That’s how S P Balasubrahmanyam, who has been crooning for over 50 years in the industry, describes himself. With over 40,000 songs across Indian languages and several National Awards, he had a lot to say, and CE was more than happy to listen…
I stood before a microphone on December 15, 1966 and well, what can I say? Life is still kind to an untrained singer like me! I’m performing for the first-time at the Kremlin Palace, Moscow as part of my world tour this year.” His words flow mellifluously even when he speaks. His mellow manners and sweet reprimands make young singers shine on reality shows. There is no falsetto as SP Balasubrahmanyam rewinds the reels of his life.
“Kadhalin Deepam Ondru (Thambikku Endha Ooru, 1984) has to be my best song for Rajinikanth. With Kamal, there are so many because my singing and his acting are just made for
You began singing for MGR and Sivaji Ganesan in Tamil and NT Rama Rao and A Nageshwara Rao in Telugu...
(Smiles) I’m fortunate to enjoy uniform affection from my music directors, filmmakers and heroes. Sivaji came for the recording of Pottu Vaitha Mugamo (Sumathi En Sundari, 1971). I was fresh out of college and quite tense but he allayed my fears and said he will adjust his acting to my singing. I’m eternally grateful to MGR who waited three months for me to record the song for Adimai Penn (1969).
K Balachander, Bharathirajaa and Mani Ratnam had strong situations for songs in their films; it made me popular too. Recently, I recorded with Vishal Chandrashekar for director Radhamohan’s upcoming film with Arulnidhi. I am glad I’m relevant today even after 50 years. I don’t mimic an actor unless I’m singing for a comedian.
Do you have any favourite songs
of other singers which you wanted to sing?
Oh plenty! And not just the male numbers, I love Ooru Sanam (Mella Thiranthathu Kadhavu, 1986) by S Janaki. Yaar Antha Nilavu (Santhi, 1965) by TMS and KJ Yesudas’s Unnidam Mayangugiren (Then Sindhudhe Vaanam, 1975) are some of my favourites. I was made to sing like Kishore Kumar in my early days but my soul connects to Rafi saab. I try to sing at least one or two such songs during my stage shows.
Singing Live is your forte and you make it seem so effortless! Is it really so?
Not at all! Even when I record, I plan every breath, pause and laugh. I hate rehearsing in front of the mike and try to minimise errors in my final take. I’m actually nervous as hell every time I go on stage. I assess the mood of my audience in the first few minutes of interaction and I begin by greeting them and my orchestra. I ensure the atmosphere around me is pressure-free. This is how I am even when
You’re a natural actor and you even shook a leg in Kadhalan (1994) with Prabhudeva... What makes you say yes to things other than singing?
My dance in Kadhalan was an accident (laughs) I will never do something like that again. Prabhu was kind enough to let me stand in one place and do the movements while he danced around me. As for acting — when I sing, I feel my lyrics and imagine myself in that situation and express emotions. When I can do this before a mike, I can do the same in front of a camera also.
There were days when you recorded a dozen songs in a day. Is there an ‘SPB method’ for recording a song?
The highest number of songs I’ve ever recorded in a day was 19! I recall recording 16 songs for Salman Khan — the travel time between studios in Mumbai took more time than my singing. (Laughs) I’m 100% focussed when it comes to learning the tune and in about 20 minutes, I’m ready for the take. I’ve a natural flair for languages which helps. And even today when we have the technology to record a song line by line, I sing a whole pallavi. I’m happy that sometimes composers think only of me even before a song is written because the situation in the film demands a singer like me...
Like Harris Jeyaraj’s Yamma Yamma from Ezham Arivu (2011) or Yenn Kadhal Thee from Irandam Ulagam (2013), and also those special numbers that Rahman calls you for and the intro-songs for Rajini by SPB which is a must-have...
Yes! But there are music directors today whose instructions are so intricate that I find it tough to replicate them (chuckles). I record a song a day even now — whether it’s for a devotional album or a film or TV serial, all songs are important for me. I don’t fear competition. I was supposed to sing all the songs for 16 Vayathiniley (1977), but I wasn’t too well that year. I remember Bharathirajaa and Ilayaraja being livid with me but I asked Raja to use Malaysia Vasudevan for Sevvandhi Poomudicha Chinnakka — Vasu was a singer in my troupe then!
(The writer is a columnist with The New Indian Express)