How SP Balasubrahmanyam lent his unique musical style to several prominent men, from Arvind Swamy in Minsara Kanavu, to Rajinikanth in Thambikku Entha Ooru, to, more recently, Dhanush in Aadukalam by Vetri Maaran.
SPB in ‘Mannil Indha Kaadhalindri’ | Image from YouTube
It is the beginning of a tender and young love and the couple’s hands brush against each other. They feel dizzy, in a kerakkam, as it sounds in Tamil. Who else but SP Balasubrahmanyam – all 65 when Vetri Maaran Aadukalam (2011) was being done – could you feel that sizzling chemistry with a voice heavy with love, but light with playfulness? The music was by a boy he adored, GV Prakash Kumar, whom he first saw as a child in his uncle AR Rahman’s studio, where he continued to shun the microphone instead of singing ‘Chikku Bukku Rayile‘.
Prakash is still impressed with how SPB lent its unique charm to ‘Ayyayo Nenju‘. It was a song very dear to the singer’s heart, as it also featured his son SPB Charan and won many awards. “It’s his trademark, isn’t it, he always manages to introduce a little laughter here and there to add flavor to a song. That’s all him, ”Prakash recalls.
This anecdote comes from a time when you can view the songs you love simply on YouTube. But decades ago, SPB helped you see songs as you heard them. Remember ‘Siriya Paravai Siragai‘from 1985 Andha Oru Nimidam, 26 years before Aadukalam? At 4.50 minutes, just as the song is about to end, there is this laughter, before the song goes to a positive note. Kamal Haasan, as always a great actor of the song, managed this laugh on the screen. Did the music director tell him to laugh that way? Did he know that this is how the actor would lip sync? How did he know how to laugh at a musical yardstick?
When we were kids my cousin and I could go back and forth, rewind and fast forward the tape on our domestic Panasonic 543 so we could land at that exact minute. Years later we seen that smile to Doordarshan during Oliyoum Oliyoum when they played the song.
(Also read on Firstpost – SP Balasubrahmanyam was a lesson in decoding tradition while staying in tune with the times)
By 1997, when satellite television entered homes, and with it songs from movies, most saw firsthand what SPB has achieved with ‘Thanga Thamarai Magale‘of Minsara Kanavu. The song also won him a national award. Director Rajiv Menon remembers the recording. “It was a high pitched song and SPB was not very happy with their production. We tried to lower the pitch and the song died. Suddenly he decided he would sing in the treble. He held up the paper and a suspended microphone picked up all the action. He always told me that I made him scream for his food.
‘Thanga Thamarai‘had a different kind of kerakkam, distinctly one-sided, and was a mixture of love and admiration for a girl who had no idea of the boy’s feelings.
Much has been written about how SPB had the ability to sound like the best actors of its time, but you could go on and not get bored. He sounded like Kamal, flooding songs of love, heartbreak and playfulness, and also reveled in his famous disco numbers. ‘Annatha Aadaraar‘ and ‘Unna Nenachu‘are examples of exuberance and a broken heart, both portrayed on Kamal and sung by SPB. It was almost as if SPB knew how Kamal would introduce a half smile somewhere, and he sang his musical equivalent.
For Rajinikanth, the angry young man of Tamil cinema, he looked much more mature and probably gave her his best love song in ‘Kaadhalin Deepam Ondru‘, from Thambikku Entha Ooru (1984). There is also a ‘haha‘at 1.36. Rajini’s famous introductory songs need an SPB.
For Karthik, SPB was by turns playful and passionate. In Kizhakku Vaasal (1990), he sang ‘Pachamala Poovu‘, where Karthik serenades a goddess-like Revathy with some reverence; later in ‘Paadiparandha kili‘, he is deeply grieved, heartbroken after realizing that the girl he loves must be married to someone else.
SPB was the voice that pushed Meenakshi Seshadri towards Prabhu’s love in K Balachander’s Duo. His songs for Prabhu were filled with the good nature and wholesomeness for which the actor’s characters were known.
Mohan wouldn’t have been ‘Mike’ Mohan without the voice of SPB. Most remember Mouna Ragam (1986), but there is also Udhaya Geetham (1985), among many other 80s hits, with his chartbusters, one of which also lent SPB the nickname ‘Paadum Nila’. Mohan’s songs defy the charts, blow after blow after blow, across so many genres. So many memorable love songs through the ages.
There is also a small bunch of songs where SPB sang for himself on screen, most famous “Mannil Indha Kaadhalindri‘ in Keladi Kanmani (1990), which sounded 30 years after its release this year.
The singer with a voice that went through so much emotion was also a great voice actor. Not many people know how much life he gave to Kama Haasan’s Tamil films which were dubbed into Telugu, or vice versa. Indran Chandran and Sippikul Muthu came to life for Tamil audiences thanks to SPB; he did the same for more than 150 Kamal films, including Dasavatharam, when they traveled from Tamil to Telugu. His vocal connection to Kamal was one for the ages, with people often confused as to who was speaking.
SPB, the singer, took over all his other talents, including acting. A film that brought together actor, singer and the king of expression in one scene is Manadhil Urudhi Vendum (1987). He plays a doctor who must quit smoking. He looks tenderly at a cigarette, absorbs its scent intensely and smiles, then sings a ‘mangalam‘, usually sung at the end of a classic Carnatic concert, to signify the end of a relationship. Fortunately for us he never sang a mangalam for his connection with his listeners.