An Exclusive Interview with S.P.Balasubramaniam

By Balaji Srinivasan (bb)


Background: To read how we contacted SPB, click here.

To continue from where we left off - I gave the CDs and the write-up to Balu sir. The next day itself he got back to Raja Govindarajan and said he was very happy with the work. He was thankful for the effort that had gone into this and was appreciative of the song selection and the write-up. He was moved to tears recollecting some of the songs in the collection. He asked RajaG to thank me and others who had contributed to this work. Raja then asked SPB if he could spare a few minutes to talk with us. And this is what SPB said, "For such an effort, this is no work for me at all" and said he would gladly talk to us.

Hence, we expected to talk with SPB for fifteen minutes or so. He was in Detroit at that time and RajaG arranged a conference call. We put together the questions, making sure that most of them were not typical magazine-type queries. We caught SPB in his cell phone and talked with him. RajaG and I asked most of the questions, including ones people asked in the 'Tribute to SPB' thread. Srikanth,  Udhaya and Aruna also contributed to the questions and listened in. The interview went off very well; we ended up talking for more than an hour!

SPB was very casual, direct and insightful during this talk. We talked mostly in english, switching to thamizh occasionally. We thought it was one of the best interviews that we've read/heard. At the end, he also felt it was very informative and worthwhile. Srikanth recorded the talk and I am still in the process of sorting out the audio. I will post it by next week.

None of this would have happened but for RajaG's help and effort. My hearty thanks to him!

Here is the complete interview (Refresh this page if you don't see the full interview): 


RajaG: Here's the first one. This is from me; Examples of some songs where you thought you nailed it, and some songs where you felt if you had some more time or didn't have prior commitment, you would do it again.

SPB: There may be plenty sir; That should be in my beginning days; My talent was nascent then, I didn't know how to stand before the microphone, I didn't know how to modulate my voice, how to use the headphone; May be, to start with, 2-4 years, I was literally afraid of listening to the records! (Laughs) Hundred percent, almost every song has some hitch which I could have definitely corrected. Over the years, that percentage has definitely come down, no doubt about it.

But whenever I listen to any song, every song, I always feel I should have done certainly better than this. Sometimes I was not given the full liberty by the Music Director; Sometimes my mode, due to so many other reasons, though I try to shut off all my personal problems when I go to the microphone, sometimes something goes on pricking you which doesn't give me the full-fledged concentration; I could say that ratio has come down over the last 25 years. I could definitely say that.

RajaG: How difficult is it for you to hide your emotion you were going through in your personal life and express a different emotion in a song? Say you were in a buoyant mood, but you go to the studio and find that you have to sing for your mother's death. You are a marvelous playback singer. Playback singing is a combination of both acting and singing, you seem to do it so easily. Is it something that came naturally to you, or did you learn from someone?

SPB: To start with, I don't know how I was doing it, actually. Even now, when I refer to the old copies of my songs, (I kept them almost intact - Later I started writing them in books and all those books are there with me) there are not even small notes written on paper; When I checked papers 20 years back, I hadn't even noted down repetition marks and things like that. I still wonder how I did sing those numbers. So, my receptiveness must have been very good then. It is not an inculcated quality; I think I just possessed that quality; I am born with it, which is a plus point for me, because I was not a trained singer.

After 4-5 years, after working with different Music Directors, I knew what they wanted exactly. I knew how a particular line had to be pronounced, how soft they needed, how loud they needed; So, accordingly I kept myself up pretty much. Above all, it was my patience that played a very big part. If not long back, of late there are music directors who don't know what they want. They are surrounded by a galaxy of people in the mixer room - they just want to push the intercom button and say something to the singer, whoever he is! At those times, it really irritates, but I keep it to myself and do whatever I like and just pretend to do what they want! (Laughs).

Regarding the first part of your question, it is always difficult. You have a quarrel with your children or you shout at your wife or you are mad at your driver at the way he was driving, and you get down at the recording studio - the traces will be always there. Somehow I manage to do it. Like kOyilukku pOgumbOthu seruppu veLiyile vittu pOgara maadhiri - I keep all my other emotions out and when I go in, it is only my music and my musicians. The presence of lots of musicians makes me very happy actually, which I am not getting of late.

RajaG: Thank you for the wonderful response. It is a nice segue into the next question, which is about the recording process. In the olden days, you had the full recording happening at the same time; everybody who was creating the music would be there. And these days, part of the song is already sung, music has been composed partially, then overlays are happening before, during and after etc. This is not a question addressed to you as yourself, but you as a representative of the industry. Do you think such a process can impede the growth of a musician? With the knowledge gained from observing and interacting with other musicians lost now, how harmful is that for a musician?

