poochooda vaa, thamizh sEvai iraNdu started calling her ‘chinna kuyil Chithra’. Chithra had come to tfm to stay. And this remarkable achiever rounded off her very first year in tfm with a National Award winning performance in sindhu bhairavi. ‘paadaRiyEn padippaRiyEn’ merging seamlessly into marimarininnE had Chithra doing her mentor proud. Even in a recent interview she says humbly, “I owe a lot to Raja sir. He is the main reason for whatever I have achieved so far, and I will be forever grateful to him”.
In the very next year, many and varied were the treasures that IR presented to Chithra, and Chithra made sure that she adorned each one with grace and élan. ‘un paarvaiyil Oraayiram’, ‘dEvanin kOyil moodiya nEram’, ‘kuzhaloodhum kaNNanukku’, ‘kaatRodu kuzhalin naadhamE’, ‘indha veNNila ingu vandhadhu’, ‘nooRaaNdu kaalangaL nee vaazha vENdum’, ‘podi nadaiyaa pOravarE’, ‘silukku dhaavani’, ‘en jOdi manjakkuruvi’, ‘kaNNanai kaaNbaaya’, ‘kaathali kaathali kaNgaLaal ennai theeNdu’, ‘kaalam iLavEniRkaalam’ were some of the winners that the IR- Chithra teamwork came up with in 1986. And again it was in this year that Chithra did a fantastic job in punnagai mannan. Save the brilliant VJ number ‘kavithai kELungaL’, the album was wholly Chithra’s. And she did full justice to the songs- be it the two duets with SPB or the two solos, ‘yEthEtho eNNam vaLarthEn’ being the first among the enticing equals.
The subsequent years saw Chithra rising to prominence as a mandatory inclusion in most IR albums. The master saw to it that there was no genre of songs that Chithra left unexplored, and constantly coerced her to better her own best.
‘nee oru kaadhal sangeetham’,
‘iLamai radhathil iyaRkai sugathil’,
‘vaa vaa vaa kaNNa vaa’,
‘malaiyOram veesum kaathu',
‘vaa veLiyE iLam poonkuyilE’,
‘oru kiLiyin thanimaiyilE’,
‘kaNNin maNiyE kaNNin maNiyE’,
‘sanga thamizh kaviyE’,
‘nee oru kaathal sangeetham’,
‘vaa vaa anbE anbE’,
‘yaarai kEttu neer thaan’,
‘uyirE uyirin oLiyE’,
‘vaa vaa vanji iLa maanE’,
‘saami en thaalikkodi’,
‘idhazhil kathai ezhuthum nEramidhu’,
‘naan enbathu neeyallavO’,
‘muththamizh kaviyE varuga’,
‘ennuyirE vaa ennuyirE’,
‘poonkaatRE idhu pOdhum en udal’,
‘poovum thendRal kaatRum’,
‘vaanam thodaatha mEgam’,
‘indha maan undhan sondha maan’,
‘kudagu malai kaatRiloru’,
‘isaiyaalE naan vasamaaginEn’,
‘vaanampaadi paadum nEram’,
‘poonkaatRu un pEr solla’,
‘matthapoovu oru peNNai aagaatha’,
‘kalyaaNa then nila’,
‘oru raja vandhaanaam’,
‘mazhai varuthu mazhai varuthu’,
‘saththam varaamal muththam’,
‘malligaiyE malligaiyE thoodhaaga pO’,
‘sontham vandhadhu vandhadhu’,
‘nEthu oruthara oruthara’,
‘thooLiyilE aada vandha’,
‘kaathal kavithaigaL padithidum nEram’,
‘karpoora mullai ondRu’,
‘poonkaaviyam pEsum Oviyam’,
‘yaarum viLaiyaadum thOttam’,
‘thai pongalum vandhadhu’,
‘maharaajaNodu raaNi vandhu sErum’,
‘naattuppura paattu oNNu’,
‘indha poovukkoru arasan’,
‘mannan kooraichElai manjam paarkkum maalai’…. the list goes on…
Here is one of the many songs in this collaboration that I like a lot:
sandhOsham indRu sandhOsham from manithanin maruppakkam
Sung by Chithra
Lyrics by Vairamuthu
Music by Ilaiyaraja
