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His share of hardships: Interview with SPB; Episode 2

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Although he tasted success at a very young age SP Balasubrahmanyam’s life was not without challenges. “I never let obstacles break me. They made me stronger and even more determined to succeed” he said. Aruna Ravikumar writes a series of articles based on an exclusive interview with the legend

SPB recalled how his father underwent hardships to support his family, not having a stable income, and making a meager hundred rupees from every harikatha performance. It was his dream to see his son as an engineer. SPB’s intense love for music however led him to Madras where he decided to pursue AMIE so that he could try his luck in films while studying. This too was cut short as his first film led to a flood of offers and he could not do justice to both. “Do what your heart says and where you have a chance to excel” was his father’s advice.

SPB unveils his father’s bronze statue at Nellore

“My father was very pleased when I sang for ‘Shankarabharanam’ and felt that I had finally done justice to music. It was my desire to learn classical music and perform before him but he passed away before I could do that. It is my desire to learn classical music and give a concert before I die” SPB was to say of his life -long regret about being a classically untrained musician. His many songs and busy schedules left him with little time but he gave his best to each song coming up with a special style, all his own. His passion for singing, his versatility and genius was a divine blessing he often recalled with humility. Although he had reached the pinnacle, he had to deal with various problems professional and personal. Through the many ups and downs in his career the singer however retained his mastery with rare commitment singing till the very end of his journey. Song was a companion that never left him. He was truly “Sangeeta Sahitya Samalankrute” (adorned equally by song and lyric).

Although he tasted success at a very young age SP Balasubrahmanyam’s life was not without challenges. “I never let obstacles break me. They made me stronger and even more determined to succeed” he said recalling a time in the initial years of his career when he was without work for almost six months. He had sung some 300 songs many of which were super hits by then. The bleak   phase struck him when noted singer P. Susheela’s nephew Ramakrishna created ripples with his film entry getting almost all songs of the reigning super stars of the time Akkineni Nageshwara Rao and N.T. Rama Rao. These actors were the only heroes for whom SPB had made a special effort to sing according to their spoken voice since the eminent singer Ghantasala Venkateshwara Rao had sung several hit songs for both for more than 25 years.  This challenge was soon overcome as he concentrated on developing his own individual style with perseverance during the break and he re-claimed his supremacy after a brief hiatus.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=caTTYSOQRt8
SPB made special effort to sing for NTR and ANR

He remained ever grateful to actors Krishna and Raja babu, director Dhavala Sathyam and mentor Kodandapani who supported him through his struggle.  SPB’s versatile voice suited every hero and comedian that he sang for enabling him to effortlessly cruise through his memorable journey as a playback singer. Attracted to mimicry since a young age he keenly followed mimicry artistes like Nerella Venumadhav and Dr. Vivekananad and even got tips from his relative Subrahmania Sastry who was a professional mimicry artiste.

https://youtu.be/CghA-di47Hg
Krishna, Raja Babu, director Dhavala Sathyam and mentor Kodandapani supported him through his struggle

The biggest challenge for SPB who rendered countless super hit songs that made him a household name was not being swept away by success and retaining it. “My father was a great influence on me. He had performed the uncha vritti ritual which was self imposed austerity of gathering alms while singing every year during Thyagaraja aradhana in Nellore for 20 years and was very down to earth. He had no English education and never shied away from telling people who telephoned and asked for me in English that he does not understand the language and they should ask the question again in Tamil or Telugu. I owe my success entirely to his blessings” he reiterated. He was one of eight children, five sisters and three brothers and the entire family was bound together by the love for music he recalled. His elder sister had passed away early. Two other sisters Girija and Parvati appreciated music but did not sing while Shailaja and Vasantha were very good singers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoumUf0jDxw
SPB sang with his sister Vasantha on Swarabhishekam stage

His younger brother Jagadeesh worked as a sound recordist at his studio. His elder brother S.P Lingamurthy was an ardent lover of music who longed to see him as a well known singer but fate had other plans. “My brother who was working at Guntur wrote a wonderful letter expressing his joy at seeing my name as a singer in the title of the film that he saw in a theatre there. Just one month later he had a massive heart attack and died. This is a tragedy that left me shattered. I wish he was around to see my success” he lamented. For a man who loved his family and friends this was just one of a series of losses that left a deep void.

Vignettes: It was actor Krishna, who signed SPB for his films, when he saw that he was not singing for any lead actors during the time, when Ramakrishna was singing for ANR and NTR. Balu was only singing for comedians like Raja Babu, Allu Ramalingaiah when he was not signed for even Sobhan Babu, the then emerging actor. Krishna assured him that he would have atleast 5 or 6 films every year, enough to sustain Balu.

Link to Episode 1: https://fridaywall.wordpress.com/2020/10/08/the-beginning-a-rare-interview-with-spb-episode-1/

Additional Links:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYN330Nkpqc
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=728gpo_ZhJs
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRwqSwSkWos
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmQzcOyP0Fk
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