Chitra is a leading playback singer in the Indian film industry. Popularly known as “Chinna Kuyil” (Little Nightingale) of South India she has recorded more than 15,000 songs for movies and non-film albums in languages ranging from Malayalam and Tamil to Hindi, Bengali and Assamese. She was born in a family of musicians on July 27, 1963 in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.
Her first guru was her father, Krishnan Nair, himself a noted singer. Chitra then trained in Carnatic music under Dr. K. Omanakutty and also completed her Bachelore and Masters in Music from the University of Kerala.
Chitra made her entry into playback singing in 1979 under the tutelage of composer M. G. Radhakrishnan through Malayalam films like “Attahasam”, “Snehapurvam Meera” and “Nan Ekananu”. Her popularity increased as a result of the live concerts she sang with Dr. K.J. Yesudas across India and abroad. The duo’s non-film music recorded for Tharangini Cassettes also proved to be a huge success.
Chitra crossed over from the Malayalam music industry to other South Indian languages, with her introduction in the Tamil movie “Nee Thana Antha Kuyil” by Ilayaraja. She also won the first of her six National Film Awards for singing “Padariyen Padippariyen” to Ilayaraja’s music in the Tamil hit “Sindhu Bhairavi”.
Since then, Chitra has worked with almost all the leading music directors across India including Raveendran, M. Jayachandran, Illaiyaraaja, A.R. Rahman, Mohan Sitara, Keeravani, Ouseppachan, Harris Jeyaraj, Anu Malik, Sandip Chowta and Rajesh Roshan to name a few. Her Bollywood hits include “Payalein Chun Mun” from the 1997 movie “Virasat” and “Kehna Hi Kya” from “Bombay” which was included in love songs section of The Guardian's 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear list compiled in 2009. She is the recipient of five Filmfare Awards and numerous southern state film awards. She also received a Padma Shri in 2005 becoming the youngest playback singer to be awarded the honour.
Chitra has also experimented beyond film music. She was the voice behind Ustad Sultan Khan's ethereal “Piya Basanti Re” which won her the MTV Award. She has also worked on a private album of ghazals with Gulzar titled “Sunset Point”. She recorded “My Tribute” (1996) a collection of kirthis and bhajans she rendered as a tribute to the Carnatic legend, M.S. Subbalakshmi.
Along with the Kerala-based television channel, Asianet, Chitra has set up Sneha, an organisation that works for the welfare of needy and aged musicians. She has also set up Audiotracs, a record label to promote new talent in the music industry.