The reluctant star

The reluctant star

Once upon a time there lived a little girl in a quaint government bungalow of New Delhi. Every evening she would wait to hear the melodious voice of the fairy who lived inside the radio. And one day, many years later, she finally met the fairy. “I saw her walk in and my hands went cold. I was shivering. She was singing so softly that I could barely hear her, and I was standing right next to her,” says Kavita Krishnamurthy with childlike excitement, as she recalls her first meeting with Lata Mangeshkar at Rajkamal Studios in Mumbai.

That was 1971. Four-and-a-half decades later, Kavita, now a Padma Shri awardee, continues to be in awe of her idol. Despite having lent her much-loved voice to 1,627 Hindi songs and numerous regional compositions, the lady is refreshingly down to earth. When we meet at her residence in Bengaluru, she is the one to fetch a glass of water and later, tea. There are no airs, no makeup, no name-dropping. Just fascinating tales about fairies, Santa Claus and true love.
   
Born to sing
As a good South Indian girl, Sharada (she had to change her name as there was already an established singer by that name) was expected to learn classical dance and music. However, unlike her sister, she had no interest in dancing. The seven-year-old was enamoured by Hindustani classical music, though. Right from the beginning, she was a “decent singer, but never crazy about public singing”. If it weren’t for her Bengali aunt, she may have never learnt Rabindra Sangeet, or moved to the city of dreams to pursue her true calling. Or even met her Santa.

Singer, music composer and producer Hemant Kumar was the chief guest at a college function, when he heard Kavita sing. And before she knew it, they were singing duets at music concerts. He was the one who gave her the opportunity to sing four lines of a Bengali Tagore song with Lata Mangeshkar. And in no time, the teenager was also doing concerts with Manna Dey.

Singing for movies was the logical next step. The reigning music composer duo Laxmikant-Pyarelal had zeroed in on Kavita to dub for Lataji. “It was a fantastic training ground,” admits the songster, who was then doing her bachelors in Economics at St Xavier’s College. Interestingly, Kavita’s first movie song wasn’t an original number. “It was for the 1975 film Kadambari, where Shabana Azmi sang ‘Aayega Aane Wala’ at a party,” she informs. It took another 12 years for Kavita to get her first chartbuster. And, that too, was by accident. Asha Bhosle was supposed to sing ‘Hawa Hawai’ for Mr India; Kavita had only dubbed for it. “There were 40 chorus singers. The song was hilarious; all the musicians just couldn’t stop laughing,” she reminisces. “Four to five months later, Laxmiji called to say that they are retaining the song in my voice.”

Musical musings
More than anything else, Kavita’s is a heart-warming tale of tireless perseverance and quiet patience. “I’ve a voice which doesn’t want to help me at all. Half my songs are sung with a damaged voice,” she rues.

Bronchitis, asthma and sinusitis have been life-long companions.
However, that didn’t stop her from winning the Flimfare award for the best female playback singer, three years in a row (1994-96). “The first one (for 1942: A Love Story) was special because it had been evading me for 12 years,” she admits.

The dream, for Kavita, was to be respected as a good singer. And it didn’t take her long to realise that “awards have nothing to do with good singing”. There’s no bitterness when she mentions that ‘Nimbooda’ (from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) failed to win any accolades. And she has made peace with the fact that some of her songs may become super hits, but will never really be known as ‘her’ songs.

As of today, Kavita has “lost the optimism of getting good film songs”. “They don’t even want me to sing a whole line! How will the feeling come?” she asks. Not a fan of reckless auto-tuning and pitch correction, she’s adamant that good singers — like Shreya Ghoshal and Sunidhi Chauhan, for instance — don’t need technical enhancements. “You lose something when you make it so perfect…it doesn’t touch my heart,” she sighs.

If only R D Burman had lived for 10 more years, contends Kavita, he would have shown the current generation how to use technology without overpowering the song. For, what’s music without soul? It loses the power to heal. When Kavita lost her father in 1974, music became her best friend. “I listened to Mehdi Hassan for hours, crying in my room,” shares the singer, who has a solo ghazal album in the pipeline.

“Temperamentally, I’m not superstar material,” insists Kavita. After a day’s work, she would rather go home than head to a party to network with the powers that be. That’s the way she has always been. Taking inspiration from Mannada who lived a very ordinary life.

“Are you a romantic person?” I ask. She mulls over the question before responding, “Maybe! That’s the reason I didn’t walk the prescribed path. I wear rose-tinted glasses and see only the good in people.” There’s a smile playing on her lips as she adds, “I remained a bachelor for a long time. I was 46 when I got married (to acclaimed violinist Dr L Subramaniam). But when I met him, it just clicked. I could think of spending the rest of my life with him. When he proposed, it took me not more than a second to accept.”

And they lived happily ever after, taking Indian music to the remotest corners of the world.

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