Interviewer: Jyothsna & Inian | Camera: Hemananth.B | Text: Jyothsna
Karthik who hypnotized music buffs with his honey drenched voice and took them on a heavenly outing with ‘Oliyile’, ‘Uyire En Uyire’ and numerous such numbers is creating ripples once again with his behka number from Ghajini. The young singer with his peppy, youthful, melodic and distinct voice has caught the attention of every music lover across the spectrum. Meet Karthik in a vivacious chat with our Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar.

About yourself

Karthik: I am born and raised in Chennai. I did my schooling from Bharthiya Vidya Bhavan, Kilpauk and graduated from D.G Vaishnav College, Chennai. I started doing C.A and that’s when I received my calling from music. I met Mr.Rahman and started singing chorus which was just the beginning.

About your family

I have a younger brother. I am married and have a seven month old daughter.

What is your wife’s contribution to your music?

My wife definitely contributes by not contributing much. She does not make it a big deal that I am a singer. That’s what I like about her. She is very normal about everything in life and basically a very happy person. There are many occasions when I go through emotional roller coaster but she is my leveler. She is firmly grounded and brings me to terra firma.

"Sriram Parsuram

groomed me


Who are your Gurus?

Initially I learnt carnatic music from Prabha Lakshmi and later on my Guru was Padma Krishnan.

How did the musician in Karthik evolve?

I first began taking carantic music lessons when I was four years which went on for some time. Then after a long gap, I restarted my carnatic lessons when I was seventeen. I also learnt some Urdu Ghazals. My main transformation came when I started learning Hindustani music from Sriram Parsuram (husband of Anuradha Sriram). At this juncture I would like to say that I owe everything to him. Today whatever little talent that I have as a musician, it is only because of him. Sriram Parsuram groomed me completely and honed my skills. I continue to get trained in Hindustani classical.

How did film music happen?

At home there is a lot of music around me. As a family we listen to film music. But I never expected I would make a career out of play back singing. I hail from a typical middle class family and my parents still work. I am a big fan of A R Rahman and it was my biggest dream to meet him. So it all began in a very small fashion. First- I just wanted to meet him just once, then it changed to a wish to sing just one line which further metamorphosed into a desire for a song and the dream continued. I think I wished for it genuinely and God was kind to me.

"I am really grateful

to Rahman.

How do you feel to be a Rahman regular?

As I had said earlier, it would be an understatement to say that it was a dream come true to sing for him. It is an overwhelming feeling and a happy one at that. I never expected that I would become a playback singer to start with. And that too Rahman promoting me in my initial years was something too good even to believe. He gave me regular songs and good ones. I am really grateful to Rahman. I had absolutely no backing or no filmi connections but he still promoted me.

Was Oscars to Rahman a delayed one?

Why go deep into that? What matters is that he got it and I am happy about it. We all know that he deserves one and it was only a matter of time. If it has to be Slum Dog Millionaire, then be it.

Rahman has given more brilliant numbers than SDM. Your comment?

Rahman had given a good reply to this poser. He had mentioned that SDM had demanded such compositions and as a composer it is his job to keep his director happy because it is the director who knows what will work for his film. And eventually he was right and Rahman’s tunes worked. Jai ho is one of the most popular tunes in the world today. We all know that he has done a fantastic and mind-blowing work here but Slum Dog is what took him there. He just needed this particular piece to showcase his talent to the westerners.

Difference between the working styles of Rahman and Ilayaraja

I have spoken about this many times. They belong to two completely different schools. Every composer has his own rules, identity, approach and set of ideas. For Raja sir, when you listen to the music the end product is already there. When you conclude your singing, the song can be heard completely. Rahman is just the opposite. Voice is one of the first things to happen in a song. Then he adds a lot of instruments, orchestra etc.

What are the languages that you have sung?

Till date, I have sung in Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi and a little bit of Bengali.

Have you had problems singing in languages that you do not know?

Fortunately I have not had any such problem. To sing in Tamil, I write the lyrics in Tamil as I know to read and write the language. I can read Hindi very well which helps me in Kannada or Malayalam or Telugu. Since it is Devnagari script, I have no problems in pronunciation. When it comes to the emotional content of a song, I have many people to help me out like the lyricist, music director, director etc. And when I hear the song, it gives an idea about the mood of the number. As a musician, my instinct also helps. So it is not all that difficult.

"Voice culture

is very

very critical

How do you handle lyrical vulgarity?

In the first three years, understandably, I could not do much. However by God’s grace such situations do not come in my path and even if it does, I refuse politely and they also understand. In fact they appreciate it when I talk openly on this. When you accept a thing half heartedly, then justice cannot be done. I should also take this opportunity to thank people for not giving me such lyrics. As an unwritten rule, they don’t call me for such numbers which saves a lot of trouble. Again, vulgarity or obscenity is a relative thing. What I find vulgar need not be vulgar to another singer and so on. It is important that we express our opinion and make them understand.

What are your favorite numbers?

Aval ulaga azhagiye from Lesa Lesa and Enakkoru girl friend venum from Boys. Also I like Behka from Ghajini. I really enjoyed singing that song. Then there is this song Pachaikili from Thendral. It is sad that the movie did not do too well. But I like it a lot. It is a beautiful composition.

Song that moved you while singing?

Pachaikili from Thendral. It is all about a poor family, about children, about the mother. The lyrics instantly strike a chord with you. I feel audience should spare a few moments to listen to this song. Pachaikili moved me while recording. Sometimes when the lyrics and music sync, it creates magic. Pachaikili is one of such songs.

"I believe in the link

between mind and

the voice.

Any challenging number?

