BANGALORE: Though Ganesh Chaturthi is more than three weeks away, public festival organisers are already gearing up for the occasion. S P Balasubramaniam, who has been singing for the Bengaluru Ganesh Utsava for many years now, flew down to the city recently to inaugurate the press meet announcing the upcoming festival. The playback artiste, who has worked with some of the biggest names in the film industry, speaks about his affinity to the festival, Kannada film music and more.
"Once, I had gone to Chicago for a concert tour, and it had completely slipped my mind that it was Vinayaka Chaturthi," says S P Balasubrahmanyam. So his accompanying musicians made an idol using 'whatever was available', gathered a few flowers and arranged a puja. "I didn't know how to conduct the puja ritualistically, so someone sang a hymn, someone else a shloka. We performed the arati, and that is probably the best puja that He has received from me because we offered Him whatever best we could," he adds.Now, he celebrates the festival with his grandchildren. "Somehow, that's far more interesting, and I've always felt Ganesha habba is a children's festival," he says.
Born in Andhra Pradesh and living in Chennai, Balu sir, as he's affectionately addressed by fans, confides that Kannada didn't come naturally to him.
"In 1975, when I performed in Bangalore for the Ganesh Utsava, I spoke in Tamil, Telugu, English and other languages, but I did not know Kannada. So that day, at DVG Road, I promised my fans that I would talk to them in Kannada the next time I came. However, by the next year, I hadn't learnt the language yet, so I wrote down what I was supposed to say in Telugu and read it out. It took me 10 years to muster the courage to talk without a script," he says. He has been speaking the tongue with elan for the several decades, and has even hosted a long-running music reality show on Kannada television called Ede Tumbi Haaduvenu.
The fun element
When asked about the playback music of today, the artiste who has had a pan-Indian presence for almost 50 years says he isn't the nostalgic sort.
"I don't believe in saying those were the good old days when we produced great songs, and now there are none. Back then too we had bad songs and we had good songs. But there were more good songs and fewer bad, and now there are more bad and fewer good," he says.
While he doesn't shun technology, he believes that it has made today's artistes 'lazy'. "It has come to the singers' rescue many times when we go out of tune. But it shouldn't be misused," he says, adding that juniors are often amazed at how he sings an entire songs at a go during recordings, rather than go line by line as most musicians do now.
The Padma Bhushan awardee holds a Guinness Book world record for recording the most number of songs in a single day — 21 for Kannada composer Upendra Kumar.
"We would sing three different songs for three different bands or music directors, so we had the stamina. And we had fun. Now, so often, you don't know who your co-singer is," he laments.
And this sometimes hinders his singing: "For instead of getting lost in the words and melody of the song, I'm wondering what improvisations my co-singer will make, whether what I sing will suit that."
Kannada music still melodious
SPB’s roots in the Kannada film world run deep. His second project, after Telugu singer-music director S P Kodandapani gave him his break, was a song with P Susheela for the film ‘Nakkare Ade Swarga, Kanasido Nanasido, under the direction of M Ranga Rao.
“Kannada music was melodious then, and it is even now, which is more than you can say about some other film industries,” he says, naming R Sudarsanam, G K Venkatesh, Vijaya Bhaskar, Upendra Kumar, Hamsalekha and Mano Murthy as some of the composers and directors he admires.
Don’t follow my lead
SP was studying to be an engineer when he unexpectedly discovered his talent for music. “Music just happened to me,” he says, appealing to the younger generations not to follow his example.
“I’m just a common man even today, trying to live up to my profession. I don’t have any training in music, I used to smoke for 30 years, I’m a social drinker even now. I eat curds, and follow none of the restrictions that other musicians are supposed to. It’s worked for me, but it might not for everybody,” he adds.