Sithara speaks to TNM about her experiences with reality TV shows, her hit numbers and versatility in playback singing.

Each song has a destiny Intv with popular Malayalam singer Sithara Krishnakumar Facebook/Sithara Krishnakumar
Flix Interview Monday, July 22, 2019 - 15:31

Sithara Krishnakumar’s vocals have a meditative quality. The timbre of her voice is so deeply complex, a multitude of emotions layered within.

“Nee Mukilo” (Uyare) brings a lump to your throat, and the hope and solitude of “Cherathukal” (Kumbalangi Nights) reflect in her voice, all adding to the beauty of the frames.

Why, even a “Moha Mundiri” (Madhura Raja) sounds so aesthetic and dignified in her voice. With over 300 songs and independent albums to her credit, Sithara is both a trained classical dancer and a playback singer who is on every music director’s (and our) wish list. Presenting a singer for all seasons:

You are a product of reality shows. How much did that help?

It has its pros and cons. It helped me meet so many veteran musicians, who shared their experiences through their comments on our performances. A lot of practice goes into each performance, which helps a lot. I understood the process of getting my voice ready before a performance. And one aspect of it was to listen to various kinds of songs, which we do even today before a concert.

Now you are a judge of one such reality show. What’s your process, dos and don’ts there?

When I am on a judging panel, I can’t determine their fate,  that would be foolish. Besides, talent cannot be judged by just one performance. What I probably can do is that since I am very familiar with being a contestant, I can understand their mindspace as this is also a pressure test for them.

I remember the things I had wished the judges would say or do. So that constantly runs in my mind. I just share what I learnt. Everyone has an individual journey and we all have to go through it and can’t bypass it. We can only make that process easier by making it tension-free for them.

So, I read something about your band Eastraga, and how it revolved around female-oriented songs…

It was our band and it’s not existent currently.  Now we have a band called Project Malabaricus, a 6-member team where I do the vocals and also write the lyrics. It has a blend of ethnic, classical and folk elements. The feminist writings aren’t deliberate though. Most of the songs about a woman’s thoughts, if you have noticed, are written from a male perspective. So, I thought of writing it as it would be more organic. We do original songs and occasional covers.

You have sung two songs, technically registered as item numbers. Were you aware of this at the time of recording?

I wasn’t really aware when I sang for Sathya (“Chilankakal). Even Gopi Sundar didn’t know how the video will be. The brief he received and what was conveyed to me was that it was a vintage dance number. Maybe the picturization was a miscommunication though I had fun singing it. Each song has a destiny. For film songs, it’s often a result of the audio-video syncing.

“Moha Mundiri” was a proper dance number. Besides, it was part of a mass movie and I was aware that Sunny Leone will be dancing to it. In fact, that and “Nee Mukilo” (Uyare) came at the same time to me. Gopi chettan told that just because it was a dance number I shouldn’t miss the details. If you hear the music on its own, the quality should be intact and it should have all the nuances of a ghazal number. Besides, the song had such detail. He taught me line by line. With “Nee Mukilo”, he taught me the vocal techniques. At his studio, recording is very fast, so you also acquire a skill to sing faster, get the beats faster and learn how to punch two lines, match and sing.

Over 300 film songs in a career spanning over a decade. Which one song would you call a game-changer?

It has to be “Enundodi” from Celluloid composed by M Jayachandran. I had sung over 55 songs before that, but this got me an independent address.

What’s the vibe inside the playback singing console?

While veteran and new musicians are otherwise friendly souls, at the studio console there will be a teacher-student dynamic. It’s a classroom space as we are being taught something. M Jayachandran sir, for instance, is very strict. He follows a guru-shishya tradition of learning, and since I come from that space, it’s more familiar to me. He is extremely finicky with the nuances, so I will be alert when he teaches me.

“Cherathukal” (Kumbalangi Nights) was so sublime…

When a new composer calls, there is always performance anxiety, we don’t know the style they want. Sushin Shyam had sung the track. There were no lengthy discussions. Once the tune became familiar, we did it in a single take. The lyrics were beautiful, something to savour and sing.

Do hits and failures affect you?

It depends on the makers. I lead a musician’s life. Playback singing is just a part of it. If the ups and downs start to affect me, I will be under pressure. So, I deliberately don’t think like that. So far, this year I have sung many songs, but later this year I might not have any songs. So, the uncertainty doesn’t eat me up. I take it as a passing phase. Otherwise my independent music space might get weak. I want to balance it. This is a rare opportunity which I accept with gratitude. The attention and love that cinema offers are more heartening than the money I get. It also drives the people towards my independent work.

Have you felt that your song suits a particular actor?

Since I mostly get montage songs, either about nature's perspective or about relationships I haven’t really thought about it. But I think Manju chechi’s (Manju Warrier) humming for Udhaharanam Sujatha suited my voice. Also because I am a big fan. 

How crucial is versatility in playback singing?

Very important. It also depends on the music you get, which can range from folk, classical or alternate or western. Since I am learning Indian classical music, I cannot present it originally, as my training isn’t like that but in playback singing I can do a cinematic adaptation. You don’t need to do it authentically or purely. A song with blues-jazz elements need not be sung in the way someone trained in it might sing. That way cinema gives an intriguing space. So, with their guidance, some work and some don’t. Playback singing is vocal acting. When you do live concerts, you are being truer to your natural singing. Rarely do you get a song that goes with your natural singing.  So, we imagine that our taste is like that and act.

Which would be those rare ones that matched your natural voice texture?

That would be “Ethu Mazhayilum” (Udhaharam Sujatha), “Pennin Kanikonna” (Godha) “Cherathukal” (Kumbalangi Nights). There are more to the list. And of course, I do get songs that are totally disconnected from my voice.

A musician on your wish list?

AR Rahman is a dream in the back of the mind. I also want to work with a lot of new music composers.

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