P Susheela, playback singer

I always tell Lataji (Lata Mangeshkar) that I am one of her sisters whom God left behind in the South.
P Susheela (Express Photo by AS Ganesh).
P Susheela (Express Photo by AS Ganesh).

P Susheela is an inspiration to new generation singers and music lovers. A five-time National Award winner and a recipient of the awards given by Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh governments, the veteran has sung in 12 languages, which include Tulu, Sinhalese and Padugu. The legend shares her musical journey.

The beginnings

I got to study music at a very young age since my father Mukund Rao, a lawyer, was very much musically inclined. I was singing for the All India Radio when Pendyala Nageswara Rao came in search for  a new voice. I was auditioned and still remember him shedding tears of joy. I was overwhelmed when he chose me to sing the shloka ‘Gajendra Motcham’ for ‘Petra Thai’ and its Telugu version as well.

The first complete song to be recorded was ‘Ethukku azhuthai’ with A M Raja in 1951.  My first Malayalam song was recorded by V  Dakshinamurthy for the movie ‘Seetha’.  I remember him teaching me the nuances of the Malayalam language especially the pronunciation of  certain syllables, along with the meaning of the lines and the context of the song. Himself an accomplished singer, he could render ‘sangathis’ with ease.

The Maestros

Viswanathan-Ramamurthy duo has given me songs covering various genres of music. They could mix and merge multiple genres of music. M S Viswanathan is a completely uncompromising kind of a composer who will not rest until he gets what he wants from the singer. K V Mahadevan gave freedom to singers. A very soft spoken person, most recordings of KVM would be over in a jiffy.  His music (especially in Tamil) for mythological movies was memorable. Once a song was recorded to his satisfaction, he would simply leave the studio.

My very first song for Saluri Rajeshwara Rao was ‘Ariya paruvamada’ and its Telugu version for the famous Missiamma. Other composers in Telugu such as Adi Narayana Rao, Master Venu, Ghantasala, Hanumanta Rao, Adhepalli Rama Rao, Susarla Dakshinamurthy, Gali Penchala etc are all great composers in their own right and deserve volumes to be written about them. I consider myself fortunate to have sung for them all.

Up North, I love Naushad’s ‘Uthae jaa unke sitham...’, Shankar Jaikishen’s ‘Rasik balma...’, RD Burman’s ‘Raina beeth jai...’ and Ravi’s ‘Chaudhvin ka chand ho...’. In fact the Tamil version of ‘Chaudhvin ka chand ho...’ was sung by me and T M Sounderarajan. I am proud to say that it was Naushad saab who insisted that only I should sing ‘Janaki jaane’ in ‘Dhwani’. I felt overwhelmed when once he invited me for lunch at his home and introduced me to his family members. Salil Chowdhury is a remarkable composer and his compositions are unpredictable. He had that ability to take the song along unchartered territories.

Speaking about G Devarajan, I have sung some of his best compositions. I was happy to have received an award in his name (G Devarajan Shaktigadha Award).

Her contemporaries

I always tell Lataji (Lata Mangeshkar) that I am one of her sisters whom God left behind in the South. She has never held herself back from calling me up and appreciating my singing. I have always loved her singing right from my young age.

My relationship with Asha is no different from that with Lataji. S Janaki has been a friend for several years and we share a very close relationship. Among the male singers, T M Soundararajan used to say that my singing always complemented his masculine voice. Since his proficiency in Tamil was better than mine, he used to offer suggestions with respect to pronunciation.

AM Raja was a reserved person and as a composer, meant business. I have always loved the soft tonal quality of his voice. PB Sreenivas was a very affectionate person. He was fond of sweets and always shared with me the latest sweet that Woodlands drive-in offered.

SP Balasubramaniam was introduced to me as an 18-year- old promising singer by S P Kothandapani, the Telugu composer.

SPB sang his first song with me, ‘Emi eevintha mounam’. Since then, SPB has always been saying that I have been blessing him by singing with him his first songs in Tamil and Kannada as well.

Yesudas and I have recorded many songs together in all the South Indian languages. Singing along with him has been a marvellous experience. He is like a younger brother. So too Jayachandran, who has a very unique voice, a clearly identifiable voice.

On present-day music

I do not agree with the observation that melody is at a low now. There are good melodies being made even today and  we have good singers as well.  I think Sandhya’s (her daughter-in-law Sandhya Jayakrishna) voice culture allows her to sing ghazals and at times her voice sounds like mine.

P Susheela Trust

P Susheela Trust, formed in 2008, has a monthly pension payment scheme and a few musicians in need are being benefited through it. We hold a musical programme on every November 13 as part of which  a senior artist(s) chosen by a panel is conferred with the Lifetime Achievement awards and the P Susheela Trust award.

The Lifetime achievement awards were given to TM Soundararajan and P B Sreenivas. The recipients of the Trust’s awards so far are S Janaki, S P Balasubramaniam and K J Yesudas.  The proceeds of the musical programme would go towards the Trust.

New assignments

I recently recorded a song in Tamil for the movie ‘Nilavil mazhai’. Some present day composers have expressed their desire to work with me. I will be recording for an album on Krishnamachari krithis with Dr Balamuralikrishna very soon.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The New Indian Express