Today S.P. BALASUBRAHMANYAM breathed his last after battling with COVID for over a month in Chennai. As a mark of tribute to him, we at bollyy.com and Mayapuri pay a homage to him by reproducing this rare interview of Sripathi Panditaradhyula Balasubrahmanyam, who believe it or not has not learned Carnatic music at all by JYOTHI VENKATESH which appeared for the first time in Star & Style dt July 23, 1982, way back 38 years ago
With his very first number in Hindi —Tere Mere Beech Mein from Ek Duuje Ke Liye, Kamal Hassan’s ghost voice S. P. Balasubrahmanyam has managed to ‘arrive’ in Bombay. I am glad that I had the privilege of interviewing the singer when he sang for the first Tamil film way back in 1969 for the magazine Junior Statesman then as a college student. S.P.B. or Balu as he is affectionately known among friends down South, is a common fixture these days at parties hosted by South Indian producers at the Sun N Sand or the Palm Grove. It means that he is very much in circulation in film circles here.
Balu is happy at the reception he has been accorded in Bombay. “Nobody grudges my having come here in spite of my being a Southie,” he says. Balu, since his debut with Ek Duuje Ke Liye last year, has sung for R. D. Burman, Bappi Lahiri , Nadeem Shrawan, Raam Laxman and Laxmikant-Pyarelal, who seem to have recorded most of the songs which he has sung during the past one year.
“Fortunately or unfortunately most of the producers who are calling me now to sing for their films happen to be South Indians, though their movies are in Hindi. Singing is an art which transcends language. I want to prove this by singing in every Indian language.”
Balu is the No. 1 playback singer down South. In fact producers there call him the singing computer. He sings on an average of five songs a day. “My dates are procured by the producers here 25 days in advance. When a Bombay assignment materializes, my producers in Madras gladly oblige me and adjust their schedules to let me go to Bombay to do my Hindi recording. If the producer is not able to spare me, I stick to my commitment. I do not leave him in the lurch just because I am ambitious. Commitment gets top priority as far as I am concerned.”
Not many are aware of the fact that Balu is also an accomplished music composer, having composed music for a few Telugu films. “Singing is my profession. I do not want to take up a career as a music director at least not at this stage. I compose only because it pleases and satisfies me. I see to it that my work as a singer isn’t affected because of my music director status. I see that I give my call sheets (dates) as and when I am required by the music directors in Madras, like Ilayaraja, Viswanathan, Shankar Ganesh etc. I would hate to have my music directors think of me as a competitor.”
No wonder Balu takes up cudgels on behalf of the ‘poorly paid’ music directors down South. Unlike in Bombay, here the Musicians Union comprises singers, musicians etc. with one President and one secretary. Though in terms of quality the music director in Madras is second to none, he gets only one-fifth of what his Bombay counterpart is paid. The producers, who gladly pay a superstar whatever he or she demands, grumble when it comes to paying their music directors in the South. The amount spent in recording a song is a very paltry one in Madras when you compare how lavishly they record a song in Bombay.
Just to give you an example, I was paid Rs 150 for my first song Iyarkkai Ennum Ilaya Kanni for music director M.S. Viswanathan way back in 1969 for the Tamil film Shanthi Nilayam although it was my song Aayiram Nilave Vaa composed by music director K.V. Mahadevan who was related to Balu, for MGR’s Arasa Kattalai which was the first to be heard”Still Balu has no regrets. “I am happy with whatever little I have achieved down South. I made my debut as a playback singer way back in 1969 with MGR’s Arasa Kattalai with the song Aayiram Nilave Vaa.
Balu doesn’t agree that his arrival has displaced Yesudas from the scene. “I do not think Yesudas has suffered on account of my arrival in Bombay. He continues to get the songs which he alone can sing while I continue to get those songs which suit me. Everyone has to go through different phases in their careers. Nor have I displaced a veteran singer like T.M. Soundararajan. He had his long innings even before I arrived. If he doesn’t sing many songs these days the reason is that the producers prefer to assign the job of singing songs for Kamal Hassan or Rajnikant to a younger singer like me, while TMS is called only to sing for a Sivaji Ganesan.”
It was Balu who composed the background music for Surinder Kapoor’s Hum Paanch. “Laxmikant and Pyarelal were busy and so I was asked to compose the background music. When they did the Telugu remake of Padosan, I played the role which Kishore Kumar did in Padosan. Whenever I get time, I make it a point to dub for most of the Tamil films which are dubbed in Telugu. I have a knack of matching Kamal’s voice in Telugu. I have dubbed for Kamal in Telugu in Tik Tik Tik, Indran Chandran and Kadal Meengal. I do not accept a penny for my work as a dubbing artiste.”
Saying ‘No’ is the biggest problem Balu faces these days. “People are very possessive here down South. The producers of dubbed films won’t take ‘No’ for an answer if I refuse to sing, for dubbed films. Besides how can I say No to the very same producers who encouraged me years ago when I needed a break in Hindi by assigning me the job of singing for Hindi dubbing films? However, I don’t sing more than two songs per dubbing film”.
Balu is confident of making it big in Bombay, because as he says, the old order is changing and new singers are given a warm welcome, if they are talented. And no one can deny that S.P. Balasubramaniam or Balu as he is affectionately called is as talented as they come.
The void left by S.P. Balasubrahmanyam or Balu as I used to call him fondly cannot be filled in by any other singer whether in the South or Bollywood.That’s for sure!May God let his soul rest in peace.