manithanin maruppakkam (1986/ Satyajyothi Films) was Sivakumar’s 150th film and co-starred Radha and Jayashri. It was directed by K.Rangaraj. One of the early instances of the famed IR-KSC teamwork, ‘santhOsham indRu santhOsham’ mirrors the unfettered happiness of a woman who is yet to come to terms with her own good fortune …not even in her wildest dreams did she imagine that she receive a proposal from him… and now they are getting married….Vairamuthu dips his pen in poetic eloquence (sugamaaga uRavai meettuvOm, sugam theeramal iravai neettuvOm); IR crafts a joyous melody, and Chithra comes as the crowing glory…
* * * *
And with IR showing the way, the other MDs too started sending for Chithra to bring to life many of their imaginative compositions. Gangai Amaran was her co-singer when Chithra sang her first song in Tamil, and later Chithra sang some noteworthy songs in GA’s music: ‘singaara kaathu’, ‘nee thaana nesam thaana’, ‘saathi malligai samanju nikkuthu’, ‘mOgathai kondRuvidu’, ‘solla vallaayO’, ‘sri ranjani en sivaranjani’, ‘kaathal polladhu’, ‘poonthOttamE unai naan paarkiREn’, ‘hero vandhaachudi’.. GA composed music for the Malayalam film Anuraagi, and Chithra and KJY sang two enchanting versions of ‘EkaanthathE neeyum anuraagiyaanO’, Chithra had a soft solo ‘udal ividE en uyir avidE’ and had a caressing duet with KJY ‘ranjani raagamanO konjum mozhiyil’ .
Here is a lilting wonder that GA created for Chithra:
mazhayin thuLiyil from chinna thambi periya thambi
Sung by Chithra
Lyrics & Music by Gangai Amaran
chinna thambi periya thambi (1987/ Chempa Creations) starred Satyaraj, Prabhu, Nadiya, Sudha Chandran, Kanthimathi & others. It was directed by Manivannan. This remains one of my favorite movies from the 80s; a simple story told in a heartwarming, entertaining manner. ‘mazhaiyin thuLiyil layam irukkuthu’ is a beautiful composition set for a sequence that’s replete with delicious irony- a city-bred, suave girl playing a piano and singing… at the doorstep of a thatched cottage in a village, watched admiringly by two rustic men, rivals in wooing her, and a wizened matriarch nodding her head in unconcealed pride…while the rain drops keep falling in tandem with the fingers moving on the piano keys…ennaaLum sangeetham nammOdu ondRaagum….. eppOdhum santhOsham nammOdu vandhaadum…
* * * *
Few and far between were the projects that came the MSV’s way at the time, but in his waning years the mellisai mannar did give Chithra some treasured opportunities: ‘pookkaLum vaNNa vaNNa kavithaigaL padikkum’, ‘inaikku nadandha ninaippilE’, ‘sangeetham en nimmadhi’, ‘sugam tharum nila’, ‘sariyena yEzhu swarangaLum’, ‘thaamarai ilaiyE thoodhu sellaayO’, ‘engum inbam kaaNuthE’, ‘kanniyavaL naaNugiRaaL’, ‘en annai dEsamE’, ‘ponnO maNiyO poovO kaniyO’, ‘sandhumunai sindhugaLai padippOm’, ‘kasthoori maankuttiyaam’ ‘nee muththamittadhum ennai kattikkoNdathum’….
And here is a delightful rhapsody that MSV created with Chithra; seldom heard these days:
‘raajaathi ennai thEdi varuvaarE’ from raasaathi kalyaaNam
Sung by Chithra
Lyrics by Muthulingam
Music by M.S.Viswanathan
raasaathi kalyaaNam (1989/ K.M.R. Pictures) had Vetri, Yamuna, Delhi Ganesh & Mohanapriya in its cast. It was directed by V.P.Sundar. Listen to this dainty number from the mellisai mannar…at the sunset of a glorious career, he has given so much to an obscure movie with an obscure cast and crew, a venture that was doomed to fail from its very inception…. Chithra was indeed fortunate to work with a legend….