Till now, nothing of that sort. But some days are not great when the voice does not cooperate. After all voice is not an instrument. I have had problems like that. Sometimes the mind may not be active or some trivial reason may delay the whole process. Work that would have been completed in one hour may take an hour or more. Such occasions do happen. One cannot be sad or happy forever. I believe in the link between mind and the voice. Our mood is immediately reflected in our voice.

About your recent outing with Coke Advertisement?

That was a complete surprise of my life. I have a music room in my house where my musical outlets happen. Whether I am happy or sad or stressed, I go there to unwind and rejuvenate myself and also record my ideas. As Rajeev Menon happens to be my friend, I just played such ideas to him one day on a very casual basis. He happened to like them and encouraged me to give it a shot. Of course I was hesitant initially but tried it on and the client liked it. And that’s how the campaign was born.

Did Vijay give any feedback on this?

I did not get a direct feedback on this but through Rajeev Menon, I heard that Vijay liked it.

Will you diversify into music direction?

No, because it is very difficult. When I was doing a just one minute jingle itself, I realized how complex the task was. As a singer, I have seen the difficulties faced by music composers. Of course I do like music direction. However, as of now, my singing career is going good and I am enjoying myself. Singing is my forte which comes naturally to me. I want to focus more on my singing.

What about acting assignments?

Yes. Offers do come on and off. Not only for acting but also for dubbing for new heroes. But it has always been a disaster. After the auditions, directors tell me that it is better for me to stick to singing. I am not cut out for acting or dubbing.

Who do you think carries your voice perfectly well in Tamil cinema?

It is difficult to say. People say many things but we should not take them seriously. For instance everyone said in behka number my voice perfectly suited Aamir. But I just listen to them and move on. For me it is just music. That’s all.

Currently some singers are heard singing in their falsettos at high pitch. Why is it so?

Each singer has a different vocal range. It all depends on the range of the composition and the range of the singer. Perhaps the composition demanded that kind of rendition or the composer felt that the singer could justify the number at that particular level only. These are all flavors. For instance a song like Paruvame in Nenjathai Killade, the pallavi will be very low. One cannot question why it is too low and why not a bit high. That’s the point when the emotion gushes swiftly and aptly. And that’s what Raja sir believed in and that’s why the magic worked.

"I want to focus

more on

my singing.

About the success of songs based on classical music?

It is not always the classical music which is a success. At the end of the day, audience should like the music. For instance Pehala Nasha from Jo Jeetha Wohi Sikander is not a raga based number which came in around the early nineties. But even now, when I perform this number in concerts, the response is amazing and the song is being preferred by kids who were not even born then. The song is ever lasting. There is absolutely no link between this number and any of the classical genres. It does not matter. The song like Kangal Irandal which is so popular now is hard core raga based. But it has worked now. So finally the music has to be appealing and it should have a soul. When there is sincerity and soul, the song will be a success.

When Rithigowlai is the base for Chinna Kannan Azhaikiraan and Kangal Irandal, the kavikuyil version was more unadulterated than its present counterpart. Your comment?

Kavikuyil was released some 25 years back. There are so many changes happening around us everyday. There is constant evolution- format of life is changed, our influences have changed within us, around us. When there are so many changes, it is not right for us to expect music to remain stationary. What is important is – people like kangal irandal. That is vital and it is good. The composer believed in it and people endorsed his belief. Perhaps Kavikuyil may have been different from a song based on the same Rithigowlai which had come earlier than that. Let us not compare songs and mess up. If a song is nice, just enjoy it. That’s about it.

About voice culture.

It is very very critical for every singer. Awareness about voice culture is still in its rudimentary stage here. Seasoned musicians after a considerable period in singing want to know more about it. I feel if everyone gives importance and a serious thought to this science, it would be good. For some people, there could be a problem with innate technique. If this has been unattended, there is a danger of losing one’s voice or the voice becoming hoarse. For some, they may have acquired wrong techniques. These things can be corrected through voice culture. Recently I got to meet one Mr. Ananth Ranganadan who is a voice culture therapist. It is entirely another world for me. Once you learn the nuances of voice culture, you can expand your range. Strain on the voice will be lessened and voice starts sounding much better, much beautiful. According to me voice culture is very very vital especially in today’s scenario when singers sing at a high note for one number and immediately shift to a completely different note for another number. When one wants to have complete control of many parameters like stress, variance in pitch etc, voice culture is a great help. It is like a single panacea for all ailments.

"When there is

sincerity and soul,

the song will be a


About music reality shows in television?

It certainly helps spot talents and I was also discovered through such show. And these shows help in raising the popularity of finalists and contestants. This is a positive aspect. However when it comes to children, I feel the organizers should be more sensitive to their feelings and emotions especially while communicating their shortfalls or judging them. As far as adults are concerned, it is fine because they very well know what is in store for them and should be prepared to face.

About fusion music?

I don’t have a serious opinion on it. Fusion is fun. I have a band and we do a little bit of fusion, little bit of rock. We sing in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada etc. We also host talent shows. My band has some plans to foray into fusion. But we don’t want to fall into the regular category. We are in the process of discovering new avenues. Let us see.

What do you feel is the best aspect of your voice?

I don’t know. Perhaps you should ask my composer. However I am aware of a problem with my voice. I need to do my recording early. I start around 2 in the afternoon and go very late into the wee hours of morning.

What are the voice precautions you take as a singer?

I generally avoid cold stuff. I am careful about water. Stress is the main factor which can spoil one’s voice. I try to be as relaxed as possible. I sleep well.

Advice for aspiring singers?

Firstly, one should learn some form of classical music – it can be Carnatic or Hindustani. And they should be open to any type of music and not have any mental blocks. It is advisable to learn some instrument. Finally wish for it sincerely and work for it.

Are you singing in Endiran?

Not yet!

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