SPB: It depends from person to person. For example, take the new entrants into the industry. They are very comfortable with the present situation; Even bar by bar they can punch-in and punch-out. Likewise, musicians also, like tabla and dolak players, in case at all there is a tabla/dolak which is a rarity these days (laughs), are also comfortable with it. There are two patterns in the mind of the music director; He records the first pattern for 16 bars, and the next pattern for 16 bars and packs the players off and then he goes on pasting wherever he wants. This gives lot of time for the musicians to go and attend to the other music directors, which is comfortable for them. For nascent singers, now the software has come; even if you are out of pitch, it can correct it and make as if they are singing in the correct pitch. Most of the time, the boys sing the first line and then go to the charanam, and in case the last line is the same, they don't sing it again; They just cut and paste it. They are saving a lot of time, and in that way, technologically it is an advantageous thing.

But, when we were doing live, suddenly, even after a couple of rehearsals, if a particular range was not comfortable, if I wasn't sounding like myself, I could immediately call the music director and ask him to reduce the pitch by a semi-tone. Immediately, all the musicians used to rewrite their scores, and we used to have one more final rehearsal and go to the microphone and record it. This made me sound better. Even that is possible now; after even getting the track recorded, you can pitch shift it electronically. But, it is unnaturally shifting the pitch. Either you have to compress or expand it, and the instrument doesn't sound natural.

While we were doing the live recording, when I was singing one particular phrase, the second time I could improvise it better than the first time. I could request the music director to record it twice; Even now that can be done. But they only paste it, and there is no flow from the first line to the second line.

So, there are advantages and disadvantages. Had there been this technology, they could have definitely used it in the past. We have to change with the times. Most of the times when I was doing the duet numbers, it was very interactive with whoever was singing with me. Sometimes I was dominant depending on the other singer, and I could make them do better and better. Even some senior singers used to ask me, "indha gap-lle yEdhaavathu effect vENumnu music director solraar, what should I do, Balu? Or I used to ask somebody whether the swaram I was singing is right or I am producing a wrong note or something like that. That possibility was always there when we were singing together, which doesn't occur these days. Most of the times, the singer doesn't even know who the other singer is (unless someone has sung it before him/her). That is because, these days the song is not composed with the singer in mind. They record the track and then search for the singer. That is an unfortunate affair.

Balaji: In this concert tour, what do you get as feedback from the people? What do they want you to sing? Do they want you to sing the latest and greatest songs, or known popular hits, or rare classics? What kind of feedback are you getting during this concert tour?

SPB: Most of the times, no one is asking for the latest numbers at all. Actually, in one concert, I asked the organizers to put a basket in the middle and I asked people to write and leave their requests there. When I went through them, most of them were older numbers only. Why most, cent per cent. Nobody asked for the latest numbers at all. Also, most of the numbers were melodies. They may be classics, they may be softer numbers. Mostly, I think they were trying to identify with some incident in their life or some time that they spent with this song previously. That is what I reckoned, rather.

Balaji: How often do you listen to the finished product? Does it just happen by happenstance, like you would be flipping channels and listen to the numbers you sang, or did you make it a point to listen to the songs once they are done and released?

SPB: Every time I go for the recording, even if it is half the number, or the music is not ready or the other singer has not sung, I ask them to play my number, my lines, listen to that and sometimes if I feel that I didn't do it right, I go to the booth and do it again. But, for the finished product, most of the times, I don't see the films nowadays. Very rarely I go to the cinema halls and see the songs. But, when the cassette or the disc is released, I definitely play it once and listen to the numbers. No second thought about that.

RajaG: Actually, quite a few have asked this question. This is about your "trade secret". What is the secret behind your ever youthful voice? Do you believe in vigorous riyaaz?

SPB: Sir, at this stage.. People think that I've been presenting myself in too low esteem and have been underplaying myself. No. I have lot of self-pride and I know what I am actually. And I know what I do know also. Literally speaking, this is a million dollar question to me actually.

You see, I occasionally smoke; Every day I take my three drinks of whiskey. I drink all the cold beverages - without ice water, I cannot live. I sleep less these days. I've become a couch potato and I've been spending a lot of time with my grand children, particularly the twins I got through Charan. It is always really, I think I'm blessed. I will never ask my junior singers, my next generation singers who happen to read lines to do these things. It is like a caption they put before TV Ads, "don't try this at home, these people are professionals"! (Laughs) It is just happening, that's it!

I am 58 now; May be I am breathless sometimes. I cannot run to the microphone and sing like I used to do five years back. But even in the concerts, to start with I have a trillion butterflies in my stomach. That is not thinking of how I am going to sing or how the audience is going to react. I will be thinking of the perfection of the musicians and how to present myself in stage. Most of the time I know I can get the audience to my side. This is because I chat with them a lot. May be I am made up in such a fashion, but everybody thinks I am a boy next door or a part and parcel of their family.

I don't do riyaaz at all. If I don't record, I won't be singing at all! I don't croon or hum even in the bathroom. I just go on reading so many things or listening to music, somebody else's music. This is, as you said, if it is a ragasiyam appadinna, nijamaavE enakkuth theriyaathu. If at all there is somebody sitting upstairs and I happen to go there after sometime, I would definitely ask him, why you have been kinder with me. That's all!

