On a high note

V ersatility is her middle name. Remember Jaya Prada's fiery and graceful daughter in ‘Salangai Oli' or the sensational voice in ‘Johnny' that cooed ‘Aasaiye kaathule thuthuvittu'.

Singer. Bharatanatyam dancer. Dubbing artiste. Television anchor. Supporting actor. Moulds young talents.

Meet S.P. Sailaja, the multifaceted sibling of singing legend, S.P. Balasubrahmanyam. With more than 5000 songs to her credit in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, Sailaja held her own as a leading singer in the 80s and 90s.

High expectations

What happens when you choose a career, your elder sibling is already well-established in? Expectations are naturally high.

“Being SPB's sister, pressure was always there. But, I needed to establish myself. Initially, I was an ignorant teenager. All I knew was I could sing. I didn't know a thing about expression,” admits Sailaja, who began her career in film music at 14. “But in the course of time, I learnt a lot, particularly from my brother,” she adds.

The charming singer reveals that she became a dancer by chance and not by choice. “The dance teacher used to come home to give lessons to my niece and cousin. They used to play truant, coming up with all kinds of excuses,” she recounts with amusement. “I felt sorry for the poor man and asked him to teach me instead. Later, I completed my arangetram.”

Film entry

Interestingly it was her arangetram photos that landed her a role in the critically acclaimed ‘Salangai Oli'. The director of the film, K.Viswanath who is related to Sailaja, decided that she would fit perfectly in the role of Kamal Haasan's pupil, after seeing the photos. When Sailaja turned down the role, he persuaded her father who convinced her.

The naturally expressive Sailaja goes on to describe her first and positively last experience before the camera. “I had no intention to become an actress. Yet, I felt comfortable during the shooting as Viswanath was a close relative. I had no trouble with expressions, but I found the dancing part quite difficult. Besides, it was not just Bharatanatyam but a fusion of other dances, I was required to perform.”

Sticking on to singing

Declining the roles that followed, she returned to her first love -- singing, and enthralled listeners with folk and romantic numbers under veteran music directors Ilayaraja, Gangai Amaran, and K.V. Mahadevan. She is best remembered for her vintage hits including ‘Super Staru' in Raja Chinna Roja, ‘En Purushan thaan', Gopurankal Saivathilai, ‘ Solaikkuyile', Ponnu Oorukku Pudhusu , ‘Malargalil Aadum Ilamai', Kalyana Raman and ‘Aayiram Malargale', Niram Maaraadha Pookkal.

Her transition from playback singing to anchoring television shows brought her closer to audiences. At present, apart from accompanying S.P.B on music tours abroad, television shows keep her busy.

She relishes her experience as a judge for singing competitions on television. “People ask me to sing all the time. But here, I get to listen to so many voices. It's a totally new experience. And there's a talented bunch out there.”

She points out prospective singers have a plethora of opportunities today and plenty of media exposure. “All they need to do is to grab the opportunity.” She is delighted at the prospect of moulding young talents by sharing her experience and interacting with the young crop. She wishes that parents would refrain from pressurising the children who participate in these shows. “It is enough that they have come forward to participate. You cannot push them too far,” she counsels.

Staple fare

Besides music, she reveals that books are her staple fare, though she favours no particular genre, delighting in everything that comes her way, provided it's in English or Telugu. “Reading is not my hobby. It is my passion,” she flashes a brilliant smile.

This unassuming artiste from Nellore is a contented person. She nurses no big ambitions or grand goals. “It has been God's grace so far,” she acknowledges simply. “Today, my home and my family come before my career.” S. P. Sailaja is married to Telugu actor, Sudhakar and they have a son Sreekar.

Despite the many roles she has essayed, she insists that at heart, she is essentially a singer and will always be. Because, “Music is divine,” is her parting shot.

Actor: ‘Salangai Oli'- played the role of a young dancer and Jayaprada's daughter.

Singer: More than 5,000 songs

Dubbed for: Sridevi, Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Rekha

Judged: Many contests including Zee Tv‘Sa re ga ma pa' Little Champs, Vijay Tv ‘Airtel Super Singer'

Sailaja shares a close bond with her celebrated sibling, S.P.B, who has been a huge influence in her life. When she started out as a young singer, he gave her a piece of advice that has stood her well.

“If you wish to succeed in film music, you ought to remember you are singing for someone, for a character, for a situation.”

She cherishes performing with her brother.“It is demanding as he is a perfectionist and expects everything to be perfect during a performance, including the co-singer. But after 35 years of performing with him, I've become comfortable with him on stage. In fact, his perfectionism has caught on to me,” she chuckles.

It is obvious Sailaja has drawn a lot from her mentor and elder brother. “I have learnt a great many lessons from him- how to be a professional, how to approach people. What I am today, it is because of him,” she sums up.