* * * *
Shankar-Ganesh’s star too was on the decline from the mid 80s, but Chithra got to be part some of the flashes from their dying embers: ‘janaki dEvi ramanai thEdi, ‘rOjappoo oru peNNaanadhE’, ‘maasi maasam thaan’, ‘OdathaNNi upputhaNNi’, ‘chittukkuruvi thottuthazhuvi’, ‘O thendRalE’, ‘oru kaathal dEvathai’..
Chandrabose was one MD who was in great demand in the second half of the 80s, and he gave Chithra one of his best compositions in that period- ‘medhuva medhuva oru kaathal paattu’. ‘chinna kaNNa chella kaNNa’, ‘yEdho nadakkiRathu’, ‘poo mudikkaNum’, ‘en raasaathi’, ‘vaNNathu poochi vayasenna aachu’, ‘vaan mEgam athu poo thoovum’, ‘iLankuyil paaduthO’, ‘ravivarman ezhuthaatha’, ‘thOdi ragam paadava’ were some other songs that Chithra sang for CB.
In his last movie, V.Kumar called Chithra to sing a caressing duet with SPB, ‘pattu poochi pattu poochi poovellaam’. Kunnakkudi Vaithyanathan gave her some intricately structured songs in the unreleased ‘ulaa vandha nilaa.’ T.Rajendar too turned to Chithra to render some of his compositions in that period like ‘kaathal oorvalam ingE’, ‘adi ammadi chinnappoNNu’, ‘sollamathaanE’, ‘kukku kukku kuyilE’ and ‘thOL meedhu thalaatta’. Raveendran and Jerry Amaldev had already reaped repeated success with Chithra in their Malayalam ventures, and so quite naturally when a few Tamil offers came their way, Chithra got to be part of these exciting collaborations as well. A one-film wonder like Murari can rest on his laurels like ‘sOlaikkuyil nenjukkuLLE’ and ‘malai naattu machchaanE’ rendered by Chithra.
Any MD who got an opportunity to compose for a Tamil film in that period would compulsorily reserve at least one song for Chithra and wait patiently for her to fit the recording into her tight schedule; such was Chithra’s standing then. R.D.Burman (nadhiya nadhiya nile nadhiya), Laxmikant-Pyarelal (achamillaa paathaiyil), Bappi Lahiri (thakkadhimi thana), V.S.Narasimhan (vizhigaLil kOdi abinayam), L.Vaidyanathan (ennai vittu pirivathu niyaayamaaguma), Devendran (kaNNukkuL nooRu nilavaa / puththam pudhu Olai varum), Hamsalekha (raakkuyilE kaNNile ennadi kObam/ sElaikkattum peNNukkoru/ O…kaathal ennai kaadhalikkavillai), M.Ranga Rao (kudumbam oru kOyil), Manoj-Gyan (chinnakkaNNan thOttathu poovaaga/ kaNNa nee vaazhga/ uLLam uLLam inbathil thuLLum thuLLum/ azhagil sokkatha aaNgaLaa), Bhagyaraj (ammaadi..idhu thaan kaathala), SPB (unnai kaNda pinbu thaan/ idhO idhO en pallavi), S.A.Rajkumar (aayiram thirunaaL)…Chithra worked with them all to come out with stunners time and again..
And the following decade brought about exhilarating changes in tfm; a fresh set of talented composers like A.R.Rahman, Deva, Maragathamani, Vidyasagar, Sirpi and Bharadwaj burst upon the scene and many of them brought about original and inventive ideas in music, even as the old guard remained unfazed. … and all these MDs entrusted Chithra with many of their best works. ARR has always relied upon Chithra to embellish many of his complex creations. Some exquisite illustrations of this teamwork are ‘puththam pudhu bhoomi vEndum’, ‘anjali anjali’, ‘azhagu nilavE’, ‘en mEl vizhuntha mazhai thuLiyE’, ‘then kizhakku cheemaiyilE’, ‘kaNgaLil enna eeramO’, ‘kaathu kaathu’, ‘thenmERku paruva kaatRu’, ‘thoda thoda malarndhadhenna’, ‘kaNNaaLanE’, ‘uyirE’, ‘malargaLE malargaLE’, ‘oo lalalaa’ ‘theeNdaai’, ‘yengE enathu kavithai’, ‘kaNNamoochi yEnada’..
