A Cloud Drifted – A Tribute to S.P. Balasubramanyam
In the courts of kings, there were court poets. Addressing someone as a national poet isn’t new to us. In a nation where cinema and songs are inseparable can someone be rightly called a national singer?! Is it even possible in a multilingual and multicultural canvas like ours? If ever there could be one who deserves this title, it would certainly be singer S.P. Balasubramanyam who is beloved called ‘Paadum Nila Balu’ (The Singing Moon Balu) by his Tamil fans.
Legendary in every aspect, SP Balasubramanyam has done and achieved that no one can even dream of in the Cinema industry. The heights he climbed and the glory that followed can only be seen in awe. With a career spanning for over five decades, he has won the hearts of nearly four to five generations (not just of fans of cinema but generations of stars in the Indian filmdom as well) with his unique and mellifluous voice. Having Telugu as his mother tongue, he has rendered his voice in 16 Indian languages, managing in all to retain the native pronunciations and other lingual intricacies. This is something that no playback singer, perhaps in the world, has ever managed to accomplish; not possible in the future as well. It’s almost magical to know that he hasn’t had professional training in Classical Carnatic music, yet has given numbers with flawless outputs in songs that incorporate a classical touch. This makes one consider him as someone with a prodigious touch.
Given in any creative field, quality and quantity is something that cannot always befriend each other. Balu is an extremely rare artist in this aspect. In cricket, we might call someone a run machine to denote the fineness of his sportsmanship. If that could be borrowed as an analogy to refer, Balu is the matchless song machine beyond doubt. His pace is absolutely baffling, with an unbelievable record of 21 songs (In Kannada) in a single day. In Tamil, he has rendered his voice for 19 numbers in 24 hours. It’s even hard for me to comprehend how he had managed to grasp those songs and went on to record them in a single day. ‘Mind-blowing’ is the only words that I can sum up with.
Besides his unbreakable records as a singer (over 40,000 songs in 16 languages) , his versatility in adorning multiple ‘avatars’ as a music composer, actor, dubbing artist, and producer is equally amazing. His performance as a loving dad in Vasanth Sai’s Keladi Kanmani (1990) still resonates freshly in our memory. He turning into a dubbing artist might have been a sweet accident. He rendered his voice-over for the Telugu version of the K.Balachandar’s Tamil film Manmatha Leelai (1975) starring Kamal Hassan in the lead role. From then on Balu has been dubbing for Kamal for his films in Telugu versions. With Dasavatharam (2008) often cited as the magnum opus of Kamal as an actor, Balu has attributed for its Telugu version for seven different characters played by Kamal that includes an old lady role, with distinctive voice signatures. This is something that even a professional dubbing artist will find it hard to bring about.
Having heard of stories of singers meticulously caring to retain and protect their voices, SP Balasubramanyam dared to roam around like a bubbly boy licking ice cream cups after cups. In his interviews and also in his stage performances, he got often drilled about this in amusement, from the interviewers and the audience alike. His responses were nothing more than a humble smile paired with an its-just-the-way-it-is look. His voice is a blessing to him, and a soul cleanser for anyone who listens to it.
Tamil audience and Ilayaraaja’s soul rendering melodies are inseparable. Balasubramanyam’s voice has always been an exquisite value addition to a legion of such melodies. When it comes to playback singing, every singer follows the musical cues of the composers and tries their best to breathe life to those compositions. Balu went on to add some of his signature magic almost in every track he sang, which often elevates the song to a higher level. His voice added another dimension to the song the music composers had originally composed. Besides melodies, the prankish twists he coupled with his voice when it came to peppy numbers, remains an ineffable listening pleasure and a stress buster. This was purely magical considering the spontaneity with which SPB got it blended into those numbers. Often such prankish twists had happened right when the song was being recorded, that had not at all been from the composer’s cues, but are of his own.
SP Balasubramanyam had an incredible ability to transform his voice to set in for the mood of the song he sang. This happened with each and every song he performed. It is this miraculous ability of instantaneous voice transformation that always made his stage concerts a real treat to witness. He had a ‘voice for every mood’.
Amid the losses we have encountered during this COVID era, his’ departure is one of the most heart crushing. Balu your voice will fill our nights and remain to be one of the best companions for millions of lonely hearts.
You’ve been a Sangeetha Megam (a Musical Cloud) hovering through all the moods of our lives and your voice would remain to be!