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Updated: June 20, 2013 18:40 IST

The song and its sweep

RANGANATH NANDYAL
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UNIQUE VOICE P.B. Sreenivos was a favourite in all of South India Photo: K. Murali Kumar
UNIQUE VOICE P.B. Sreenivos was a favourite in all of South India Photo: K. Murali Kumar

P.B. Sreenivos was a big admirer of Ghantasala. In fact, he modelled much of his singing on Ghantasala, who, in the later years, became PBS’ mentor and guide

Some are born great; some achieve greatness; some have greatness thrust upon them,”proclaimed Shakespeare. The legendary singer, P.B. Sreenivos belonged to the second category. He achieved greatness through his innate talent and merit, by his exposure to the stalwarts in the field, by his focused approach, dedication, determination and diligence. PBS was born in 1930, September 22, in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh. During his growing up years, his house resounded with music -- his mother Seshagiramma sang Carnatic music sonorously and she used to play the veena very well. His maternal uncle Kilambi Krishnamachary played prominent mythological roles in Telugu plays wherein he sang songs and padyams as well. PBS, as a young lad, quite often accompanied him to the theatre. Keeping in view the young lad’s future career in the cinema field, his maternal uncle gave him the records of Ghantasala who had already become a reckonable singer by then. In perhaps one of the last interviews, he told me that he practiced Ghantasala’s padyams from ‘Pushapavilapam and Kuntikumari’ and also other popular songs of Ghantasala of that period. He added that he and his mother would shed tears as they remained moved by the pathos he could evoke. In the later years, Ghantasala became his mentor, his co-singer and his competitor in the south Indian cinema field. Ghantasala predicted a bright future for PBS who was just a budding singer then. PBS told me that Ghantasala used to affectionately call him ‘Tammudu’ (younger brother in Telugu).

Talking about PBS’s association with Talat Mahmood, who hailed from Hyderabad and who was a reckonable singer in the Hindi film field, it started in the early 1950s.The group songs sung by Talat and PBS along with Geeta Dutt and Jikki were recorded in Gemini studios. Talat’s Telugu songs in fact, had a close resemblance with those of PBS. PBS admired and imitated Talat and Mohammed Rafi in his formative years. Also, his admiration and association with Lata Mangeshkar lasted for more than 50 years. Same was the case with Manna Dey.

Being aware of the spark in him and being sure of his innate talent, PBS focused all his energies on becoming a great singer and dedicated his entire life to music. With determination, he pursued his career and with diligence he attained recognition.

“My strength lies in the knowledge of my defects and limitations,” said PBS. He was endowed with a number of managerial skills as well: his ability to focus on sharpening his skills as a singer; his dexterity to ‘reinvent’ himself by singing in Malayalam, Tamil and Kannada fields besides Telugu field. In Kannada, he sang for the hero Rajkumar for more than two decades and carved a niche for himself in every home in Karnataka. Even though he never had a formal training in classical musiche learnt classical music like Ekalavya by listening to the records of the well known classical musicians of his time. He developed so much of expertise in classical music that he could encode the ragas of 72 melakartas in a mathematical sutra called ‘diamond key’. After he made a presentation of his ‘diamond key’ on a TV channel, he received a number of phone calls from the students of music colleges of Tamil Nadu and of neighbouring states profusely thanking him for simplifying the intricate ragas. He acquired the language skills of reading, writing and speaking in eight languages and wrote poems which were compiled later in book form called ‘Pranavam’. “Keep it safely,” he said, handing over the last copy to me.

PBS sonorously sang Nilave Ennidam Nerungathe” for the Tamil movie Ramuwhich wascomposed by the Telugu composer Pendyala. iDuring this interview, recalled how Ghantasala was demi god for Pendyala. When he asked Ghantasala to sing the Telugu version of the song, Ghantasala apparently remarked, “Tammudu has sung it so beautifully in Tamil. With my poor health, can I sing it as beautifully as he did.” S. Rajeshwara Rao who was one of the great composers in the southern Indian cinema field, once remarked, “Many asked me why I made PBS sing ‘Bhayamela O Manasa’ for the film ‘Bhale Ramudu’ when Ghantasala was already there. I liked the deep voice of Srinivas with its soft movements. I thought it would be something novel and a great change from Ghantasala.”

M.S. Vishwanathan, another legend in film music, said about PBS, “In those days, many believed that only the voice of TMS suited Shivaji and MGR and that of A.M. Rajah suited Gemini Ganesan; I made PBS sing for Gemini Ganesan and later he sang for Shivaji and MGR. I also made PBS sing for N.T. Rama Rao in the teeth of opposition from some of us who believed that only Ghantasala’s voice suited N.T. Rama Rao. The song ‘Bujji Bujji Papayi’ was widely appreciated and became very popular”. MSV went on to add that PBS’s forte was his complete understanding of ‘swaras’ and that he could sing immediately after listening to the score and the lyrics. He was very dignified in his conduct; his deep voice and unique tone easily blended into his songs. After the demise of PBS, MSV said: “PBS was always quick to grasp what a music director wanted, and above all he was blessed with a wonderful and mellifluous voice”.

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