BY VENKATACHARI JAGANNATHAN
Chennai, Sep 25 (IANS) S.P. Balasubrahmanyam or popularly SPB, the playback singer, as well the voice over, of popular heroes of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi movies has gone silent permanently on Friday.
The coronavirus attacked his lungs and permanently silenced the singer who had sung over 40,000 songs in 16 languages over a career spanning five decades.
On August 5, in a Facebook post, the 74-year old SPB said that he was suffering from a very mild attack of coronavirus and had got himself hospitalised to take rest.
He had said that though the doctors had advised him to stay at home and take rest, he decided to be in a hospital, as at home his family members would get concerned.
He hoped to get discharged from the hospital in two days. But it was not to be.
The man who had sung the one of the popular duets with P. Susheela “Aayiaram Nilevae Vaa” (Come thousand moons) for M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) in the Tamil movie Adimai Penn has finally reached the stars, perhaps to sing for the Gods.
Curiously, during his over five decades of playback singing career, SPB has sung several moon songs.
He is survived by wife Savitri, a son S.P. Charan – a movie producer and playback singer, and daughter Pallavi.
Honoured with Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awards in 2001 and 2011 respectively, SPB has won six National Film Awards for the best male playback singer and several other state awards.
Born to S.P. Sambamurthy, a Harikatha artist and mother Sakunthalamma on June 4, 1946, SPB got interested in music at a young age. His younger sister P. Sailaja was also a movie playback singer.
While pursuing his engineering course, he used to participate in singing competitions and won prizes.
“At one such competition, popular playback singer S. Janaki while giving the prize sowed the seed of singing in movies in me by saying that I can shine in the cine world. She encouraged me saying that she too was not a trained singer,” SPB had reminisced at a media meet.
Later he started visiting music directors seeking an opportunity to become a movie playback singer.
A humble person, SPB had said that if a person achieves something significant in a field, then it is due to the nudges and help rendered by several others. And in his case, there were couple of people.
He had said that but for his friend and roommate Murali who had compelled him to reach the recording studio in 1966 December, he wouldn’t have become a movie singer.
SPB recorded his first song composed by music director and his mentor S.P.Kodandapani for the Telugu movie Sri Sri Sri Maryada Ramanna.
Nearly a week later after his debut, he recorded his first Kannada song for the movie Nakkare Ade Swarga in 1967.
Soon he became busy with Telugu movie songs.
Looking back, SPB in an interview said that his evolution as a playback singer was largely due to Telugu music director Sathyam.
It was the Telugu movie Sankarabharanam that made the nation turn towards SPB. The movie directed by K. Viswanath and the music scored by K.V.Mahadevan turned out to be a big hit.
SPB got his first National Film Award for Best Male Playback singer.
Though his first Tamil movie song was “Athaanodu Ippadi Irundhu Eththanai Naalaachu” along with L.R.Eswari and music scored by another legend M.S.Viswanathan (MSV), the song and the movie aHotel Ramba’ did not come out.
As the movie was stopped midway, no music company had bought the rights and made the gramophone recording.
Later SPB sang for actor Gemini Ganesan (Iyarkai Ennum Ilaya Kanni), for MGR (Aayiram Nilavae Vaa) and went on to the Malayalam movie industry.
At a media meet SPB had said he was grateful to MGR for postponing the shooting for “Aayiram Nilavae Vaa” by a month so that the song was ready.
The singer said he was then down with fever. Given his stature MGR could have recorded the song with a different singer and gone ahead with the shooting.
“I had asked MGR about that later. He said after the audition, I would have told my friends that I will be singing for MGR. And if I was replaced the talk would be that MGR didn’t like my voice and so he chose some other singer. That would have been a big setback for my Tamil movie career, which he (MGR) didn’t want to happen,” SPB recalled the incident.
After that there was no looking back for him. In the Tamil movie world, he had sung for MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan, Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth and others.
At one point he was so prolific that he recorded over 15 songs in a day.
The mid 1970s saw the entry of music director Illaiyaraaja who later became a major force in the Tamil movie industry. The two — SPB and Ilaiyaraaja — had known each other even before the latter became a music director.
The 1980s saw the trio – Illaiyaraaja, SPB and S. Janaki- recording a large number of songs and most of them became great hits.
It is a different matter that Illaiyaraaja and SPB had some difference of opinion on the royalty issue. As per law Illaiyaraaja had demanded that SPB pay him royalty for singing his songs on stage performances. The two patched up soon.
It was in 1981that SPB made his debut in the Hindi movie world singing for Kamal Haasan in “Ek Duuje Ke Liye” and went on to sing in movies like “Maine Pyar Kiya”, “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun” and others.
“It was K.Balachander, Director, Ek Duuje Ke Liye who had insisted that I should sing for Kamal Haasan though the music composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal were bit reluctant to try me out,” SPB reminisced.
It is a different matter SPB got National Award for one of the songs in that movie.
During 1990s the list of music directors he worked with increased like Deva, S.A.Rajkumar, Vidyasagar and A.R.Rahman in the hit movie Roja.
Apart from singing, SPB has also dubbed for several leading artists in Tamil and Telugu movies. For Kamal Haasan he was the default voice in Telugu movies. He had dubbed for Ben Kingsley in the Telugu dubbing of English movie Gandhi.
As an actor too, SPB made a mark in jovial father character.
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)