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Ever the bubbly SPB

S P Balasubramaniam was in town on Friday in connection with the 3D movie in which he plays a pivotal role. In between shots, he speaks of his hectic happy life

HE is dressed up in a heavy, brocaded coat that is buttoned right up to his neck. The long, grey hair flows right up to his shoulders. On the chair beside him is a white satin turban decorated with white pearls. The rotund frame and friendly face is very familiar. On moving closer, he looks straight at you and smiles. Now, that gives him away. That was enough to see through the make up and identify the man. For that is what makes S P Balasubramaniam stand out in a crowd of celebrities. He always exudes a warmth which is rarely felt in the company of other such stars from this world of glamour and glitz.

Landing in Kochi in the morning, SPB drove straight to the studios on the outskirts of the city for a whole day's shooting schedule. He plays the role of a magician in the forthcoming 3-D film titled `The Magician'. It was a hectic day for this popular singer-actor. His scenes were shot in the evening and went on till late into the night. There were long gaps between shots as the lights had to be rearranged and this left SPB with a lot of time to talk. ``I love talking. I'm a chatterbox. It was one reason why it affected my vocal chords, even needing a surgery,'' he said with that smile brightening up his face.

Acting is something that SPB enjoys. It all began with a Telugu film where he played himself. Since then he has worn the greasepaint for more than 50 films, with this being his first Malayalam film. The singer with a silken voice made his debut in Malayalam way back in 1966 with the song `Ee kadalum maru kadalum' (Kadalpalam) and he still remembers the lyrics, singing it with that effortless ease of his. ``What meaningful lines. It is still relevant today... '' he gushed, cutting out from the song.

It may sound surprising but SPB has that uncanny ability to reel out songs, not missing a line, not missing a nuance of the tune. He has a special liking for Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar songs and just a mere mention of a song was enough for SPB to render it. ``There are so many songs that seem to be ingrained in my system. I was trained to be an engineer but I could not study without the radio and songs from Vividh Bharathi. And they were mostly songs from that golden period of Indian music,'' said SPB.

The conversation quite naturally veered towards today's film music. ``Our songs were influenced by Western music even in the past.

There were so many instruments that were beautifully blended into our own music. We had so many brilliant music directors who, were inspired by Western classical and popular music, to create some wonderful tunes for our films. But today it is mere aping what we see and hear in the West,'' felt SPB.

Songs of today are machine-made, machine-played, machine-heard. And this is what pains SPB. ``Some of the modern instruments have infinite options and recording technology has made everything so perfect. But I have always enjoyed straight recording. There was always so much life during those sessions. When the musicians applaud you there is that pep to do better. And is'nt there something natural when one violin goes off key. Isn't there a strange beauty in imperfection?,'' asked SPB.

His association with Kerala extends beyond a smattering of songs that he has rendered through these years. ``I have an elder brother and a younger sister here,'' he said with that mischievous look, referring to Jesudas and K S Chitra. And when he was told that Jesudas was in town and asked whether he wanted to call him up, SPB gestured with his hands and said: ``No, no please. If Dasanna knows I have come down for a shooting I'm sure to get chided. He always tells me to take care of my voice and not to strain myself. But then this is one way I relax.''

There were days when SPB used to record around 17-18 songs a day. He still records around five songs per day but still squeezes in time for serials and films. ``It all depends on how you schedule your work. I do not choose all the roles that are offered. I accept only those which fit my conditions and most of the producers have been gracious to oblige,'' said SPB.

Does he enjoy dancing, which is an integral part of movies today? ``The concept of dance has changed. Dance should convey thoughts, emotions through expression and movements. But watch the dance sequences in films today. The gestures and movements do not tally with the lyrics.. I'm not very comfortable dancing. You know why. But there was that one sequence in `Kadhalan' along with Prabhudeva, which turned so popular,'' responded SPB.

That was when he was called for the next shot. SPB would have loved to go on talking. ``I don't want to turn into an island. I love talking and making friends. If it is getting late please move on. We must meet again... ..'' he wore the white turban, took a quick look at the mirror and moved into the studio.

And now, after an hour of lively, entertaining talk, you know why he insisted that I carried a tape recorder.


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