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Sweet 16! The best of singer KK – 50th birthday special

As the Delhi-born singer turns 50 (he was born on 23 August, 1968), we look back at his best work in Indian entertainment space

Mayur Lookhar

Every era in Hindi cinema has produced its share of popular singers and those who were just as good but probably did not reach the same heights of popularity.

The first decade of the new millennium was dominated by Sonu Nigam, Udit Narayan and Shaan. But one voice that is not spoken of much belongs to the Delhi-born Malayalee singer Krishnakumar Kunnath, better known as just KK.

KK has gone about his business quietly. He doesn’t bag a great many awards. You hardly see him or hear from him in the media. But through the past two decades, he has made a name for himself as a singer with a different, romantic voice.

A commerce graduate, KK first took up a job as a marketing executive in Delhi. He quit after eight months and came to Mumbai to try his luck as a singer.  Like most aspiring playback singers, KK sang jingles for over four years with a few film songs here and there.

Then composer Lesle Lewis, lyricist Mehboob and KK joined hands for an album, Pal. That was a hit and opened the doors to Hindi cinema.

As Krishnakumar turns 50 (he was born on 23 August 1968), we look back at his best work in the Indian entertainment space. Let’s just call it the Sweet 16 by KK. Enjoy.

1. 'Pyaar Ke Pal' — Pal (Album)

The 1990s was the decade when desi pop flourished. KK teamed up with composer Lesle Lewis to produce the album Pal. All the songs in it were written by Mehboob.

KK used the platform to express his talent. And boy, did he make an impact on the minds and hearts of his listeners with the timeless romantic number 'Pyaar Ke Pal'! The simplicity of the lyrics, Lesle Lewis's magical score and KK's breathtaking voice cast a spell on everyone.

By the late 1990s, most urban Indians had been exposed to international musicians through the mushrooming music channels. The look and feel of KK’s 'Pyaar Ke Pal' was in the mould of the Bryan Adams hit '(Everything I Do) I Do It For You'. With 'Pyaar Ke Pal', Indian fans could proudly say here is a music video that can match the best in the world.

2. 'Tadap Tadap' — Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999)

KK collaborated again with Mehboob for his first big Hindi film, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Bhansali had picked Ismail Darbar as his music director. The trio — Bhansali, Mehboob and Darbar — produced a modern classic. KK had just one song in this album, but it was one that struck a chord with every broken heart. Anguish, pain, melody, the 'Tadap Tadap' ballad had it all.

3. 'Sach Keh Raha Hai' — Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein (2001)

A remake of the Tamil hit Minnale (2001), Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein has become something of a cult film with the youth over the years. As in Minnale, R Madhavan worked his magic in the Hindi remake.

For KK, this was another opportunity to shine. Often in such remakes, the music tends to suffer from translation. That was not the case with this track. Indeed, it would be wrong to compare 'Sach Keh Raha Hai' with the original score 'Venmathi Venmathiye Nillu', for KK simply owned the Hindi version, written by the lyricist Sameer.

4. 'Awarapan Banjarapan' — Jism (2003)

The Banjara, a nomadic people, have generally inspired musicians to produce vagabond melodies. The term 'Banjara' is also used metaphorically to describe one’s state of heart and mind.

Writer Sayeed Quadri unveiled the wanderer in him through the 'Awarapan Banjarapan' track. Each verse was filled with poetic desolation. The magic, the pain of Quadri’s words flowed clearly through the near numbing tone of KK. Add to it to the majestic score of MM Keeravani and this was a masterpiece in every sense of the term.

5. 'Tu Aashiqui Hai' — Jhankaar Beats (2003)

With a title like Jhankar Beats, Sujoy Ghosh’s film was bound to be a musical extravaganza. Vishal Dadlani penned a simple romantic track which was set to a fine rollicking score by his co-composer Shekhar Ravjiani. The music is pacy but KK flows like a still river. His introductory notes leave you spellbound.

6. 'Tu Hi Meri Shab Hai' — Gangster (2006)

Music has always been a highlight of Vishesh films. In 2006, the Bhatts' banner launched Kangana Ranaut with a romantic crime film. This was the time when music composer Pritam was rising through the ranks after scoring the music for the hit Yash Raj film Dhoom (2004).

