By Harihar Swarup
Krishnan Nair Shankatkumari Chithra, known more as K S Chithra, decorated with Padma Bhushan, is called melody queen and nightingale of South India. One wonders how she manages but, surprisingly, she has recorded 25,000 songs in various languages. Even though basically she is a Carnatic language singer, her compositions include Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Bangla, Oriya, Urdu and Sanskrit. She sang in foreign languages including English, Latin, Arabic, French, Malay and Sinhalese.
Chithra is the only singer from India who was honoured by the Government of China. She is the first Indian woman who was decorated by the House of Commons, British Parliament. In 2018 she was honoured by the Speaker of General Assembly, United States.
She predominately works in South Indian film history and also has credit of working with a large number of music directors including A R Rehman, and Ilayaraja.
Born in Trivandrum, into a family of musicians, Chithra’s father, Krishnan Nair, was her first teacher. Her elder sister K S Beena and her younger brother K. Mahesh are also playback singers. Chithra received her training in Carnatic music from Dr. K. Omanakutty, passed B A in music with first class and third rank from the University of Kerala, and completed a master’s degree in music. She was selected to the National Talent Search scholarship from the Central Government from 1978 to 1984.
Chithra started her journey in Kannada cinema through the film Preethi released in 1986. The duet song Nee Hacchida Ek Kum Kuma along with S P Balasubrahmanyam was composed by G K Venkatesh. In the same year composer M Ranga Rao offered her two songs in the film Aruna Raaga. This was followed by Sheela O my Sheela, a duet song with K J Yesudas and composed by Bappa Lahiri for the Dwarakish directorial fantasy—adventure film Africadalli Sheela. Throughout the 1990, she went on to become a notable singer in Kannada film industry with her perfection in diction and finesse.
Her solo and duets with S P Balasubrahmanyam made her famous and she received great acclaim for portraying great deal of nativity in her singing. For 1986 Kannada film Sathkaara composer Satyam called upon her to sing a duet song along with K J Yesudas and since then, Chithra has recorded around 2000 songs in Kannada film industry. Her most frequent collaborations in Kannada had been with Hamsalkha V Manohar and her duet songs have been largely with Balasubramanyam and Rajesh Krishnan. She is fondly referred as Gaana Kogile and Kannada Kogile in Kannada film industry.
Chithra was introduced to Hindi film music in 1985; she recorded her first Hindi song composed by S P Venketesh which was not commercially released. For the 1991 Hindi film—Love— composers Anand-Milind, called upon her to sign duet along with Balasubramanyam and since then Chihtra recorded around 200 Bollywood songs. Then she went on recording some Hindi songs under A R Rahman’s compositions from 1991 to 1995, her breakthrough in Hindi film music came through Kehna Hi Kya from the film Bombay (1995) which was highly successful in North Indian region and gave her identity in the Bollywood industry. For the song Payalein Chunmun recorded in 1997 film Virasat, Chithra received the National film award for the playback for the best female playback singer and became the only South India based female singer till date to achieve the feat. (IPA Service)