Deva was responsible for Chithra creating history of sorts singing the famous ‘oru thaali varam’ with 108 names of the divine Mother in breathless perfection; a song that vies with LRE’s famed albums in blaring from loudspeakers during the aadi month. ‘pulveLi pulveLi’, ‘chinna chinna panithuLi’, ‘poruL thEdum bhoomiyil’, ‘nilaavE vaa vaa vaa’, ‘mudhal mudhalil paarthEn’, ‘thoduvaanamaai unai paarkiREn’, ‘vaigaRaiyil vandhadhenna vaanmathi’, ‘thanga magan indRu’, ‘raasithaan un raasithaan’, ‘manasE manasE’, ‘kaalamellaam kaathal vaazhga’, ‘idhayam idhayam iNaikiRathE’, ‘sigappu colouru jinguchaan’ are but few instances of the unforgettable songs that Chithra sang for Deva.
Maragathamani deserves a very special mention in the Chithra chronicle- even in the few Tamil films that he worked in, Maragathamani gave Chithra some of her best songs ever. ‘thathithOm’ from azhagan, in Chithra’s opinion, remains among the most challenging songs in her career. ‘naadOdi mannargaLE’, ‘nee aaNdavana’, ‘kambangkaadE’ from vaanamE ellai, ‘maRakkamudiyavillai’ and the soulful ghazal ‘samundar baar baar aata hai’ from jaathimalli are all magnificent works. ‘uyirE uyirE’ inspired from Enigma won popular appeal. The bilungual dEvaraagam had Maragathamani composing some enchanting songs for Chithra.
Balabharathy (unnai thotta thendRal), Adityan (Oyila paadum paatula/ veLLi kolusu jathi pOduthE), Mahesh (poonkuyil paadinaal), Sirpi (kannathula vai/ I love you love you /thendRal thendRal thendRal vandhu / ennai thEdaathO /kaathal solla vaarthai vENduma) Ranjit Barot (minnal oru kOdi), Aagosh (tholaivinilE/ mundhaanai sElai), Vidyasagar (paadu paadu bharatha paNpdd / adi aathi/ anbE anbE nee en piLLai / nee katRu naan maram/ udaiyaatha veNNila/ dEvathai vamsam / thOm thOm thithithOm/ iravu kavithai kavithai iravu), Bharadwaj (oru poo varaiyum kavithai / vaanum mannum kattikkoNdathE/ unnOdu vaazhaatha), Ramesh Vinayagam (kaathalai vaLarthaai)… they have all tasted stupendous successes with Chithra.
If this was the story of Chithra’s tryst with tfm, in Malayalam, for over two decades Chithra remains perched at unassailable heights. Pages can be written on Chithra’s triumphant reign in mfm, suffice to say that V.Dakshinamoorthi, M.B.Sreenivasan, Bombay Ravi, Shyam, M.G.Radhakrishnan, Johnson, Raveendran, Jerry Amaldev, Ouseppachan, Benny Ignatious, Sharath, Vidyasagar, Mohan Sitara, M.Jayachandran, Deepak Dev, Devi Sri Prasad, ….absolutely no MD who was part of mfm in this timeframe who could remain immune to Chithra’s magic. Chithra sang for one film album of Salil Chowdhury too: ‘thumboli kadappuram’. And in the few Malayalam albums that came his way, IR has harnessed Chithra’s talents to the fullest. ‘poo kungumappoo’ that Chitra has sung in IR’s music for the recently released ‘rasatantram’ is hogging airtime in the local Malayalam radio stations these days.
Chithra has notched unprecedented successes in Telugu and Kannada as well, and no mean achievement, this. After P.Leela, Chithra is the only singer from Kerala who could win the hearts of fans in all the fours southern states. It was veteran K.V.Mahadevan who introduced Chithra in Telugu; she sang her first Telugu song under his baton for the movie praLayam. KVM also gave Chithra a challenging classical outing in swatikiraNam, where Chithra sang some breathtaking songs with Vani Jairam and SPB. Ilaiyaraja and Keeravani (Maragathamani) have given Chithra many, many wonderful songs in their Telugu albums. In an interview Chithra admitted that she found it very difficult to sing Telugu film songs initially, for she did not know the language, and most of the songs that she got to sing were fast-paced, where she had a tough time balancing correct pronunciation with expressive singing. She expresses her gratitude to SPB with whom she got to sing many of her duets in Telugu- SPB used to explain the meaning of the lyrics and the teach her the correct pronunciation as well, she reveals. Today it would seem as though Telugu is her native tongue, so perfect are her pronunciation and accent. At the ‘Chithra Musical Nite’ held at the Laitha Kala Thoranam in Hyderabad in December 2005 with the first playback singer of Telugu cinema Ravu Balasaraswathi as the Chief Guest, Balasaraswathi observed that listening to Chithra’s perfectly rendered Telugu songs, no one would believe that Chithra was from Kerala. Heaping praise upon Chithra, Balasaraswathi exhorted the present day singers to take Chithra as their model.
