Singer Chithra, who is part of AR Rahman’s latest ‘Meri Pukaar Suno’, reflects on the happy and sad times in her career
It is difficult to picture a glum KS Chithra. She is always smiling, when she is chatting with friends or watching a film. She is smiling even when she is singing.
In her earlier days in the music industry, the common joke used to be: “You cannot get Narasimha Rao to smile, and you cannot get Chitra to stop smiling.” Mention this to her, and she breaks into peals of laughter, which is pronounced even in a patchy telephone call. “I have always been like this. When I was a child, my mother used to admonish me, saying, ‘Girl children should not always go around smiling and giggling.’ My smile has always been a part of my nature,” she says.
She has been spreading smiles through her songs in an illustrious musical career — one that includes 25,000-plus songs in various languages — but with latest track ‘Meri Pukar Suno’, Chitra hopes to spread hope in these trying times. Composed by AR Rahman and written by Gulzar, this anthem, put together by Sony Music India, also features eminent vocalists like Alka Yagnik, Shreya Ghoshal, Sadhana Sargam, Shashaa Tirupati and Armaan Malik. “I hope it is a balm. It was an exciting and new experience to see myself as part of a team of other established singers,” says the singer. Also part of the experience was recording for it at her home studio — which she has not done too many times previously. “I am used to going to recording studios, but this was a different experience, especially because I not a tech-savvy person. Thankfully, I had help from my managers, Vinu and Antony, to record my portions. Anytime I work for an AR Rahman track, I ensure that I give him a few options with improvisations so that he can pick and choose which he likes.”
A learning experience
While singers from across the country look up to Chitra for her dedication and voice texture, she herself is learning from the younger generation. “Every singer has his/her own identity and way of expression. The voice of singers from the younger generation, having been exposed to Western music, is totally different from mine and I learn a lot from them. There are no seniors and juniors when it comes to music.”
‘Meri Pukar Suno’ marks her return to Hindi films after a while. Singer Chitra is a household name in the southern states, but is also well-established in the North. Starting from SP Venkatesh’s Khushi Aur Khushi in the 80s, she has sung hit songs in films like Rangeela, Bombay and Guru. “Growing up in Kerala, Hindi was a compulsory subject. I am comfortable writing and reading it, but I didn’t have enough opportunities to converse with people in the language. But I ensured that whenever I recorded for a Hindi song, I wrote the lyric in Hindi; I feel that way, the pronunciation will be perfect. I take extra care when difficult-sounding words like ‘khushboo’ and ‘shraddha’ are used.”
Chithra’s life has largely been about music and creating happy memories, but one unfortunate incident is her daughter Nandana’s demise; she drowned in a swimming pool in Dubai. A decade later, Chithra says “the wounds are still there”. “Whenever I think of it, I can feel something churning in my stomach,” she rues, “I cannot forget it but I do not want to keep thinking of it and get into a state of depression. After that incident, I plunged myself into work and music to come over it. A few mothers who underwent something similar called me asking suggestions to manage the situation. I didn’t have many suggestions, except to say that concentrating on work will help heal a little.”
Which is why the last year-and-a-half has been harrowing for Chithra. Used to multiple recordings, work dried up post March 2020, when the pandemic struck. “The first few weeks was good; getting up late, watching films, and so on. But after a while, I started going into depression, because being at home reminded me a lot of Nandana.”
Music has been one constant hope for people battling tough times. Chithra’s 2015 Tamil classical melody ‘Malargal Kaettaen’ (OK Kanmani) has been a track that fans have been digging a lot into even in the last year. “That’s a special song,” she says, “With AR Rahman, it’s usually, ‘Come today to record’. It’s very impromptu. In this case, he had reached out to me but unfortunately, I was out of town. I assumed it was done with someone else. Subsequently, when I bumped into him at a show, he mentioned that he was waiting for three months for me to record ‘Malargal Kaettaen’. It was a beautiful experience, and that people are hearing it even today gives me happiness.”