RajaG: What are your serious interests apart from Cine music? And within music itself, what do you follow apart from cine music, like ghazals or jazz? What are your other hobbies?

SPB: Your question has too many branches! (Laughs) Anyway, as far as Western music is concerned, my knowledge is very very poor. I don't even know the names of some artists who are very popular, like Britney Spears - I heard of her only yesterday only because she got married again! I may be knowing about the likes of Michael Jackson, who are universally popular. Most of the times, I don't listen to that sort of music at all. I don't play that music, and I don't have much of a collection of that kind of music. I have a couple of them; I go back to Cliff Richard or recently Kenny G's saxophone - these are the things I like.

Ghazals - among the present generation of ghazal singers, I like only two people who are excellent in their art. One is Hariharan and the other one is Jagjit Singh. I am not talking about the two great maestros from Pakistan - "the" best, no doubt about that. I used to listen to them a lot and I have a huge collection.

If at all I get time, most of the times I listen to Mohd.Rafi. He makes me cry whenever I listen to his songs; for even a romantic number, I cry. There is something special in the way he uses his voice, in the way he stresses his words, in the way the expression comes so beautifully out of his voice.

Most of the time I am lazy, I just lie at home and I watch a lot of television, mostly action films and watch news. Next to music, my most favorite thing is cricket. (Laughs) I watch a lot of cricket, sometimes I go to far away places to watch cricket. I have a lot of friends who are star cricketers. That's it. Other than that, I am a very very ordinary person. I lazy out and I love my life. Somehow, I keep myself very busy; I keep my things spic and span and everything has to be very orderly. I go on looking at things and say 'ippadi paNNinaa nallaa irukkumE', andha maadhiri paNNittiruppEn. I sleep out, I just get in a car and go out for a drive, read the news paper in the car and come back again! (Laughs) Nothing very special, nothing particular at all.

This may be the result of.. When I started my career, I was exactly 20. To start with I was not that busy. When I was 23, from then onwards, until I was almost 51 or 52 I burnt out like nobody's business. Every day almost 11 hours or 12 hours I was working. Singing.. singing.. singing.. I didn't see anything else. I've not seen my children growing up. I missed a lot of my private life. I think may be the result of all that is that I have become a home bird now. I spend a lot of time with my family and I lazy out a lot and I am enjoying it literally.

Balaji: That leads to another question I had. You've obviously sung a lot in your career. 20,000 or 30,000 the number is just unimaginable. Where you choosy at some point of your career? A lot of artists worry about overexposing their voice, making sure that they remain fresh and they don't appear frequently among the media etc. But you have sung throughout, 10 to 20 songs a day. Were you choosy and say that you would sing only if the song was of a certain quality?

SPB: I was choosy only in the '90s, and that too not on the music content of the songs. That is because I never wanted to question the capacity of a composer. When a composer made a song, lots of people were there around him who okayed that and wanted that to be recorded. At the last minute I didn't want to say the composition is bad.

I was putting my foot down only on the quality of the lyrics. That too not on the classicism and not against commerciality - I know cinema music is commercial music, but sometimes they went a little more below the belt that I didn't like. In those cases I was comfortably telling them, 'In case you feel that these words in your songs would fetch at least a couple of lakhs more for your film, please go ahead because I don't know about the equation of commerciality there. But in case you feel it should be sung by me, and believe my voice should be there, then you've got to change these lines'. I was getting one happiness over there. At least I was keeping myself aloof from that sort of numbers. and secondly, if I was not singing, somebody else got a chance to sing that number. That would have been somebody's bread and butter.

Otherwise, I was never choosy. My disqualification was that I could never say no to anybody. Even after the 15th song, 9.30 or 10o clock in the night, I would be packing up and some producer used to come and say, 'Balu Sir, tomorrow I got my hero's dates. I definitely need this song. 'ungaLukku enna saar, 10 nimishaththilE paadiduveenga' appadinnuduvaanga. I used to tell them that 10 minutes of singing, rather finishing a song in just 10 minutes is more of a mental strain than a physical strain. No doubt my lungs at that stage were asking for more oxygen. Number two, to give a song in a quick period needs a lot of concentration and you spend a lot of energy through your mind.

If I explained these things, sometimes it was gibberish to them. They were only bothered about the next day's hero's commitment. So, I couldn't say no, 'Ok, I will finish this'. Like that I burnt out myself. Otherwise, may be I could not have sung this many number of songs. And not without pride, but with confidence, I can say that in the coming 30-40 years nobody will be able to record this many numbers. I am NOT very proud of this. It just happened because of my personality. I wanted to please everyone.

