Art & Entertainment

Wrapt In Divine Velveteen

A humble genius, SPB’s golden voice transcended languages and generations

Wrapt In Divine Velveteen
info_icon

“Is this SPB sir’s house?” I asked an aut­orickshaw driver in Kamdarnagar, Chennai. Yes, he said. I wondered. How come? No buzz, hustle, hovering security. I walk into the welcome area and get ready for a long wait. But I am called up immediately. I enter a large room, trembling in respect and awe. Yonder sits my icon. My music hero—the legend S.P. Balasubrahmanyam. Like a schoolgirl, I squirmed and could only say, “Sir, am a big fan” His reply came in a flash: “I have been following your shows. You have a good taste. God bless you ma”.

That was in 1996; that day, I requested him to host Sapthaswarangal (a music-based reality show). He softly rep­lied: “I may not be that good with Tamil songs and talking about Tamil films. You should get a better person.” This is just a sample of how unbelievably humble the great singer was. And he remained thus—passionate fans by the thousands, yet more hits, an award a week—nothing changed him.

Tamil film music of ’70s simply soaked in his exuberant, youthful voice—that one line, Naalile nalla naal (Maadhamo Aavani), that one note from Manam, Gunam, Ondraana Mullai from Samsaram Enbadhu Veenai, Idhazhil Thenai Kudithu from Paadumpothu Naan….it’s difficult to list the crevices and fissures in his mellifluous voice that made us lose our senses.

Surprisingly, in the ’80s, with ageing, his voice grew younger. Kamal Haasan’s naughtiness, Mohan’s youthfulness and Rajini’s romance was all SPB for us. “If someone else speaks for me in Telugu films, I feel I have lost a half of myself. We are simply two bodies, one soul,” Kamal had said when I had done a show with just them two. Truly, SPB knew when Kamal would laugh and where he would cry. Not just lip-syncing, ‘Mic’ Mohan (for whom SPB has probably crooned more than for any other Tamil hero) had to sing along for perfection. “I had to emote as if I was actually singing because people are living with SPB’s voice. I cannot spoil their dreams by acting subtle. My expressions must match his singing”.

Any other singer would have bluntly refused a surgery on his vocal chords for nodules. SPB boldly went through that procedure. For, he knew that music wouldn’t betray him. Acting, dubbing, performing, all at the same time…he was hard on himself. And he excelled in all. His golden voice literally transcended generations as he sang for father-son duos: NTR and Balakrishna, Nageswara Rao and Nagurjana, Sivaji Ganesan and Prabhu, Muthuraman and Karthik and Sivakumar and Surya.

People marveled at his humility. Success, awards, achievements in such profusion led us to believe he’d be inaccessible. But he kept drawing a straight line after every rise in the graph that kept him grounded. Even while judging contests, his criticism, laced with positivity, would only encourage—never a harsh word or a condescending comment. Every time he was on stage, he would mention his mentors. Has anyone ever told you SPB fought with him/her?

Even as my own children reply to my messages a day late, I receive an instant reply at any hour of the day when I send a text…to the inimitable SPB. He was never too busy for that. Rising to his feet to receive a guest irrespective of age is impossibly humble. But that is SPB. He missed my daughter’s wedding, but that lovely voice note he sent to the couple is the best mantra I heard on that day. As I rewind a million times, his voice note wishing me for the 100th #QFR (My YouTube show during the lockdown) keeps me inspired to touch the 200 mark.

For any singer, 50,000 recorded songs are a stupendous achievement. Even when 70-plus, he was singing songs like Oruvan Oruvan Mudhalali with the same josh and gusto as he did over two decades ago. He represented a truly golden chapter in Indian film music. His voice has been our oxygen for over fifty five years now. The ‘SPB fever’ if you like, is an incurable, permanent disease. He has left us breathlessly happy.

(The writer is a producer of musical shows for stage and television)

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement