One of South India’s ruling musicians, MM Keeravani celebrates his birthday today. Well established in Telugu, Keeravani often crossed borders to other South Indian languages and Bollywood. Famous for songs with a strong melody base, Keeravani was known by his pseudonyms Maragathamani, Vedanarayana in various southern film industries and the very fancy MM Kreem in Bollywood.

Picking a list from Telugu is rather easy given his illustrious line of work. He’s bagged a National Award (for Annamayya), 5 Filmfare Awards (South) and 8 Nandi Awards. What more do we need to reinstate his strong hold in that territory? Hence, here’s a list of 20 discrete tracks the thespian made in languages other than his mother tongue!

1) Tu Mile (Criminal)

One of the biggest chartbusters of the 1990s, this Kumar Sanu-Alka Yagnik-Chitra number has takers even today. Simultaneously shot in Telugu, the song has a version where Kumar Sanu and Chitra are the lead singers and Alka Yagnik (suspiciously) appears towards the end to render just one line. Here goes that version!

2) Chalo Tumko Lekar Chalen (Jism)

Last but not the least… a sultry Bipasha Basu, lonely beaches, a brooding John Abraham and lots of … uhmmm… oomph courtesy Shreya Ghoshal. The kind of composition that Chitra would have nailed in the film’s South Indian equivalent. Kreem’s music is all things sensuous and so are the words.

3) O Saathiya (Saaya)

Another John Abraham number, this is the solo MM Kreem track in Saaya. Composed years ago, for Kreem’s own album Zakhm, this Udit Narayan-Alka Yagnik duet was ultimately put to use in Saaya. A honey-tinged melody, one wonders how it different it would have been if it were to be picturized on Sonali Bendre and Ajay Devgn.

4) Khaali Hai Tere Bina (Paheli)

A gem of an album, Paheli’s soundtrack went on to win laurels from critics as well as the hoi polloi. Armed with Gulzar saab’s stellar lyrics, it is a tough task to pick one track from the album. Be the magnificent Laaga Re Jal Laaga, the all-girly Minnat Kare, the mushy Kangana Re or the high-on-drama Dheere Jalna, Paheli promised something for everyone. Still, one track that stands out is Hariharan-Bela Shinde’s emotional Khaali Hai Tere Bina. The pauses, the pathos and the whole idea of Hariharan’s voice with Shah Rukh Khan on screen – exemplary.

Did you know that the National Award winning song, Dheere Jalna had its tune borrowed from Keeravani’s own Nadira Dhinna from Okariki Okaru?

5) Chup Tum Raho (Is Raat Ki Subah Nahi)

This rather unusual Sudhir Mishra film came with an equally unique soundtrack. The track in question is simple on the instrumentation front while highly versatile on notes. Chitra sizzles as does her co-singer, Kreem.

6) Ya Ya Ya Yadava (Devaragam)

That’s an awkward way to rhyme a lyric. As much as we despise the lyricist’s lack of creativity there, we equally applaud Keeravani’s lilting melody that’s essentially a Radha-Krishna styled tête-à-tête. Keeravani sets the tone with a spectacular flute prelude and the arrangement is spot on. Chitra lends gravitas to those almost-naughty words while Unnikrishnan ably supports. Shot on Sridevi and Arvind Swamy, the song is also a visual treat.

Again a difficult soundtrack to single out one track, Sasikala Charthiya and Sisirakala (a sex-laden duet in Hindolam raaga) are considered amongst Malayalam cinema’s best ever.

7) Gali Mein Aaj Chand Nikla (Zakhm)

Ask a regular Hindi film viewer to name a Bollywood lullaby – this track is going to be his answer. Well about 90%! This Alka Yagnik solo is delectably high-pitched in its antara and charan portions. We have become so used to this number that most of us tend to hum the background music along with the lines. Rare, that is.

8) Aa Bhi Jaa (Sur)

We love Lucky Ali and the way he lent personality to India’s Indipop scene. To differentiate him from those songs is no mean task. MM Kreem did just that when Ali decided to turn an actor with Pooja Bhatt’s Sur – The Melody of Life. Not many has seen this film but, boy, do we remember its music. Aa Bhi Jaa was nothing short of a national rage and Kreem’s music still lingers.

Another single, Kabhi Shaam Dhale by Mahalaxmi Iyer is a track worth a mention.

9) Khoobsurat Hai Woh Itna (Rog)

Yes, Udit Narayan is blessed with one of the most romantic male voices India has ever heard. One can so imagine his ever-smiling face that his sad numbers are a bit hard to believe. Post 2000s, the singer didn’t quite get the kind of songs he was known for. Cut to Kreem’s brilliant soundtrack Rog and this gem of a track – Udit Narayan fans had their wishes answered. This pitch-perfect romantic solo is close to being a personal favourite out of all MM Kreem gems.

Any grouch? Well, to the makers for not having used a graceful face like Rani Mukerji or Aishwarya Rai to picturize this ultra-mushy ditty. Wishes, I say.

10) Kya Haseen Raat Hai (Maun)

Yet another sensuous number from Keeravani’s stable, the song has SP Balasubramiam and Chitra set the temperatures soaring. Of course, the lyrics are trashy. Sample this – “Main teri daasi hoon saaton janam…” Well, facepalm but the song indeed has a melodious hook.

11) Tharalitha Ravil Mayangiyo (Soorya Manasam)

One of Malayalam cinema’s timeless sad numbers, this track from Soorya Manasam stands true to the film’s overtly sentimental theme. Yesudas’ rendition is heart-wrenching and the lyrics poignant. Timeless is word.

12) Sangeetha Swarangal (Azhagan)

The couple in this song romances on phone, Doordarshan plays on full swing and in background runs a velvety SP Balasubramaniam-Sandhya duet. Not one situation tracks that takes the story ahead, this is a distinctive way to visualize a song. As for Keeravani’s contribution, Sangeetha Swarangal is hummable from the word go.

13) Kuhu Kuhu Haaduva (Swathi)

This Kannada number is one of Keeravani’s best in the language. It’s unbelievably how Chitra traverses from high to low octaves and back. Theirs was an inseparable professional combination in the 90s and how one wishes it were the same even today. Hear this to believe it!

14) Mujhmein Tu (Special 26)

We have heard many a singers go behind the mike for this one – even superstar Akshay Kumar. The best of the lot remains Kreem’s own version for the sheer understanding of the nuances out there. His lack of a strong mother tongue influence is yet another win there. What a song!

15) Avanthan Azhagan (Azhagan)

Not many must have noticed this one in the soundtrack. Played as the film’s opening title rolls, this pacy song by Minmini has something eclectic about it. Ironically, the singer is not credited though her voice runs as the names roll. Funny!

16) Mele Manathe (Neelagiri)

Yet another opening credit track, this one’s sung by Yesudas and chorus. One that smoothly leads you to the film, Keeravani’s melody is one that lingers while Yesudas’ godly voice works as always. Lyrics are a bit ordinary, one must add.

17) Musafir (Lahore)

This critically acclaimed film also had a soundtrack of gold standards. With MM Kreem vested with the musical responsibilities, we can’t expect anything mediocre. Out of all the interesting compositions out there, this track sung by the composer himself is one to die for.

The song has another version crooned by Daler Mehndi.

18) Unnoduthan Kanavile (Kondattam)

A romantic film starring Arjun and Simran, Kondattam had a bunch of hit songs by Keeravani. I remember not paying much heed to this track as a kid. But the melancholic Unnoduthan Kanavile by Mano and Chitra is the song that stood the test of time. Slightly Ilayaraaja-esque in its sound, this composition is worth a revisit.

19) Jana Gana Mana (Vaaname Ellai)

1992 blockbuster Vaaname Ellai boasted of a handful of interesting Keeravani melodies that went on to be hits. Jana Gana Mana out of them all is enormously catchy and has some great singing by SP Balasubramaniam and Chitra. Those moment towards the end where they sing along prove why this pair is considered legendary today.

20) Jaana Hai Jaana Hai (Kasak)

Yet another attempt to the MM Kreem-Lucky Ali magic and it wowed us and how. The element of tranquil throughout makes it a haunting listen. Another version by the wonder Madhushree is equally serene.

Much to his admirers’ dismay, MM Keeravani has announced his date of retirement – 8th December, 2016. As we wish him a wonderful birthday and a year, we sincerely wish that he takes back his word.

Selfish fans, that we are!

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