At that juncture too, lot of people thought if I don't sing that song, it will go to somebody else. I vouch on my profession, I never thought like that. I was only feeling that this music director should not be hampered because of my not singing at all. There were so many times when I heard a track recorded by somebody else, and I felt it was quite good. It would not have been very good, but if they had tried to do it a couple of times more, it could have been perfect. I used to argue with the music director why do you want me to do it again? What is wrong with this particular singing, you tell me? Or you get him to do it once again, let's take a couple of takes more and you will be giving an opportunity to others. And only in minimum numbers people listened to me and did so. Most of the times they said, "aNNaa, enna irundhaalum neenga paadinathu maadhiri irukkaadhu". That might be a fact, but when I was in the beginning stage, if the music directors thought so I would not have got these opportunities at all!

So, coming to the point, I could say no only to those vulgar words put in the songs. That too from the '90s. Prior to that I was hesitant in saying that I wouldn't sing. I will give an example. "Oh pOdu" I didn't like the lyrics at all. If you go intricately into the charanams, you will feel the quality of the lyrics. As soon as I went to the recording studio, I looked at the paper. There was Mr. Saravanan and Bharathwaj, my junior and a very nice person. If I could say to him "leave me off, indhap paattu vENdaam"nna "sari sir"nnu solliyiruppaaru. But Saravanan was there and Mr.Vairamuthu was also there. I said "Sir, do you really want me to sing this number?" "Yes, we really want you to sing, for obvious reasons" appadinnaanga. I couldn't say no. I respect Vairamuthu who is a wonderful poet and a great friend of mine, and I respect the seniority of Mr. Saravanan. He is such a soft spoken man that I couldn't say no. So it was a sort of embarassing situation where even a couple of those numbers could have come out of my voice. But otherwise I never said no to anybody.

RajaG: The mention of Vairamuthu takes us to this question that a couple have asked. And that is the state of pronounciation and enunciation. Of course, you stand at the top of the list as a model to emulate. You are also a marvellous music director. This question is from Udhaya who says he wishes you would compose for more films and private albums, if only to resurrect the quality of pronounciation in songs, especially in Tamil Film Music.

SPB: I love it Sir, but nobody is giving me a chance to compose music. I am seriously telling this, I am not trying to run away from the responsibilities of composing music at all. I love (to compose). May be I may put more conditions now. Previously endhap padamaa irundhaalum I used to accept it and do it. May be now I would say, I need this lyricist, or that voice and may be for some sort of situation I may not be able to produce music. But, people are literally not coming to me asking me to do music! It is so unfortunate.

Otherwise I would certainly do it, not for reason that you said, that I might up the quality of pronounciation or lyrics or what not. But as far as I am concerned, I did music for 50-52 films in Telugu, Tamil and Kannada. I did background scores for a couple of films also. I NEVER did a song which I didn't like. Even though some alternative tunes that I gave they okayed it, adhu thavira always my content was my melody. I used to give a lot of importance to the lyricist. I did both ways, I composed tune first and sometimes I took the lyrics and then composed also.

I always felt that the song should go to the heart of the people through the lyrics first and then the music. So, even after I composed the melody and the lyricist would give me his lyrics; Listening to that, oru dheergAshram paNNaNumnaa kooda, I didn't mind changing my melody a bit for the sake of the lyrics. I never said no for that. The million dollar question is that nobody is asking me do music! The latest one which I've done is my son's film (unnai charaNadainthEn). That too he asked me to do, I never said I wanted to do music.

Udhaya: naanga ellaarum kEkkarOm, neenga paNNunga.

SPB: (Laughs) Oh yeah, you produce a film, I will definitely do the music! If at all it is a film..

RajaG: How about private albums? For example, you did a collection of Urdu ghazals (sings the tune for SPB to recognize the song).

SPB: Two years back, Nikhil-Vinay composed a pop album. All melodies only in that. I recorded it, but it has not seen the light of the day yet; I don't know the reason. Lovely numbers they have composed. If somebody asks me to do those sort of numbers I will certainly do it. ippO enna aachunnaa, particularly devotional albums, especially in South India, they have become very seasonal. Before December, it is all Christian albums. And when Aiyappa season comes it is all Aiyappa songs. ipapdi ellaam varum. Still we can do some wonderful melodies. But even those producers have got some norms. If it comes to Aiyappa, they always want "thin thaka thin thaka thOm"; Melodious, softer numbers irukka koodaathunnu feel paNNuvaanga. May be I may take more time to compose those numbers and more time to record those numbers also. ippO 10 paattu oru naaLle track eduththuttu aduththa naaL record paNNalaam. When I sing, I sing all the 10 songs in a day. While recording or composing I may take more time. If somebody asks I will definitely do it, not necessarily film songs.

RajaG: Can you give us a few suggestions on how one should handle critics?

SPB: It all depends on the platform of self-assessment actually. If one thinks he is always right, he cannot take the criticism from others. If you have the sense of knowing whether they are sincerely trying to get the best out of you and are sincerely criticising you, then you have to take it with a smile. But there will be some people who will always search for holes. First of all, they don't look at the total product - They first start with finding the mistakes. Take everything with a smile. As long as your self-assessment is right, you will never falter at all. There is no meaning in becoming emotional and arguing with them. Ultimately if you give your best the next time they will only give it a bad remark.