The talented composer gave KK the 'Tu Hi Meri Shab Hai' track. Sayeed Quadri was aided by Nilesh Mishra and Mayur in penning this endearing number.  The track has powerful music and so it needed the singer to curb his tone. KK got the balance right here.

7. 'Beete Lamhe' — The Train (2007)

Nostalgia has the power to brighten up a sombre mood. It may not wipe away the pain of the present, but for a brief while it makes you forget all your woes and reminisce about the good times.

This feeling was brought out beautifully through Sayeed Quadri's 'Beete Lamhe' track from the Emraan Hashmi-starrer The Train (2007). Mithoon gave the song a memorable score, but it was KK who turned it into a timeless number, giving the nostalgic melody just that right tinge of sadness. After all, you don't expect a gloomy heart to sound boisterous.

8. 'O Meri Jaan' — Life In A... Metro (2007)

If you look up this number randomly on YouTube, you might confuse the video for the version by KK. The harmonious song had two versions, one by Suhail Kaul, who sang for the video, while the KK version was used in the film. While Sayeed Quadri penned most of the songs for this Anurag Basu directorial, this particular track was written by Sandeep Srivastava. It has fairly simple lyrics, but the music by Pritam demanded that the singer bring his A game to the recording studio. KK did not disappoint.

9. 'Labon Ko Labon Pe' — Bhool Bhulaiyaa (2007)

Another case of simple lyrics alleviated by an entertaining score and a soothing performance. KK did full justice to Pritam’s score by chipping in with a decent performance. The notes wavered at times, but the sheer impact of the music was such that one gets lost in the track.

10. 'Ajab Si' — Om Shanti Om (2007)

Like the ajab (wonder) eyes of Deepika Padukone, this song is a wonder in every sense of the term, a gem by lyricist Javed Akhtar and composers Vishal-Shekhar. The moment the song begins to play, you are hooked to a divine tune that seeps into your soul. 'Ajab Si' has to be one of the finest compositions of the first decade of the new millennium, and KK chipped in with a near perfect performance. 

11. 'Zara Sa' — Jannat (2008)

The song had minimalistic lyrics, and for a moment you wonder if lyricist Sayeed Quadri was at a loss for words. Few they might have been, but the words were certainly engrossing. For a song titled 'Zara Sa', meaning a little, the lyrics were not at all disappointing. More than the words, however, the song would be remembered most for KK’s many whoas. The composer, you ask? Who else but Pritam.

12. 'Zindagi Do Pal Ki' — Kites (2010)

While the film was a disaster, Kites did have a few memorable songs. For this writer, the film remains synonymous with the endearing 'Zindagi Do Pal Ki' number. Nasir Faraaz’s slice-of-life lyrics were set to a splendid score by the veteran Rajesh Roshan. But it is KK who pulls you over to this enjoyable track time and time again. The song is pacey but at the end, the way the music drops and the manner in which KK emotes the low notes, it hits you like a melodious plea.

13. 'Sajde Kiye' — Khatta Meetha (2010)

An underrated song by Irshad Kamil, maybe because the film was directed by Priydarshan and not Imtiaz Ali. Winning someone’s heart takes a million attempts, a million prayers, and only then may you find true love. But once you do, there is no harm signing of all that you did to get to your love. Exemplary poetry, divine music and a soulful rendition by KK, this Khatta Meetha track would be a strong contender for the tag of KK’s best romantic number.

14. Guzaarish (2010) title song

This unheralded number was lost in the handicap of Hrithik Roshan's character in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's flop Guzaarish. But KK doled out a sober title song for Guzaarish. Who else could have composed this ballad but the film's maker Bhansali himself?

15. 'Tujhe Sochta Hoon' — Jannat 2 (2012)

Like the first film, the sequel Jannat 2 also had some fine music. ‘Tujhe sochta hoon mai shyamo subah, issey zyada tujhe aur chahun toh kya [I think of you day and night, how much more can I love you]?' With this one line, Sayeed Quadri melted your heart. Pritam did his bit with the music, and left KK to weave his magic.

16. 'Kaise Bataaoon Tujhe' — 3G: A Killer Connection (2013)

A title like 3G was nothing but a recipe for disaster. The only connection people would have today with this film starring Neil Nitin Mukesh and Sonal Chauhan is the resplendent romantic number 'Kaise Bataaoon Tujhe', written and scored by Mithoon. KK brought all his experience to bear on this number to give fans a delightful romantic song.