Celebrating 40 years of singer KS Chithra, the queen of melody

KS Chithra   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

KS Chithra has been on song for 40 years. That is how long she has been singing ‘professionally’, yet, to her, it seems like yesterday that she recorded her first film song. Life has not changed much for her; it’s just being rearranged. And despite her constant presence on top of the charts and with over 25,000 songs, six national awards and 35 State awards (she is the only singer male or female to be honoured by the four southern States) in her kitty, she remains modest, simple and engrossed in her career.

Constantly flitting from studios to stage shows, Chithra is actively involved in the activities of Snehanandana Trust, an initiative she had launched to help needy musicians in their sunset years, and numerous other charitable activities. Chithra took time off to speak about her career, voice and motivation to Friday Review even as she was preparing to chat ‘live’ with her four million Facebook fans on her 56th birthday.

Excerpts from the interview.

You have played an important part in the history of Malayalam film music, bridging generations. What motivates you to keep going with the same passion?

My only interest is music, that’s the only thing I know and my whole life revolves around it. When my daughter, Nandana, came into my life, my focus changed. I used to spend a lot of time with her, restricting recordings mostly to Chennai and my schedules to match hers. For a short while, she was my motivation. My inspiration has been my seniors, each one of them.

You started singing at a young age. Looking back, do you feel you have missed out on all the fun of a normal childhood and youth?

Yes. I was not really prepared for all this. It happened all of a sudden. There were many instances when my family went on trips without me. They said that taking me would be a lot of trouble. I certainly felt sad and miserable then. But today, looking at all that I have gained, I feel there is no reason for regret.

The process of breaking into the professional scene must have been tough. But is it tougher to remain there for long?

I think I was fortunate to be able to start so early, work with some legends and find myself up there so soon. But to be there required a lot of hard work. I had to learn other languages in order to understand the meaning of the lyrics. This is a must to impart the right feeling to the song. A music director places so much trust in me that I have to work on my singing and the language so that his confidence in me is not misplaced.

Senior singers such as Das ettan (KJ Yesudas) and SPB (SP Balasubramaniam) sir were helpful. Das ettan taught me how to avoid distortions while stressing certain words and syllables, while SPB sir was a guide to me. He taught me how to infuse expressions, how to emote before the microphone.

Does the audience come into the picture when you sing during shows? Are you aware of their presence?

There have been times when I have been overwhelmed by the audience. I love a noisy, cheerful audience that appreciates what I sing or even disapproves if I err.

Before a stage show, for some time, I get butterflies in my stomach. Even today, I need to start and feel comfortable for them to disappear. There are so many things that can go wrong and I need to perform without letting the audience know that it is happening. Initially, I was scared to interact but of late, especially for my shows, I have begun to talk with my audience. Frankly, I’m scared to speak, for you never know what can stir up a controversy. But I’m very aware of the audience, their reactions and their responses.

  • First female singer to be honoured by the British Parliament at the House Of Commons.
  • Padma Shri in 2005
  • Kalaimamani Award (Government of Tamil Nadu) 1997
  • Her song ‘Kannalane’ (‘Kehna Hi Kya’) from the film Bombay (1995) was included in The Guardian's ‘1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear’ list.

For nearly two decades, you were a one-woman event across the four South Indian languages. How did you manage your time and keep your voice intact?

I cannot believe it’s been 40 years. It was work, work and only work. I have given top priority to my work and to those who have trusted me and given me songs. Music has been my everything; my passion, my comfort. Initially, it was just one routine — going to studios, recording and coming back home late. Gradually, I moved to concerts.

I think I owe a lot, first to my father and now to my husband (Vijayashankar). They have contributed immensely to my success. I needed to concentrate only on my singing; they have taken care of everything else. In fact, Vijayan even gave up his career for mine.

To keep my voice in good shape, I don’t eat or drink anything that would in any way affect my throat. There are so many things that I have not tasted in my life. I’m very picky when it comes to food. Of course, you do fall ill sometimes but I try to keep myself fit.

How would you describe your voice?

When I started out, I felt that my voice was like that of a child’s, like in ‘Aalorungi arangorungi…’, which suited a child and not a heroine. It evolved over the years.

Fortunately, my voice and style of singing was different from the others. At least, I’ve not been accused of cloning. With age, my voice changed and became more mature. I don’t use any techniques, all that you hear is natural. The music directors have moulded my voice by giving me the right kind of songs.

How do you handle fame?

I come from an ordinary middle-class family. My parents were teachers. Of course, we were comfortable, but not very rich. I have reached where I am now because I was given a chance to sing. There must be so many other singers who sing like me or better than me, who are unrecognised. So, if I have been given that chance, it is to fulfil some will of the Almighty.

KS Chitra

KS Chitra   | Photo Credit: KV Srinivasan

A singer’s temperament is finely tuned. How do you cope with frustrations and setbacks?

I mostly overcome it by concentrating more on my work. Doing your best, even throughout all of your most difficult periods of struggle, is perhaps the most important thing you can do. I have now started playing games on my mobile phone as a diversion and also I believe that it is a good way to keep one’s brain active.

Of late, I have taken to drawing. I love to draw plans of houses and its interiors. When I see a house and its interiors, I imagine how I would design it. It’s interesting.

What would you like to see manifesting more in your future musical life? In Carnatic concerts?

I have done a couple of kutcheris and also released a few albums. But I’m not sure if I’ll move into singing Carnatic music soon. I feel that I have a lot more to learn as expectations can be high. There’s a need to concentrate more and also authenticate what I have studied so far.

On the activities of Snehanandana Trust
  • The prime objective of the Trust is to help musicians in their old age. As of now, 21 musicians are beneficiaries of a scheme whereby they receive ₹4,000 every month till their death.
  • Vijayashankar: We have a corpus fund of ₹2 crore. Of this, we have put in the lion’s share; the rest are through contributions from Chithra’s fans and our friends. We started this when our daughter was alive. After she left us, we renamed it as Snehanandana Trust.
  • Chitra: We are also involved in other charity work. I do three to four shows a year for charity, especially for special schools that are in need of funds.

Life has changed so much, attitudes have changed, technology has changed…and one has to move with the times. How do you it?

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. I’m still trying to adapt to the changes. I think I’m the same singer, the same person, still using the tried and tested methods.

I’m not one who can adapt to change fast. For instance, in a recording, I cannot sing a song line by line. I prefer to sing a whole pallavi, perfect it and get it punched. I have not adapted to the technological changes as yet.

Your advice to young singers?

There are so many talented singers around. Trying to find a career only in films will be tough. When I meet them at reality shows, I tell them that they should first try and find a secure job and then take music along. There are very few opportunities, little money and it can be a inconsistent career.

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 11:27:38 PM |

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