RajaG: The next question is about live concert singing. We want to thank you as an excellent ambassador for the film world. As fans, we want you to carry back the message that all the genuine fans of music are disappointed and deprived by the concept of track singing and lip-syncing on stage. We feel that it is a great degeneration of values. We know that in your live concert you don't do that.

SPB: Actually, it is a deceit, you know. Why do people come to see a live performance? There is an adjective 'live' there. You see, they all very well know that you can't bring all the 30 pieces of instruments on stage, unless it happens to be a bigger music director. And they know that the people are bound to make mistakes and they don't mind it. They want to see the singer singing in flesh and blood and see how he interacts with the musicians on the stage. Those things make a big difference to the live audience. People coming with tracks already made and.. adhu kooda paravaayillai, but lip-syncE paNNaraangannu kEkkumbOthu romba kashtamaa irukku. That I feel very bad about. Playing a record and lip-syncing it.. absolutely bad. I will never encourage that.

I have given my piece of mind to lots of singers who have been doing like that, not straight forwardly. They say that certain backgrounds are very difficult (to reproduce) and that's why we are doing it like that. You can simplify the background. You need not even play the background - When you sing, people are there to listen. Background is only a breathing space. That is what K.V.Mahadevan used to say. Very practical person. Even while recording, oru chinna note yEthaavathu thappu vandhuchunnaa, avar OK paNNiduvaar. appuramaa solluvaar, "pOdaa, oru 10% aaLungaLukku theriyattumaa? TheriyattumE! thappE kedaiyaathu. naama ellaarum human beings thaanE. Music edhukku irukku? It is only a breathing space for the singer. angE Edhaavathu oru dance pOduvaanga. paattile irukkara vaarthai nallaa kEkkaNumdaa kaNNaa, sruthi suththamaa paadaNum. anubavichu paadaNum. adhu irundhaa pOdhumdaa! "

Balaji: By the 80s and 90s, you were a legend in the industry, so one would think that you would have more leeway to tailor the song according to your creativity. Yet, we see that your 70s songs seem to have more creative input from you, like astonishing sangathis, free flowing singing and so on. Was this because of the 70s music directors who allowed you to improvise and excel, or was this because in the 80s/90s, control shifted to the music director's hands fully? Or do you think it is just our ears doing the tricks?

SPB: If you are caliberating this period wise, I don't think that is right. Actually speaking, I should have been given more liberty when I became more seasoned. When I was more senior, may be some people were hesitant to tell me not to do this or that. In the 70s I was just coming up; people should have put their foot down firmly saying that they don't want. It all depends upon the composer.

You see, most of the composers had so much of confidence on me. They knew that whatever improvisation that I was making would never hamper the song. Actually, there should be an ethic while you are improvising a song while recording. On the stage, it doesn't matter sometimes, you can go a bit far and people love it. But as far as the situation and song demands it, and depending on the character, you have to think twice before you improvise.

In particular, if I told M.S.V, "aNNaa, naan ingE sangathi pOdarEn", he would say, "yaaru veettu soththu? nallaa pOttukkO!". Sometimes, if I went a little overboard, he used to say "indha sangathi pOttaa en gathi ennaagum!"

So, it is all by experience you know where to have that excess and where not to have it. And it is not in 70s or 80s or like that. Most of the people gave me lot of liberty. The stricter people were, in tamil, it is 100% Ilayaraja. He wanted exactly what he meant to have. Sometimes if you had felt that I did a little extra, that is because in one particular period, we used to record and later he used to come and listen to it. He was not present while we were dubbing the song. It of course didn't happen very often. He was a very strict master, actually. avar sonnathu thaan varaNumnnu feel paNNuvaaru. Viswanathan was also like that but a percentage of liberty was always given.

Lots of liberty ellaa singerskkum kudukkarathu Rahman. He says this is the skeleton of the song, you go on singing. All the rehearsals, all the takes he will take and then he goes on to edit them later. He never wants to hurt the feelings of the singer. If we do a sangathi, he will never say that is not good and don't do that. "idhu nalla irundhudhE, vEra vidhamaa paadip paakkalaamaa"nnu innoru take eduththu vachukkuvaaru. Ultimately whatever he likes he used to put it.

The reason for the improvisation was that the particular music director in that period thought that whatever I was doing was enhancing the beauty of the song. It doesn't depend on the 70s or 80s.

Balaji: As a composer, where do you stand in this spectrum?

