By Rinshi Ansari
On August 23, 1968, Krishnakumar Kunnath, also known as K.K., was born. This Mumbai-based singer, originally from Delhi, relocated to Mumbai in 1994 in pursuit of a job. Eventually, he received a call asking him to perform a one-minute commercial for singer Leslie Lewis for UTV, which launched his career. He began singing at the young age of two and played in a rock group in college.
Over the course of four years, he has performed over 3500 jingles, including those for Monte Carlo, TVS Scooty, Amul, Britannia, and Pepsi’s Yeh Dil Maange More. When Vishal Bharadwaj requested him to perform “Chod Aaye Hum” in Sampooran Singh Gulzar’s Maachis, his goal of singing for a Bollywood film came true (1996). But it was the enormously popular “Tadap Tadap” from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam that propelled him into the big league (1999). In Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Bengali, Assamese, and Gujarati films, he has recorded songs.
But life took a cruel and unexpected turn on the night of May 31, 2022. KK suffered a heart attack and died in Kolkata at the age of 53 after his live performance in the city.
He left behind millions of heartbroken fans and a crushed family of his wife and two children. The entire music industry of India came to a standstill. Thousands of his colleagues took to social media to express their shock and condolences to his family.
Although KK is no longer with us, his melodies live on. KK was an exceptional vocalist who contributed his voice to films like Raees, Jannat, Om Shanti Om, and Kites. Let’s examine a few facts about the singer that elicited a range of emotions with the songs he sang as we grieve the passing of the great performer.
The Malayali child, born and raised in Delhi, sang English jingles, got into Kirori Mal College on the basis of extracurricular activities, then changed to singing in Hindi to appeal to a wider audience. The majority of Indians reside in that nation, which both values variety and integration.
It was the tale of Krishnakumar Kunnath, better known as KK, who was a master of singing in a variety of styles, including heartfelt Hindi film ballads, independent pop songs, and commercial jingles (such as Hero Honda’s Desh ki Dhadkan and Pepsi’s Dil maange more). He literally sang until he passed away, leaving a legacy that includes some legendary songs as well as the potential of being a performer, of a low-key private life, and of an entirely professional public existence. He belonged to the indie rockers of the same generation as Lucky Ali, Mohit Chauhan, and Euphoria’s Palash Sen, and was as at home as Shah Rukh Khan’s or Emraan Hashmi’s voice.
It is hard for millennials to imagine a time when there were just three categories of music: Western music, classical Indian music, and movie songs. They are used to listening to a wide variety of music, from Punjabi pop to American rap, from throwback heavy metal to Hindi film ballads. The MTV generation, raised on music videos and accented veejays, had fewer options for decent music after 1991 than the Chitrahaar. We had to choose between KK’s “Pal” and “Yaaron,” Euphoria’s “Maeri,” and Lucky Ali’s “Dekha hai aise bhi” for our attention. No longer was the language Hindi uncool. You could be a rock star even if you sang in Hindi and thought in English.
By the early 2000s, new technology was causing the Hindi or indie pop music industry, which began in 1981 with Nazia and Zoheb Hassan’s “Disco Deewane,” composed and arranged by Biddu, to fizzle out. However, the vocalists found a new home in the movies. In Gulzar’s Maachis (1996), KK worked with Vishal Bhardwaj to sing “Chhod aaye hum woh galiyan,” and with AR Rahman to sing “Kalluri Salai” for the Tamil blockbuster Kadhal Desam (1996). The fad became popular. Next, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s 1999 film Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam employed KK to voice Salman Khan in the song “Tadap Tadap.”
KK sang in many different languages, whether it was the wildly successful “Strawberry Kannae” that Prabhu Deva performed in Minsara Kanavu in 1997 or the popular dance song “Appadi Podu” that Vijay and Trisha performed in Ghilli in 2004. KK’s voice was like gold. It might be passionate, upbeat, or even emphatic. He could perform “Aankhon mein teri” for Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om (2007), and he could also perform “Khuda Jaane” from Bachna Ae Haseeno in 2008 as Ranbir Kapoor’s voice.
India’s playback singing market is competitive. Numerous reality shows have produced voices that are well-known and brand-new. Hindi film song-and-dance is likewise being progressively marginalised, with music either being relegated to the background or being used only in item numbers. Therefore, concerts become a viable source of income, but as was evident during KK’s most recent performance, the circumstances are frequently less than ideal.
But KK’s voice will endure forever, notably in the prophetic song “Pal,” which has the following lyrics:
Hum, rahen ya na rahen kal/Kal yaad aayenge ke ye pal; Pal, ye hain pyar ke pal/Chal, aa mere sang chal; chal, soche kya/Chhoti si, hai zindagi; Kal, mil jaaye/ to hogi khush-naseebi (Whether we live or not/We will remember these moments; These moments of love/ Come walk with me; Don’t think/life is short; if we meet tomorrow/we will be lucky.)
It’s unfortunate that people only remember an icon’s magnificence after their passing. However, it is becoming increasingly common in a sector where self-promotion takes precedence over talent. Over the years, KK’s passing has generated several accounts of his generosity and kindness, including the lending of a song to Nupur Asthana when she was just starting out as a filmmaker for her television series Hip Hip Hurray and introducing Shantanu Moitra to the delights of late-night paranthas.
He was always a reserved musician who let his tunes do the talking. Oh boy! Did it talk? It haunts us even today, or perhaps for the next hundred years. His songs will remain a huge part of us all, and we will continue to miss him in whatever time we have left on this earth. God bless his soul. Rest in peace, KK.