Blessed with a voice that created the magic of youthful exuberance and the melancholy of love with equal felicity, Krishnakumar Kunnath (1968-2022) gave goosebumps to the listeners every time he took the stage. Anyone who was an adolescent at the turn of the century would have a KK song in their memory, that soaked the soul. One of the most versatile singers of this generation, KK had a fan following across languages, geographical barriers, and age groups.
Born in a Malayali family in Delhi, the shy boy became the lifeline of stage shows right from his college days in Kirorimal. Untrained, like his inspiration Kishore Kumar, the self-effacing singer believed in being known by his voice and not his public utterances. Like Kishore, he internalised the emotion and what came out was always heartfelt, mostly lasting.
After a couple of popular albums, particularly his Pyar Ke Pal number, he became a sensation with Hum Dil Chuke Sanam (1999), where he sang the anthem for the jilted lovers: “Tadap Tadap Ke Dil Se Aah Nikalti Rahi”. From the IITs and IIMs to the local colleges, no student farewell was ever complete without his songs of heartbreak and nostalgia, laced with the euphoric admission: “Tu Aashiqui Hai” (Jhankaar Beats).
Composed by the purist Ismail Durbar, Tadap Tadap not only proved KK’s range in the higher octaves, but also propelled him to sing several tracks for Salman Khan, whose fame was on the ascent.
Over the next two decades, he sang immensely popular numbers for Shah Rukh Khan (“Aankhon Main Teri”), Emraan Hashmi (“Tu Hi Meri Shab Hai”, “Zara Si Dil Main De Jaga Tu”), Hrithik Roshan (“Dil Kyun Mera Shor Kare”) and Ranbir Kapoor (“Khuda Jane”) but his vocal chemistry with Salman remained unmatched, as evident up till Bajrangi Bhaijaan (“Tu Jo Mila”).
However, for the survivors of heartache, KK’s “Maine Dil Se Kaha Dhoondh Lana Khushi” (Rog) is the last hope. In fact, there was a phase in his career when KK’s voice became a balm for broken hearts, as envisioned by Mahesh Bhatt’s banner. In Rog, he matched the depth of Irrfan’s eyes with the khalish (mordacity) in his timbre. You could play it on the loop for the whole night, but still wouldn’t be able to map the undulations in KK’s voice. He evoked a similar sense of longing in “Awarapan Banjarapan” (Jism).
In both the films, he worked with MM Kreem who brought out the melancholic flavour in his voice.
Having started his career with A.R. Rahman (Kadhal Desam), KK also had a huge following in South India. His songs with Harris Jayaraj became a rage among youth, coming to terms with their first flush of romance. When R Madhavan’s Minnale was remade as Rehnna Hai Tere Dil Main, KK’s “Sach Keh Raha Hai Deewana” became a staple of musical evenings. Their association continued till the upcoming Legend. Like Durbar, when Maestro Ilaiyaraaja pushed him out of his safety net in Ninu Choodaka Nenundalenu, KK proved his worth.
He worked with all the top composers of the country but, unlike some of his contemporaries, he was called for one or two numbers that decided or changed the course of the narrative. With sad numbers waning away from Indian cinema, KK was not remembered that often by composers. Yet, when Pritam — with whom he had a long and successful association — needed a rousing number for 83, he dialled up KK and we got “Yeh Hausle”. It reminded us of the sense of hope he generated with “Aashayein” in Iqbal.
Till the end, he remained a rage in the concert circuit and will be remembered as the singer who became the voice of the heart when the world was getting into the rat trap of insipid pragmatism.