SPB: I give a lot of liberty to my singer. There is always a frame. My seniors have sung for me - Yesudas, Suseela amma, Janaki, Jikki, Vasu. What I try to do before the microphone when another music director is composing the song, I try to give the same amount of liberty to my singer. Some people always used to say, "We need not do anything because as a singer you have composed. adhu paadinaa pOdhum". I always used to counter that. Like when Yesudas came to sing "akaram ippO sigaram aachu", I had sung the track myself. He heard it and said "idhaith thiruppi edhukkudaa naan paadaNum? idhai minji naan enna paNNap pOrEn? kizhikkap pOrEnaa?". The voice makes a difference, the situation makes a difference. "I didn't compose it keeping myself in mind, ungaLai manasile vachu thaan compose paNNinEn. So even if you sing the same sangathis, in your voice it will sound different. If you want to take liberty, neenga enna nenaikkareengaLO paadunga; no problem. This is the situation. indha frame-kkuLLE enna paNNinaalum enakku OK"nnu sonnEn.

Balaji: You said that M.S.V gave you a lot of liberty. Can you take one song that you like and tell us how you recorded it? Like "enakkoru kaadhali irukkindraaL".

SPB: avar anbaaga ennai niraiya thittinaar, andhap paattu paadumbOthu. He had composed, I went to the studio. He said, "ippO naama reNdu pErumE act paNNap pOrOm. naan oru Music Director. nee ennai chance kEkka vandhirukkE. indha soozhnilaiyilE oru paattu - naan piano vaasikkap pOrEn, nee ennOda sErndhu paadap pOrE".

Then, I learnt this song. To start with, I thought the sangathi would be difficult to sing. avar anAyAsamA paadarArE, naan ennap paNNap pOrEnnnu nenaichEn. (hums the sangathi). ozhungaa varumaa? We were going to sing in the same booth - that was a live recording. With his encouragement, I got the confidence.

After a couple of takes, I went a little beyond the expectation of his. (Laughs) Take aanathukku appuram sonnAru, "idhu romba nallA irukku, naan illainnu sollalai. aanaa, modhal thadavai chance kEtka music director kittE vandhirukkaravan music director-ai overtake paNNi pOyAchunnA enga gathi ennAgumnnu manasilE konjam yOsanai paNNu. kutti viduvEn thalaiyilE, rascal! nee singer ippO. nee adhai manasile vachukittu pAdudA"nnaaru! (Laughter all around) Romba romba anbA sir, romba nallA irundhudhu andha situation.

What I miss now is, nAnga musicians ellArum sErndhu live-A record paNNumbOthu, we could see some people's faces while playing also that used to give so much of radiance. ellAm mudichadhukku appuram, in that small mixer room 30-35 people will crowd in and listen to the number. Everybody will be watching the music director. avanga avanga solo varumbOthu improvise paNNinathO, Tabla Prasad oru virukkA oNNu adichadhO, maththavanga enna feel paNNuvaanga-nnu paathuttiruppAnga. sirichuttiruppAnga. romba nallA irukkum.

When the song is being played, naan oru sangathi pOttiruppEn. thooramA ninnuttu kEttiruppEn. Viswanathan Sir sirichuttE he will look at me. When the song is being played he will call me.

"ingE vaa".

kittE pOnathum nallA katti muththam kuduththu,

"en paattukku romba life kuduththE raja. kaNNa, nallA irudaa"nnu solluvAru!

Sometimes he used to go home and after 10o clock, after a couple of drinks he used to tell me,

"Dei! kaNNa! enna maadhiri paadinEdaa! naan ippO thaNNi pOttuttu pEsarEnnu nenaikkAdhE, unga aNNi kittE kELu. eththanai thadavai cassette pOttu kEttirukkEnnu. ungaLukku ellAm naan romba nandrik kadan pattirukkEndaa!"nbaru.

How could I get all those experiences back! (voice fades, is overcome with emotion).

RajaG: Thank you for sharing that. Among other people, we are also fans of MSV. We really love him and feel that he is an under-recognised gem of film music.

SPB: (interrupting) andha aadhangam en manasukkuLLE irundhudhu. On the 23rd of last month at Hyderabad I on my own did a big felicitation to him. Do you know who did the felicitation to him? Ilayaraja and Balamurali Krishna. Mr.Nageswara Rao, Mr.Narayan Reddy and Mr.Rama Naidu and the cream of the Hyderabad cine industry was there. I presented a cheque for Rs.250,000. That is secondary, but the way the function happened was good. I myself with a lot of up and coming singers presented about 15-16 songs of MSV and MSV-TKR in Telugu on the stage. It was a great, great experience.

RajaG: If we take efforts to honor these doyens of music, is there a setup in Tamil Nadu? Can we use you as a channel to facilitate this process?

SPB: Anytime, Sir. I will be your servant for these sort of jobs.

Udhaya: A quick request. I attended your concert; You sang a couple of G.K.Venkatesh songs and also gave anecdotes about him. Romba sandhOshama irundhudhu. Neenga neraiya obscure music directorskku 1-2 paattu hit kuduththirukkeenga. Shyam, Vijayabaskar and Dakshinamurthy maadhiri..

