A singer who evoked pathos, a nonpareil

P.B. Sreenivas was the voice of actors like Gemini Ganesan, Muthuraman, K. Balaji

April 15, 2013 10:01 am | Updated November 16, 2021 08:16 pm IST - CHENNAI

Songs with a philosophical touch, like ‘Mayakkama kalakkama’ featuring Gemini Ganesan, attained new heights in PBS’ voice

Songs with a philosophical touch, like ‘Mayakkama kalakkama’ featuring Gemini Ganesan, attained new heights in PBS’ voice

When a young P.B. Sreenivas spent his days singing the Hindi numbers of Talat Mahmood, Mohamed Rafi, Manna Dey, Mukesh and Lata Mangeshkar, his father Paninthirasamy took him to an astrologer in Kakinada.

The astrologer claimed the boy would not succeed in a career in music or in any other artistic profession. A determined PBS, as he was later known, told the astrologer the prediction would not come true. This positive attitude, combined with a mellifluous voice, secured PBS an unparalleled place in the world of film music.

At a time when the Tamil film world was dominated by M.G. Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan, and the roboust and vibrant voice of T.M. Soundararajan added additional dimension, P.B. Sreenivas’ voice eminently suited Gemini Ganesan, Muthuraman, Ravichandran, K. Balaji, and other heroes.

Nothing could illustrate it better than the duet ‘Pon ondru kandeyn,’ in Padithal Mattum Pothuma , he sang with Soundararajan. PBS also rendered a couple of songs for MGR.

His interest in music was kindled by his mother Seshagiri Ammal, an expert in devotional songs. His maternal uncle Kidambi Krishnamachari, a theatre personality, encouraged his talent.

“When Eemani Sankara Shastry gave him a chance to sing a couple of lines in the Hindi film Mr. Sampath , S.S. Vasan, the producer of the film, was so impressed with his voice, he congratulated Sankara Sastry for introducing a talented singer,” said historian of Tamil film music, Vamanan, who is also writing PBS’ biography.

Though he started playback singing for Gemini Ganesan and some of the songs became hits, it took some time for him to replace A.M. Raja as Gemini Ganesan’s playback singer. Paava Mannippu provided the much-needed break. “Director Bhim Singh and music director M.S. Viswanathan convinced the producer of the film A.V. Meiyappa Chettiyar to use Sreenivas to render the songs,” said Vamanan.

‘Kalangalil aval vasanatham’, true to its meaning, marked the spring of his life. The combination of Gemini Ganesan, M.S. Viswanathan-Ramamurthy, Kannadasan and PBS gave the film world hundreds of great songs.

Renditions with a philosophical touch attained new heights in PBS’ voice. Mayakkama kalakkama , Yetho manithan piranthu vittan , Ninaipathellam nadanthu vittal and Manithan yenbavan theivamagalam bore testimony to his talent.

“One could think of no one else but PBS when it came to evoking pathos. Who else could have brought out the essence of Bageswari raga in an unparalleled way in ‘Nilavey yennidam nerungathey’ and of Sahana in ‘Parthen sirithen’?” said music director Suka.

According to Vamanan, though he hailed from Andhra Pradesh, PBS could not make a mark in Telugu films the way he did in Tamil and Kannada. He was a permanent playback singer for Kannada actor Rajkumar.

The late 1960s saw a decline in PBS’ film career and he got very few opportunities. ‘Thamarai kannangal’ in the Nagesh-starrer Ethir Neechal was one of his finer numbers during this period.

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