So much for the South. When ‘anbu chinnam’ (Telugu original: prEma) was remade in Hindi as ‘Love’ in 1991, Anand-Milind not only lifted IR’s tune ‘aathaadi yEdho aasaigaL’ (‘eenadE yEdhO ayyindhi’ in Telugu), but also lifted Chithra over the Vindhyas to enthrall listeners in the North as well. The song ‘saathiyaa tunE kya kiyaa’ that Chithra crooned with SPB became immensely popular all over the country. Over the years Chithra bagged some very good songs in Hindi and made them memorable by her inimitable mellifluousness. ARR, of course, has made Chithra sing many of his Hindi numbers (yeh haseen vaadiyaan /kehna hi kya /yaarOn sunO zara/ooo lalalala/ tu hi tu/ rang dE basanti). Some of Chithra’s Hindi songs that rank high in my list, as they would in anyone else’s: ‘tum bin kya hai jeena’ (tum bin) where Chithra’s angst-filled rendition would move anyone who has felt the pang of separation from a loved one, ‘kyun baar baar ankhOn mEin tum karwat letE hO’ (filhaal) where she brings to life Gulzar’s sheer poetry, the title track of tEra jadu chal gaya, where Chithra is the sobering complement to Sonu Nigam’s operatic high, ‘ganga chali tu kahaan’ (pardEs) where she teams up with Shankar Mahadevan to enthrall, ‘chup tum rahO’ with Chithra and Maragathamani (MM Kreem here!) at their ethereal best, and the recent ‘raat hamaari tO’ where Chithra weeps for the wretched Lalita losing her beloved Shekhar (parineeta). Chithra’s songs like ‘roop suhaana lagta hai’ (lifted from ottagathai kattikkO), ‘kasam ki kasam’, ‘pyaar tune kya kiya’, ‘khwaabOn..khayaalOn..khwaahishOn ko chehra mila’, ‘har subah bahut yaad aata hai’ and ‘hum bhool gayE hain rakhke kaheen’ are very popular and find frequent airtime in the local stations here.
Composers like Rajesh Roshan, Nadeem-Shravan, Anu Malik, Nikhil-Vinay and Ismail Durbar have expressed their admiration for Chithra. Lata and Asha have hailed Chithra as the best of the current generation singers. At the grand function got up at the Andheri Sports Complex to greet Lata Mangeshkar on turning 75, it was Chithra who at Lata’s express request opened the show with ‘rasika balma’. However, Chithra’s Northern sojourn has not without its shades of unpleasantness. In an interview, she revealed that many of her Hindi songs were replaced with songs sung by another singer in the cassettes/ CDs and were even removed from the film tracks. “What pained me most was that they never bothered to inform me why my songs were being replaced. Initially, I was really hurt. But then…that was not the end of the world..” she philosophizes.
Chithra is not inclined towards the current rend of remixes. She also regrets the loss of melody in today’s film music. “I wish the old magic of melody returns. Nowadays, the orchestra overrides a singer’s voice, suppressing it rather than supporting it. The quality of music apart, the standard of lyrics have also gone down. That is not because the lyricists are incapable of writing better songs, but because they are compelled to write inane stuff.” Repelled at the crude and suggestive innuendoes in the lyrics of a song she was once asked to render, Chithra requested timidly that they be altered. But she was told curtly that her brief was to only to sing and she was not to interfere with the lyricist’s work.