SPB: (interrupting) naan kuduthEnnu sollAdheengO, ellArum sErndhu kuduththOm. It is not an individual job, it is a teamwork.

Udhaya: I understand that, but unga fans-aa irukkarathinAle thaan unga moolamA avangaLai discover paNNarAnga.

SPB: Yeah, his servant's voice-nnu sollalaam. His Master's voice-nnu sollak koodAthu. Music directors servants thaan naanga.

Udhaya: neenga G.K.V songs paadina maadhiri mathavanga paattum ovvoNNu paadineengannA it will provoke a lot of people to go and search for forgotten composers.

SPB: 100% I will heed your suggestion sir. A noble suggestion you have given.

Nichchayamaa saadhAraNamA solra suggestion illai idhu.
Ennaa, unga generation of listenerskku SPB pAdinA pOdhum, endhap pAttA irundhAlum paravAyillai-nnu nenaikkarAnga. aanA, composer azhagA kudukkalainnA SPByO yaaru irundhAlum oNNum seiya mudiyAdhu. neraiya pAttu hit aayirukkum, paadindiruppAnga, but music director yaaru-nnu neraiya pErukku theriyAdhu.

neenga sonna mAdhiri, adhu ennudaiya kadamaiyaa naan feel paNrEn.

Balaji: Actually, naan kuduththa list-lle neraiya music directors songs irukku.

SPB: Aamaam Sir, enakku vandhu, you believe me, enakku kaNNilE thaNNi vandhuchu!

indhap paattai eppO pAdinEn; indha mAdhiri oru padam vandhudhA; eppadi pAdinEnnu kooda enakku theriyallai. enakku avvaLavu viyappAga irundhadhu. Actually, naan RajaG kittE kEttadhu adhukku thaan. indha mAdhiri paattellAm enakku vENumnnu.

But when we have 3 hours time (in a concert), we get about 22-23 songs. adhilE oru Sankarabharanam kaNdippA pOguthu; oNNu reNdu Hindi song. vEra yArAvathu oru kannada song kEppAnga. oru 4-5 pAttu pakkathilE vachAchunnA we will be left with around 16-17 songs. Indha 16-17 songs-llE breathing space-kkAga maththavangaLukku 4-5 song pOnAlum I will be left with 13 songs. Indha 13-lle definiteA mostly angE irukkaravanga expect paNNara popular songs thAn kudukka vENdiya oru kattAyam. irundhAlum kooda, naan kaNdippA oru concert-kku oru Music Director pAttAvathu kudukka try paNrEn.

Udhaya: Yes, adhu paNNunga.

SPB: Nichayamaa paNNarEn Sir.

Balaji: Do you have any plans of redoing 70s classics with better orchestration and sound recording? Neraiya pAttu engaLukku kedaikka kooda maattEnguthu. ungaLukku kudutha paattilEyE neraiya we've searched in obscure recording shops for years to get these songs. So, those kind of songs, like "nitham nitham en kaNNOdu inbak kanaa". May be you can redo these songs now with a better orchestra and sound quality. This is a suggestion from us.

SPB: That idea is there. In all languages andhap pAttukkaL kedukkAma adhE instruments vachu appadiyE paNNaNum. May be I cannot get my co-singers, especially the older ones may not be in their mettle now. Still I can get somebody who can do a good job. I am bent upon doing those things.

kaNdippA paNrEn naan.

Balaji: A while back we listened to a CD from you. You had sung yesteryear hits like 'nilavE ennidam nerungAthE' and 'oru naaL pOdhumA'. Can you tell us more about that?

SPB: oru naNbar, Shahul Hameed-nnu solli. nOkkam nalla nOkkam thaan. but the way he has marketed it.. en kittEyE copy illai! nambareengaLA neenga? Record paNNinathukkappuram avar enna aanAr-nnu theriyallai. indha mAdhiri yArAvathu kEttavanga sollumbOthu thaan puriyuthu, Oh it has come out-nnu. It should have been marketed in a better fashion.

naan voice imitate paNNalai. I just wanted to sing my favorite songs. It is a sort of tribute to my senior singers or an appreciation to junior singers.

RajaG: It was a very nice gesture from you and as fans, we really love it.

Balaji: This one is from Srikanth. We see a lot of singers who imitate you; They imitate your style, your voice and are so influenced by you. How did you escape from the Ghantasala/T.M.S influence?

SPB: We had umpteen TMSs, umpteen Rafis. Kerala pOnaa everybody sings like Yesudas. Coming to that part of the question, it is that natural. ippO everybody is singing like Hariharan. But, idhu eppadi nadanthathunnA - first of all, when I started singing in Telugu, I was a puny guy; puny voice. yaarukkum match aagAthu-nnu solli they were giving chances only to sing for comedians and chota-mota heroes.

