A most sung hero, dies unsung - A personal tribute to KK

No matter how hit KK’s songs were, his face barely showed up in promotions. The master performer was professionally untrained, but had inherited his passion for music from his grandmother and mother

Singer KK passed away last night in Kolkata
Singer KK passed away last night in Kolkata

Rana Siddiqui Zaman

Almost humming his film Jhankar Beats’ (2003) immensely popular song “Tu Aashiqui hai”, and an excitement to meet in person, I entered a five star hotel’s room.

Versatile singer KK (Krishan Kant Kunneth) was nowhere to be seen in any film’s promotional videos while his songs being played at almost all musical events, marriages, parties, gift shops especially Archie’s and Hallmark, had always surprised me.

He was in New Delhi to perform at an international university. By then, his songs in Billu, starring Shah Rukh Khan, Irrfan Khan and Lara Dutta were a major major hit, bursting the charts including Khudaya Khair and Marjani. People would sing his songs while walking on the road, even rickshaw pullers and auto wallahs used to hang a transistor playing his songs.

“Oh, Hi”, KK, got up from his seat and greeted me like a fresh collegiate – an amazing combination of a being a chatter box to an immensely shy boy, when it came to speaking about himself as a person. KK was just five feet and a couple of inches tall – and seemed a bit conscious of his height. He would speak like a confident marketing executive, in farratedaar English, complete with a wonderful vocabulary. His Malayali background accent was nowhere to be noticed in his shudh Hindi because, “all my life I have lived in Delhi, studied here and worked on music…”.

I was surprised at his speech skills. How come?

“Well, those group discussions at college (Kirorimal, DU) did this,” he had laughed. But, marketing to music? It’s a very risky career move.

“Yes”! But I wasn’t finding peace in a corporate job. Something was so much missing in life. I had to find a job to marry my beloved. But I told her music was my life. She said she is there for me no matter what I did. So, that gave me confidence. I knew it would make it. He had already started making music at home with tech-driven machines. “My grand ma is my first guinea pig,” he laughed

And he was right. Just eight months of naukri and he went to Bombay and came out with private album out of which Pal and Yaron were and still are a huge hit with the youth. He met Lesley Lewis, Louise Banks and Ranjeet Barot in Bombay and it started his journey with singing jingles. He sang more than 3500 jingles in 11 languages, apart from lending his voice for a song for the Indian Cricket Team in 1999, called Josh of India.

No matter how hit KK’s songs were, his face barely showed up in promotions. When Sanjay Leela Bhansali gave him “Tadap Tadap" song in Hum dil de chuke sanam, he became a super star of singers among established ones like Shaan, Abhijit Kumar, Sukhwinder Singh and Udit Narayan etc. Amazingly, people would dance to his songs but barely recognised his face!

I asked him. “Do you deliberately stay away from limelight? “

“Yeah! I mean, I feel a bit awkward, let my songs speak for themselves, na..”

But we knew even ghazal singers those days, then why do your own songs don’t show your face?

“Where have you seen producers promoting lyricists and singers? We have to go a long way. I am not there but people are singing my songs. Its ok…” he left the sentence in between, lost in an unconvincing smile. He was certainly shy and wouldn’t let out his personal feelings but he certainly hinted, “I am not a party animal. That helps in Bollywood, you see…” he had left the sentence vague.

A master performer

That evening, KK had a performance at the sprawling campus. He sang without a halt, without a glass of water for two-and-a-half hours. He was supremely charged. The youth, and even old men and women, were twisting to his peppy numbers and the noise of "once more once more" had engulfed the mammoth campus. Huge screens were installed in many directions and almost a secluded Greater Noida at that point (late 2000) in time was full of people. He was dancing, jumping, clapping and asking people to clap along to his numbers, with a mic in hand. Not even a single time KK had a break in his breath while performing high-pitch songs to the lowest ones, nor did he lose the tune or beat in a single song. He was in total sur till the last song he sang there. He was a master performer, making the youth burst into laughter with his gigs, jokes and funny comments to keep them hooked. He even invited a few to dance with him on stage. It was a charismatic show, full of energy and positive vibes. He was a real performer, an entertainer.

He performed that way even though he was professionally untrained. He just inherited his passion for music from his grandmother who was a music teacher and his mother who was a music devotee. KK admired Kishore Kumar for his versatility, and would keep on learning tech-driven instruments and compose his own songs.

After 2013, he suddenly started getting less songs in Bollywood. Two new entries Atif Aslam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan in the music world of India, sources say, were given several songs he was supposed to get. Still, more than 700 songs in several regional films including those in the south, 3500 jingles, almost 10 private albums, a National Award for Jhankar beats, and several other awards and accolades before he even turned 40, is no mean feat.

Among his most popular songs were Chor aaye hum vo galiyan, Tadap Tadap ke, Maine dil se kaha, aankhon mein teri, dus bahane, but the list is endless.

While I write this tribute, I ask myself, why such a singer whose voice fit everyone from Shah Rukh Khan, Irrfan Khan, Abhishek Bachchan to Sanjay Suri, like it was tailor made for them, remained so unsung? Who stopped him from becoming a popular face in Bollywood? And why?

These question, even if now answered, would be of no use.

After a long gap, KK was on social media just a few days ago announcing his live shows in Kolkata and other places and asking people to come. I had my interview with him post these shows, which will never happen now. And his almost unsung persona as a unique star singer will forever pose a question mark on filmdom.

Just at 53, a heart attack while performing in Kolkata, raises questions too.

KK is survived by his wife and two young children, both of them are music enthusiasts

Click here to join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines