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6 unforgettable Tamil songs by Chithra – Birthday special

Chithra, who was born on this day (27 July) 55 years ago, is the only Indian woman singer to have won six National awards.

Manigandan KR

Krishnan Nair Shanthakumari Chithra, or KS Chithra, as she is better known, is one of a kind. This delightful singer, who has six National awards, 35 state awards, and over 100 other awards to her name, continues to win hearts around the globe with her gentle nature and mellifluous voice. No wonder she is considered a legend in the world of film music.

Chithra is the only Indian woman singer to have won six National awards. She is also the first Indian woman to have been honoured by Britain's House of Commons and the only Indian singer to have been honoured by the government of China at the Qinghai International Music and Water Festival.

Chithra, who has sung over 25,000 songs in various languages like Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali, Punjabi, Oriya, Gujarati, Tulu, Sanskrit, Malay, Arabic and Sinhalese, has delivered several chartbusters that continue to tug at the heartstrings of music aficionados all over the globe.

On her 55th birthday today (Chithra was born on 27 July 1963), we bring you six of her finest.

1. 'Paadariyaen Padippariyaen' — Sindhu Bhairavi (1985)

'Paadariyaen Padippariyaen' will always be considered one of Chithra's finest numbers. The song, which featured in the National award-winning film Sindhu Bhairavi (1985) by one of Tamil cinema's iconic directors K Balachander, was a chartbuster and continues to be a favourite of many music lovers to this day.

There are two primary reasons why the song became a roaring hit. One was the situation in which it appears in the film. Suhasini plays an ordinary music-loving woman who takes on an arrogant Carnatic musician (played by Sivakumar) at a concert. She requests him to sing songs in Tamil as well. He refuses and talks in a manner belittling other forms of music, especially country music. When she objects, he challenges her to sing and she delivers this folk number, finishing it with a classical piece just to prove to him that others, too, have an understanding of classical music.

The song symbolized the victory of the common man over the elite and so struck a chord with the masses.

The second reason why this song is loved so dearly is Chithra's authoritative rendition. She starts off slowly and finishes with a flourish, rendering the classical portions with elan. Her exceptional diction and pronounciation make every word in the song audible and that adds to the beauty of the meaningful number.

Not many know that Chithra had to miss her university exams to sing this song. However, music director Ilaiyaraaja is believed to have told her even before she sang it that she would win a National award for this number. He is believed to have said, "Skip the exam and sing this song. You are certain to get a National award for this number. What more recognition can you get than winning a National award?"

Ilaiyaraaja's prediction was on the mark. Chithra did win a National award for this song. And today it is a classic.

2. 'Chinna Kuil Paadum Paatu Ketkudha' — Poove Poochudava (1985)

Fazil, a very fine filmmaker, remade his Malayalam superhit Nokkethadhoorathu Kannum Nattu (1984) in Tamil as Poove Poochudava. The film had music by Ilaiyaraaja, who, as usual, came up with some sterling compositions. All the songs in the film were raging hits. Three of the four songs in the film were sung by Chithra.

The title song, 'Poove Poochudava', moved audiences so much that many would break down while listening to it. The song makes its appearance in the film at a moment when an old lady gets to know that her granddaughter, whom she has met after several years, has very little time left to live. Ilaiyaraaja's heartrending melody in the voice of Chithra shook even the sturdiest of hearts. To this day, the song has the same effect on people.

While all the three songs Chithra sang in this film were roaring hits, the second song is what gave her the title that people in the Tamil film industry use to refer to her to this day. The song was 'Chinna Kuil Paadum Paatu Ketkudha'. The song was such a big hit that the industry began addressing her as 'Chinna Kuil' Chithra, as tribute to her beautiful cuckoo-like voice.

3. 'Kuzhaloodum Kannanukku' — Mella Thirandathu Kathavu (1986)

This melodious track from the superhit Mella Thirandathu Kathavu is one of the more adored numbers of all time. The song, based on ragam Shankarabharanam, had two legends of Tamil music, MS Vishwanathan and Ilaiyaraaja, working together on it. As if this wasn't enough, AR Rahman, who hadn't turned music director then, was assigned to play the keyboards.

The number is considered by many to be among the most romantic in Tamil film music. It makes the cut for the simple reason that it isn't easy to handle. In the film, the heroine, without disclosing herself, teases the hero with this number in the hope that he will fall in love with her song and, thus, with her. Though only Chithra sings the song, it can be considered a duet for all practical reasons as the flute plays the role of male singer.

Chithra's beautiful voice and teasing tone simply brought this number to life. Her euphonious voice in the company of some soul-lifting, harmonious music brings about a feeling of ecstasy that is not easy to express in words. This is one gem that continues to shine decades after it was created.

4. 'Ninnu Kori Varanam' — Agni Natchathiram (1988)

One of director Mani Ratnam's biggest hits, Agni Natchathiram (1988) had a 200-day run in most theatres. The film ran to packed houses and smashed box-office records.

One of the prime reasons for the film's success was the music by Ilaiyaraaja. All the songs were superhits. And each number was special. Be it 'Raja Rajathi' or 'Oru Poonga Vanam', each song had a distinct identity and special charm. But of all the songs in the film, the most romantic, and also the most difficult to sing, was 'Ninnu Kori Varanam', a number that was entrusted to the most diligent of singers, Chithra.

The song is based on ragam Mohanam, which has five notes. The challenge in singing this song is that Mohanam's beauty comes out only when the gamakas are incorporated and expressed with precision, something that is not at all easy. Chithra, however, did a fabulous job, delivering a flawless performance. She rendered every single note with precision, creating a magical number that was a chartbuster then and is an evergreen classic now.

5. 'Kangalil Enna Eeramo' — Uzhavan (1993)

Director Kathir's Uzhavan was a film that did not do well at the box office, but it had some great music, thanks to AR Rahman. Almost all the songs in the film were refreshing and exhilarating. One number in particular that went on to become a superhit was 'Kangalil Enna Eeramo', a song that looks to heal broken hearts and console them.

This brilliant number by Rahman was sung by two of the best singers the country has produced, Chithra and SP Balasubrahmanyam, and is testimony to how important singers are to a song. Both SPB and Chithra's voices carried the emotions necessary for the song, making it an instant hit.

6. 'Kannamoochi Yenada' — Kandukondain Kandukondain (2000)

Director Rajiv Menon, who is known to make films that are a class apart, made this film revolving around the lives of three women, played by Srividya, Tabu and Aishwarya Rai. Every aspect of this film had class stamped on it, and that included its music by AR Rahman. One of the most pleasing numbers of the film, 'Kannamoochi Yenada', was sung by Chithra. Based on the ragam Nattakurinji, 'Kannamoochi Yenada' is simply a treat to the ears.