When it came to singing for Nageswara Rao and Rama Rao, it was a very big task for me. Ghantasala was the permanent voice for them. And people identified them with his voice only. vEra yAru pAdinAlum they could not digest it. A couple of singers came later who just imitated Ghantasala. They had a very big break and then faded out because they were only copy-cats. So, I took it as a challenge. enna seiyaNum, eppadi avanga kittEyE acceptance vAngaNumnA, avanga timing and style of dialogue delivery vachu konjam kittE, not too mimicking, if I come close to those artists, I may be successful-nnu try paNNinEn. Then I was successful.

When I became successful and I left that mimicking and saadhAraNamaa pAdinA kooda, people would say, appadiyE paadineengaLE-nnu! innikku kooda solraanga - kamalkku kamal mAdhiri pAdineenga, Rajinikku Rajini maadhirinnu. It is not like that. I take their style, their throw of words and sing. That sort of challenge when it was thrown on me, I thought I had to be very unique. Announce paNNAma radio-lle pAdinA kooda 'idhu SPB pAdinathu'nnu theriyum.

Take our senior singers, avangaLukku announcement is not necessary. This is T.M.Soundararajan, this is Govindarajan, this is Yesudas, P.Suseela, Janaki nnu sollalAm. Thesedays, particularly the ladies, you can never say who has sung this song. Everybody is trying. 90% of them are very falsy. romba false voice-lle pAdarAnga. depth kedaiyAthu. very thin way of presenting themselves vocally. Moreover, music directors vaikkara sruthi romba highA, veech veechunnu. Lyrickku parity irukkAthu andha frequency-lle pAdumbOthu. oruththarumE 2-3 padathukkappuram irukkarathillai. yAru pAdinAngannu theriyAthu. credits kedaiyAthu. stage-lle announce paNNumbOthu kooda there is no applause. Because they have not influenced anybody.

So, ippadi ellAm irukkak koodAthu. naan naanaa thaan irukkaNum-nnu chinna vayasilE eppadi andha vairAkkiyam vandhadhO theriyallai. It happened, by God's grace.

Balaji: You've mentioned occasionally that you want to do a full fledged carnatic concert. Did you get to do that?

SPB: Aasai irukku. But I am loitering before Television. I should definitely take it seriously and go to somebody and do it. I have become lazy, literally speaking. Aanaa one concert-Avathu paNNuvEn. I will do it. No second thoughts.

There is no question of saying that I don't have time and all that. It is only a question of priorities. Now I am lazing it out a lot, because of my early burn out. Thank god I didn't burn out myself completely. I still have stamina to sing. May be involuntarily I am enjoying what I could not do all those days now - just getting up whenever I feel like, and doing what ever I like and travelling wherever I like. Though I don't have 100% liberty - still every day I record at least one song, cassette or Television or film.

You should go on poking me whenever you talk with me. Otherwise.. may be I will do it, but romba vayasaagi voice pOnathukkappuram paadi enna prayOjanam?

Balaji: Can you give us some instances where you felt your co-singer out did you in terms of improvisation, sangathis or brighas.

SPB: It has happened many times, not just once. No male singer has done that to me. And it was only Janakiji. She was a very very intelligent lady. nAnga reNdu pErum rehearsal paNNumbOthu oNNumE plan paNNa mAttOm. ovvoru take-lleyum oNNuNNu vandhuttE irukkum. And she knows when it is going to be the final take and she will give something.. naan innoru take paNNa mudiyaatha nelamaiyilE pOttuduvAnga. (Laughs) That is a wonderful spirit, actually. We love each other and we respect each other. The way she expresses herself is something extra-ordinary. May be age has caught up with her, but avanga romba anubavichu pAduvAnga.. romba.. romba.

I am afraid, I may have to say "friends! you've got to leave me" which I don't like actually. I am bound with something else.

Balaji: Sir, we were just expecting a 15 minute talk with you. To chat for an hour is amazing for us.

RajaG: I don't have any words to thank you.

SPB: (interrupting) No, no, no. ippadi ellAm pEsarathA irundhA neenga phone-ai vachidunga!

We are friends and we had a nice time together. We spent a very sensible time. maththavangaLai puN paduththara maadhiri pEsAma nalla vishayamA pEsinOm.

You may think that it has been informative to you, but it has been very informative to me also. ovvorutharum pAttai pathi endha aLavukku aazhamA yOsanai paNNarAnga, eppadi eppadi ellAm adhai vachu kAppAthittu irukkeengannu nenaikkumbOthu, it touched my heart.

As I said, it is a team work. It doesn't belong to the recording studio alone. It is a very very big team like you, the listeners team, which is very important.

RajaG and Balaji: Thank you very much for your time.

SPB: I only ask you not to be biased. engE nalla music irukkO ellAm rasiyunga. ellAraiyum encourage paNNunga. You keep those beautiful traits in you. Even if a novice comes and sings a song, appreciate it.

Have a nice time and it was nice chatting with you all!

(End of interview)

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- Balaji Srinivasan (bb). 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this interview should be reproduced without due consent from TFMPage. com.