Mount Saint Mary’s, where I was a music teacher, has produced enough musical talent over the years. But I mostly remember KK’s lot because he stood out from the rest. Not because he just had a unique voice, but because he had the right attitude to learn. And he might bleed into others once his piece is over. This is the attitude he kept until the end. But his play had to be heard and he really wanted to broadcast it. Then I lost contact with him while I was busy with work in the theater, on television and in advertising jingles.
So I was among the first people he contacted when he came to Mumbai. I told him that Mumbai was a place to at least give your talent a shot, but if you missed you couldn’t get off. KK did not and found his place thanks to his talent. I remember the track Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe by Dil Chahta Hai, where he easily blended his vocals with others. I think his Jaane Ye Kya Hua was the most beautiful piece of Karthik Calling Karthik. KK’s voice was timeless. You could place it in any genre and knew it would eventually deliver. His voice radiated friendly love.
He was easy going in the studio. He reported on time and stayed as long as needed to check in. He was in no rush to leave and it was such a relief for the songwriters. He would never dominate you with his understanding and play with the directors. He would never do more than what was asked. And once it settled in after a few takes, it would take off on its own and become everyone’s focal point. After illuminating the space with its luminous spark, it retreated into the shadows and blended into the background. He was a simple guy who never spoke ill of anyone or allowed anyone to do so in his presence. And you can measure a man by the reaction of the musicians around him. He drew them into his sphere and gave them so much respect that they never forgot him in the studio.
Many would say he was underrated. But reading singing in Bollywood is very much like casting, you need a role playing voice. You have to adapt to the specific personality of the character lip-syncing on screen. That’s why KK’s legacy is softness that spans generations and its ability to strike your chord.
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As told to Rinku Ghosh.