Chithra longs for the return of earlier days when there were live recordings with interesting interactions with co-singers, instrumentalists, composers and technicians, and there were practice sessions before the actual recording. She turns wistful when she muses over those wonderful sessions in the company of her seniors and associates. “I miss the live recordings with my co-singers. I used to learn a lot from them and we used to share a common bond of friendship. Today, we are asked to record from different locations and composers just splice our recordings together. The human touch is gone. I cannot look into my co-singer’s eyes and feel the common passion of creating a tune anymore. I do not even know many of them by face!” she bemoans. But she has something to offer her solace- with remarkable foresight she has preserved recordings of the training sessions from the good old days when music directors taught her how to render their tunes. “This is something I value a great deal. The recordings include the voices of all the music directors who have taught me, right from M.S.Viswanathan and R.D.Burman. Sometimes, it is the pallavi or the charaNam of a song, with some of them playing on their favourite instruments.” Priceless souvenirs indeed!
A Grade ‘A’ artiste of AIR and Doordarshan, Chithra has also sung film songs in Bengali, Oriya, Punjabi and even in Baduga! Chithra’s non-film albums have also elicited critical acclaim and commercial success. Her first Indipop venture was Salim- Suleiman’s ‘Ragga Ragga’ with the Voodoo Rapper. ‘Piya Basanti’ where Chithra teamed up with the legendary sarangi exponent Ustad Sultan Khan to sing the tunes composed by Sandesh Shandilya was a runaway hit, and went on to win the MTV Award. Another popular album of Chithra is ‘Sunset Point’, which had the unusual structure of Gulzar narrating a story, interspersed with songs sung by Bhupinder Singh and Chithra. In an interview last year, Chithra was eagerly expecting the release of an album wherein she had sung 3 songs, one a folksy solo and two duets with the revered Ghulam Ali. Of course, Chithra has sung numerous non-film albums in Malayalam. Her devotional songs like ‘guruvayooramarum’, ‘chOtaanikkara dEvi’, ‘achutham kEshavam’, and ‘gOvinda rama rama’ are popular in temple festivities all over Kerala. Chithra and Unni Menon sang for ONV Kurup’s private album called ‘Swarnarekha’ which had music by Salil Chowdhury. Her albums like ‘Classical Moods’ and ‘Devipriya’ have kirtans and bhajans soaked in piety. ‘Chaitrageethangal’ composed by the gifted Sharat, boasting of that fantastic ‘madhuram gaayathi madhuram’ by Chithra, has achieved record sales. Inreco released an album called ‘Annai Mookaambigaye’ which had Chithra singing paeans in Tamil to the Kollur Goddess. ‘’Enchanting Melodies’ (Padams of Swati Tirunaal) and ‘Krishnapriya’ are her recent non-film ventures. Chithra paid her homage to the one and only M.S.Subbalakshmi by coming out with an album titled ‘My Tribute’ wherein she has rendered the songs immortalized by MS like ‘kuRai ondRum illai’, ‘bhavaayaami raghuraamam’ and ‘kaatRinilE varum geetham’. She has sung in Usha Utup’s album in aid of Tsunami Relief- ‘We Believe in Now’.
Chithra is working towards venturing into full-fledged classical concerts. Her guru Omanakutty has declared that if she could snatch Chithra away for a just a month from playback singing, she would prepare her for a classical concert. While expressing her gratitude for her teacher’s confidence in her abilities, Chithra feels that she still has a long way to go. “My ambition had been, and still is, to be a classical vocalist. But what I have learnt so far is not enough. I am not yet ready for concerts. It needs a lot of training.” She made a timid foray by doing a classical music concert for the Surya festival though, and it did get favourable notice.
She owns a cassette company called ‘Audio Tracs.’ Managed by her husband, the company is into producing devotional and folk albums in Tamil and Malayalam by upcoming singers, lyricists and composers. She also owns a recording studio called Krishna Digi Design. Her beautiful house at 2/9, Anantha Ramakrishnan Street, Devaraj Nagar, Saligramam in Chennai is aptly named ‘Sruthi’.
