The passing away of SP Balasubramaniam, singer par excellence, devastated one and all, not only from the film fraternity but also for the general public for his 40,000 soulful and melodious songs in 16 languages in a career spanning 54 years in India. Nevertheless, his mother tongue was always music. In India, we hardly ever found any playback singer in the history of Indian film who could transcend the borders of nationalities and languages and move millions of hearts with his songs like SPB always did.
Balu’s vocal perfection, although, has a lot to do with his emotiveness. His songs were so full of emotions that they could express the depths of romance. Balu’s tryst with acting actually began when he was a little boy, as he acted in plays along with his dady, who was a Harikatha artist. The chief reason why SP Balu could sing in so many languages was that he was a stickler for diction. Every so often, he would sit down with lyricists to understand the essence of words, the dialect, pronunciation, and more importantly, how they come together in a song to convey a specific language completely, he could still sing beautifully in it.
Possibly, it s this training and devotion to understanding words, which also made SPB an extraordinary dubbing artist for several screen idols including Kamal Hasaan, Rajinikanth, and Mohanlal. After all, in Dasavathaaram, SPB dubbed 7 out of the 10 different voices which were required for the 10 roles played by Kamal Hassan. He also lent his voice for Mohanlal in Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar and Rajinikanth’s Tamil film Kuselan.
Just as he’d become the voice of the superstars in the south, when SPB went to Bollywood, he became the voice of superstars like Salman Khan, Rajini, Kamal, Chiranjeevi, and many more. For Telugu cinema, SPB was the voice for the songs of Chiranjeevi, Venkatesh, Balakrishna and Nagarjuna, and Prabhas. The acclaim of these songs bestowed great leverage to the actors when they were in their initial period, trying to establish themselves. Even though SPB never received any classical training, he covered an enormous range in music, which few singers can. He got the first national award for Shankarabarnam, for which he had sung Carnatic songs for the protagonist, although he had no formal training in Carnatic music.
An ardent fan of Mohamad Rafi, as a 17-year-old, when he would go for auditions he would sing one of Rafi’s songs from the film Dosti. His mesmerizing way in which Rafi switched scales and evoked emotions fascinated him. Nobody knows at that time, that he would not only sing many more songs that Rafi ever did but will also receive the same kind of love and respect. Above all, Balasubramanyam’s songs became a yardstick of romantic melodies, not just in Hindi but also in the Tamil film Industry for the wonderful confluence of classical and modern.
Throughout his prolific career, SPB worked with composers young and old, starting from MS Viswanathan to Hamsalekha and AR Rahman. Of course, there are so many memorable songs belted out by the singer and no single article can capture the breadth of his contributions. Sufficient to say that every generation alive will have SPB songs that bring back memories.
For every Indian, is indeed hard to believe that we will never hear that hearty voice again or see the twinkle in his eyes. Yet, as they say, artists never die for they live on in their art. SP Balasubramaniam’s death is an irreparable loss to the music fans around the world, and the only way we can mourn him is to remember him for the life he led, the eternal soothing music he gave us, and the lines which have become a part of our souls. SPB will live through us all, never forgotten, and forever cherished.
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