FRIDAY REVIEW

In the race for 40 years

MALATHI RANGARAJAN

DISARMINGLY FRANK: S. P. Balasubrahmanyam on a nostalgic trip with Bombay Jayashree.

DISARMINGLY FRANK: S. P. Balasubrahmanyam on a nostalgic trip with Bombay Jayashree.  

Sathyam Cinemas' monthly Lights On sessions are proven scene-stealers. The niche audience never returns disappointed. The recent meet with S. P. Balasubrahmanyam was again one such. But the response this time was incredible. It was a packed lounge that waited to gain entry into Sree, where the event took place. An overwhelmed SPB remarked: "Your coming here in such large numbers gives me a fillip ... it means I'm still in the race."

Whenever SPB takes centre stage, he notes that he has not been trained in music in the conventional sense. So it was at the Lights On show. "I go by my ear," he said. This candour is his strength. With Carnatic musician and playback singer `Bombay' Jayashree as the facilitator of the face-to-face show, conceived and curated by Prasanna Ramaswamy, SPB was even more vociferous in his humility. "I'm very conscious of what I don't know," he stated. But both the mesmerised audience and Jayashree knew better. A euphonious tone as vibrant as ever, a record number of 36,000 plus songs in over nine languages in a career spanning almost four decades — not to forget his other avatars as dubbing artiste, actor and composer — are no mean feats, and the man who held court that evening is no ordinary achiever.

In a soft tone that made even her utterances melodious, Jayashree said, "I hope to get the best out of the evening." And she did. It was a back-to-the-past trip for SPB as he traced the circumstances that led him to becoming a professional singer. The singer smilingly suggested that he was the loquacious kind and if he got carried away Jayashree could just tell him so.

Beginning with the music influence at home, where his dad was a singer and a Harikatha exponent himself, SPB sailed through life singing at competitions and cultural meets, even as he concentrated on his studies at the engineering college. Ironically, when Kothandapani, an up and coming composer at that time came up with an offer for him to sing in a Telugu film, SPB's instant reaction was an emphatic "No." He then touched upon his admiration for Mohd. Rafi, S. Janaki , MSV and Ilaiyaraja.

The composer had told him then: "If you take up singing, at least for the next 40 years you will not have to look back." "This is my 40th year in the field and he is not around to see his prophecy come true. It is my bad luck," rued SPB. Having recorded as many as 13 songs in 24 hours and having been the busiest of singers for years on end made him lose out on the growing up years of his children. "I used to record through the year including Sundays. And I never took particular care of my voice. So I strongly believe that my long innings in music, despite the way I've continuously abused my voice, can only mean that it was all ordained," mused the Chosen One.

Though titled Lights On, the session invariably takes place in a dimly lit ambience. Even when SPB asked for more lights nothing happened. For those seated at the back it would have been more a silhouette show.

Not everyone in the audience realised that a famous personality's time cannot be frittered away in rather vague and mundane questions. Also it is wrong to use the forum to show one's prowess. The observation is meant for the person who insisted on singing an entire song in front of SPB. A young man commented between his teeth, "We did not come here to listen to him, right?" Honestly, his exasperation was justified.

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