Of a missing car and Dalda tins

S.P. Balasubrahmanyam shares some interesting anecdotes about his life as a veteran musician.

August 21, 2014 05:28 pm | Updated 06:05 pm IST - Chennai

S.P. Balasubrahmanyam. Photo: M. Periasamy

S.P. Balasubrahmanyam. Photo: M. Periasamy

Much has been read, written and heard about the veteran that your first thought could be ‘What don’t we know about him?’ S.P. Balasubrahmanyam himself felt so. “I’ve said it all,” was his initial refrain. But once I list my queries which accented on little known details of his career, he zestfully settled down to field them.

First rendezvous with the microphone

“It was in the mid-1950s,” he ruminates with a smile, “at a marriage in my mother’s native village of Konetammapeta in Nellore. ‘Why don’t you sing on the mike,’ a friend suggested. It was ‘Krishna Mukundha Murarey’ from the N.T. Rama Rao film, ‘Jaisimha,’ and everybody around enjoyed it.”

“December 15, 1966.” SPB is thorough with dates. “It was an eventful day. The film was ‘Sri Sri Maryada Ramanna’ in Telugu and the recording was at Vijaya Gardens. The composer was Kothandapani. Those were the days when I was a student living in a small room for a monthly rent of Rs.10.”

“The car, which was supposed to pick me up, did not arrive till 3.30. It was my friend Murali who insisted we go to the studio and find out. When the security at the entrance stopped us and sarcastically said, ‘So they are waiting for you inside because you are a hero?’ I was pained. ‘Let’s leave Murali,’ I said. But he wouldn’t budge. ‘I will wait outside with his cycle. Just allow him to go inside,’ he pleaded, and the guard gave a reluctant nod. As I entered drenched in sweat, the composer hollered, “So you are already famous that you can’t be punctual for the recording!” And I was called inside with the warning, ‘See, if we are not happy with your voice, we may replace it with Ghantasala’s.’ It dampened my spirit further. It was the first time I put on a headphone. It was a duet with Suseela. Once it was over the team came out and congratulated me.”

P.S.: The car that had gone to fetch SPB to the studio had met with a minor accident.

“Dad was a Harikatha artist. I used some of his instruments and formed my troupe in 1960. We had a pair of empty ‘Dalda’ tins welded and it was our ‘bongos.’ Nagaraja, a friend, was the male singer while mine was the female voice. The first VIP to listen to my music was actor P. Banumathi,” SPB smiles.

“Much earlier, my father wrote a lyric, which I set to music. It won me a prize at the AIR competition. Cut to 1975 when I got to compose for Dasari Narayana Rao’s ‘Ganya- Kumari.’ M.S. Viswanathan came over to bless me. ‘You should go according to the texture of the song. Why a 40-piece orchestra for this number,’ he asked. The words still ring in my ears.

“The film was Cho’s ‘Mohammad Bin Thuglak’ in Telugu. I remember wearing a pink suit for the sequence. I played a singer and had to do dance movements. Frankly, I wasn’t comfortable at all, because, though good looking, I was camera-shy,” he chuckles self-consciously.

A monthly column on veterans’ artistic journey where they will recall milestones and re-live memories.

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