Six Songs To Celebrate The Life And Work Of S P Balasubrahmanyam, Who 'Didn't Want To Die'

M R Subramani

Sep 25, 2020, 11:37 PM | Updated 11:35 PM IST

S P Balasubrahmanyam (Facebook/@SPB)
S P Balasubrahmanyam (Facebook/@SPB)
  • A curated list of 6 SPB favourites.
  • S P Balasubrahmanyam (SPB), India’s legendary singer who has sung more than 40,000 songs in 16 languages, who died this afternoon once remarked “I don’t want to die”. A polite soul who enjoyed music of all genres said this in interview while referring to the song “jeevan se bhari teri aankhen” from the Rajesh Khanna starrer Safar.

    In a way, all the songs he has sung have been good in their own way and have been distinct from one another. But if a person is asked to choose half a dozen from among these, it is certainly an onerous task.

    But here is an attempt to pick half a dozen songs:

    1. Ilaya nila from the Tamil film Payanangal mudivathillai

    This song should top the list of songs SPB sang. It is a song known more for its combination of Carnatic and Western music styles. Critics have acclaimed this as “one that proved we can have idli with jam”.

    Noted Hindi music director duo Kalyanji-Anandji remade this song as “Neelae Neelae Ambar” in the movie Kalakar. As long as this song is alive, there will be no real death for SPB.

    2. Sangeetha jadhi mullai from the Tamil film Kadal Oviyam

    A range of emotions runs through this song, which formed the climax for the film directed by Bharathi Raja. When the movie released, it did not do well at the box office but later it became popular, this song being one of the reasons.

    The song is certainly a challenge even for an accomplished singer but SPB seems to have delivered it with ease.

    The best thing about this song is that if anyone sings it at any music competition even with half the perfection that the SPB sang with, he or she is sure to walk away with the top prize.

    3. Omkaara naadhanu from Telugu film Sankarabaranam

    This won the first of the many national awards that SPB won in his career. It was a challenge to sing for this film based on a Carnatic singer’s life.

    Music director K V Mahadevan’s assistant had a tough time convincing SPB to sing the film songs. In the end, the music director and film director K Vishwanaths’s faith prevailed.

    SPB had this to say on singing for this film: “I was always a little scared since there are scenes in this film where the lead teaches song to his disciple, a woman. Vani Jayaram, who is an accomplished Carnatic singer, sang the lines of the disciple. It was a tricky situation since my knowledge was limited in Carnatic music”.

    4. Tere mere beech mein from the Hindi movie Ek Duje Ke Liye

    This song got SPB to Bollywood, a dream for aspiring artistes in the country. Tamil movie director K Balachander decided to make a Hindi remake of his Telugu superhit Maro Charita (another history) starring Bollywood debutants Kamal Haasan and Rati Agnihotri.

    Balachander engaged Laxmikant-Pyarelal for music and he ensured that SPB sang. The song “Tere mere beech mein” not just won many hearts but exhibited his versatility. Remade films are not usually considered for national awards, but the film's songs were sent for selection.

    SPB was crowned the best male singer again nationally.

    5. Jothe Jothe alee from the Kannada movie Geetha

    This is one song that turned the heads of his fans in Telugu and Tamil movies towards Kannada. On this song, SPB once remarked that whenever he sings on stage in Karnataka, the programme is never complete without this.

    “If I don’t sing this song, they can even beat me up,” he joked but this is another timeless one. Kannada movie goers could not have asked for more when SPB gave his voice for one of their favourite heroes Shankar Nag.

    There are two more songs that need mention here since they put SPB on the pedestal to glory.

    6. Aayiram nilavae vaa from Tamil movie Adimai Penn

    The MG Ramachandran (MGR) starrer with the late Jayalalitha as his heroine was a super-duper hit with music by K V Mahadevan.

    SPB was shortlisted to sing the song “Aayiram nilave vaa” (come thousand moons) but suddenly fell ill. MGR chose to wait for SPB to recover, justifying that SPB would have told his family and friends that he was singing in the film and he did not want to disappoint him.

    Though it was his second song in Tamil movies, it was considered the first as the film got released first. The song enthrals music lovers even today.

    “I gave my best and MGR felt I had done much more than necessary,” he said in an interview.

    --Iyarkai ennum ilayakanni from the Tamil movie Shanthi Nilayam

    This song in the Gemini Ganesan starrer was actually his first song in Tamil movies. The delay in release of the movie ensured that his song for MGR film began his debut. This song is another evergreen one that along with “Aayiran Nilvae” put him on a journey that would make him an idol, immortal and a legend.

    M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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