Chithra has traveled extensively and performed in shows all over India and in the U.S., Canada, U.K, Germany, France, Australia, Srilanka and the Middle East. She has been part of memorable concerts of Ilaiyaraja and A.R.Rahman. She is the only singer from India to perform live in the House of Commons, London, and the first female singer from the South to perform live in the Royal Albert Hall. Her concert at Stadhalle in Zurich on 5th May 2005 had the newly renovated hall filled with frenzied fans even in the aisles. She has accompanied SPB in many of his shows. Chithra has always been willing to perform in events that support charity; from the ‘Chithra Nite’ in aid of the Thiruvalla Junior Chamber to the ‘Santhwanam’ show for Tsunami victims, Chithra does her bit for social causes. She is always a welcome visitor to these shores; she was here in Dubai in March to sing in a concert in memory of Raveedran. She is slated to perform with Madhu Balakrishnan in Doha, Qatar on 3rd June, and I believe the tickets are already sold out!
Chithra’s parents have departed for their heavenly abode, one after the other. Both her sister and brother are settled abroad. Her husband Vijayashankar is an electronics engineer, and though he has no musical training, shares Chithra’s devotion to music. “He has been very supportive, encouraging and undemanding.” says Chithra. After singing over 12,000 songs, she has cut down her assignments of late, and with good reason. For after a long anxious wait of 15 years, Chithra has become a mother. Brimming with happiness, Chithra says, “I feel whole now. Nandana is the center of my universe. She is now three years old, and I want to take things easy. I did not travel till she was six months old. Even now, I have to sneak out for recordings without her knowledge!”
Numerous are the awards and honours that have been heaped on Chithra. She has the rare distinction of being the only singer who has won the State Awards of all the four Southern States. Starting from 1985, she has won the Kerala State Award for the Best Female Playback Singer a record 15 times, overtaking Janaki’s earlier record of 12 Kerala State Awards. The songs that fetched Chithra this august recognition were ‘manjaL prasaadhavum’ from nakakshathangaL (1986), songs from Eenam Maranna Kattu (1987), ‘indupushpam choodi’ from vaishaali (1988), ‘kalariviLakku’ from Oru Vadakkan Veeragaatha and ‘thankathOni’ from Mazhavilkkaavadi (1989), ‘kaNNil’ from Innale and ‘paalappoovE’ from Njan Gandharvan (1990), ‘thaaram’ from Keli and ‘swarakanyakamaar’ from Saanthwanam (1991), ‘mounasarovaram’ from Savidham (1992), ‘ponmEkhamE’ from Sopanam, ‘rajahamsamE..’ from Chamayam and ‘sangeethamE’ from Ghazal (1993), ‘parvanenthu’ from Parinayam (1994), ‘shashikala’ from Devaragam (1995), ‘praseeda dEvi’ from Angane Oru Avadhikkalathu (1999), ‘enthennariyaathoraaraadhanayude’, ‘ee valappottum peeliyum kittuvaan’, and ‘mooli mooli’ from Theerthadhanam (2001), ‘kaarmugil varNantE chundil’ and ‘mauliyil mayilpeeli chaarthi’ from Nandanam (2002) and ‘mayangi pOyi’ from Nottam (2005). She has won 6 Andhra Pradesh ‘Nandi’ Awards, 2 Karnataka State Awards and 4 Tamil Nadu State Awards (the latest one being for the famous inspiring ‘ovvoru pookkaLumE’ from Autograph). She was honoured with the kalaimaamaNi Award in 1995.
Chithra has received 6 National Awards for the Best Female Playback Singer, and here again, this is a singular record. The first one was in 1985 for ‘paadaRiyEn paddippaRiyEn’, and it this award that remains very special to her. “This song is unforgettable because I had to skip my MA Final exams to record it. It was Ilaiyaraja who helped me decide whether I should sing it. He said, “Music has much more in store for you than academics” she reminisces. She was on stage in a concert with Yesudas when the news came, and she came to know of it only when Yesudas announced it on stage. “But I did not believe it till I saw it in the papers the next day!” she recalls. She received her second National award the very next year for ‘manjaL prasaadhavum’ from nakakshathangaL (1986), composed by Bombay Ravi. “ I initially thought it might be singer Chitra Singh who has won the award, as I could not imagine winning the award twice in a row!” said an amazed Chithra at that time. Little did she realize that this was only the beginning!
It was another beautiful composition of Bombay Ravi that fetched Chithra her third National Award- ‘indhupushpam choodi’ from vaishaali (1988). The fourth was for the feet-tapping ‘oo lalalala’ by ARR from minsaara kanavu (1996). The fifth was for ‘paayalEn chunmun chunmun’ from viraasat (1997), which was a blatant lift by Anu Malik from Ilaiyaraja’s ‘inji iduppazhaga’. Interestingly, Janaki had won the National Award in 1992 for rendering the Tamil original! Nonetheless, it was another feather in Chithra’s cap- she had become the first female singer from the South to have won the National Award for singing a Hindi song.
The latest one has come in for ‘ovvoru pookkaLumE’ from autograph. Speaking of this song, Chithra says, “I think I was fortunate to get this song. Rarely do you get such meaningful lyrics. Set to Sindhubairavi raga by music director Bharadwaj, the song evokes a lot of positive energy. It is not just my voice that is in it, my heart is also there; my moral convictions have all been transferred into it. It is one of those songs that you could sing anywhere. After it was recorded I prayed that it would be noticed.” It has been reported that one school in Trichy has adopted this song for its morning assembly, and that a university has included it as part of the syllabus.
But success, even in such mammoth proportions, sits lightly on Chithra’s shoulders. She remains humble, unaffected, non-controversial and simple. “ I never expected to come to this field. It’s all destined!” she philosophizes. And if she hadn’t come to this field? “I would sing, nevertheless,” she avers. “Singing is my life. I would have taught music in a school or given tuitions” she adds, with her trademark smile. And yes, her constant smile is another factor that has endeared her to thousands of fans. SPB once surmised that she must have been born with it!
Chithra has time and again expressed her gratitude to all those who helped her reach where she is today. Her thanks are first to her father who was her first teacher as well. She then thanks Omanakkutty, M.G.Radhakrishnan and Yesudas for giving her the initial break, Jerry Amaldev and Raveendran for leading her to fame; Shyam, Kannor Rajan and Johnson for helping her move in the right direction; Ilaiyaraja for moulding her to become what she is today; S.Janaki for being her friend, philosopher and guide; and MSV, KVM, Satyam, Chakravarthi, ARR, Keeravani, Vidyasagar, Hamsalekha and Bharadwaj for giving her many wonderful songs. When asked to compare the working styles of IR and ARR, Chithra says, “ With Raja Sir, the orchestra is set beforehand and he teaches you how to sing. Rahman, on the other hand, will let you sing and then set the orchestra. He also retains all the takes and chooses the best ones.” Chithra has always enjoyed an excellent rapport with her co-singers. Queried about singing earlier with Yesudas and SPB, and singing now with Vijay Yesudas and S.P.B.Charan, she laughs and exclaims that she has known both Charan and Vijay since their childhood, and they have a blast when singing with her. While singing ‘Dasettan’ and ‘Balu Sir’, however, she is respectfully attentive to their suggestions. Chithra turns emotional when speaking of S.Janaki. “Janakiamma means a lot to me. I am very close to her. She is a living legend and I have learned a lot from her. If she goes to Kerala when I am there, she stays with me. She was among the first visitors to come when Nandana was born and gave her blessings.” In another interview, Chithra recalled how in her initial years, IR urged her to listen to Janaki’s songs to understand better the fine art of playback singing, and how Janaki motivated her and instilled confidence in her to try experimenting with her voice in songs like ‘oththayile ninnathenna’ (vanaja girija) and ‘maarugO maarugO’ (sathi leelavathi)
“Smt. Krishnan Nair Shanthakumari Chithra” boomed the resonant voice announcing the Padma Shri Awards at the glittering ceremony at the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan on March 28th 2005. And as Chithra walked up the aisle to be decorated by President Abdul Kalam, it seemed as though her parents were there not only in name, but also in spirit, watching with pride their daughter being honored. And the moment also ended the collective angst of the Southerners that no female singer from the South had been considered for the Padma Awards all these years.
The photographers and journalists gathered there wanted a moment with Chithra. But where was she? A frantic search found her with Shahrukh Khan….getting his autograph! “It is for my sister’s children who are die-hard fans of Shahrukh…” stammered a blushing Chithra! When asked to say a few words on receiving this high honour, she said, “A little bit of music is all that I know, but it is everything to me. What I am today is wholly due to the blessings of my mentors...” But the beaming face revealed the rightful pride and joy within….sandhOsham indRu sandhOsham.. indha pon veeNaiyil pongum sangeetham…