Thamizh Talkies: Songs SPB would have made a world of difference to
The writer celebrates SP Balasubrahmanyam and his legacy in Tamil film music
A long drive, for me, means tuning into a good dose of radio. If you can get past all the advertisements on the FM frequency and the government announcements on the AM frequency, you find yourself settling mostly for All India Radio’s bunch of songs, because they play Ilayaraaja and RD Burman in ample measure. Listening to one such station en route to a friend's beach house on ECR, these were the songs which made it to the playlist: Poovey Ilaya Poovey from Kozhi Koovudhu, Nee Paartha Paarvaikkoru Nandri from Hey Ram, and Maayanadhi from Kabali.
Now I confess - I am a diehard fan of SP Balasubrahmanyam. Interestingly, all the aforementioned songs, though brilliant in composition and execution, are not sung by THE SPB. Maayanadhi, especially, is a song in which I missed SPB’s tenor and emotional 'swag'. Think of his lovely blend of texture, emotion and melody in Yamma Yamma Kadhal Ponnamma from 7-am Arivu, which along with the sweet-as-nectar Yenn Kadhal Thee from Irandaam Ulagam, remain my all-time favourite millennial SPB songs, both interestingly done by the same composer: Harris Jeyaraj.
Let's cut back to the songs NOT sung by SPB. I ran a questionnaire on Twitter and Facebook asking fellow music lovers to list out three songs they felt SPB could’ve pulled off better. And what a wide variety of songs we got! From Kettukodi Urumi Melam (Pattikaada Pattanamaa) to Aasai Nooru Vagai (Adutha Varisu); from Telephone Manipol Sirithaval Ivala (Indian) to Poo Avizhum Pozhudhil (the Siddharth enacted Enakkul Oruvan); from Poongaatru Thirumbuma (Mudhal Mariyathai) to even an S Janaki song (Azhagu Malar Aada from Vaidehi Kaathriundhaal), this new SPB 'wishlist' reassured me that I’m not alone in wanting to listen to more from one of the best singers we have in our country.
I don’t know about you but I’m one of those folks who, when reading a song name in an article such as this, will start humming it, and feel as mightily pleased as a Persian cat should I remember the lyrics, the tune, the percussion with the right intonation, and why, even the tiny pauses in expression. So you can imagine what I'm like when listening to songs on the radio. It’s a full-on karaoke session in progress and in times like these, when films in theatres are few, and you’ve seen all that there is on Netflix and Amazon, radio becomes our sole source of entertainment i.e. if each station plays more music and less noise.
Cut back again to my favourite singer. SPB’s entry into playback singing was at a time when TM Sounderrajan still ruled the roost, and yet Balu, as he is fondly called, was so well-received for his youthful energy and fresh voice that was amply evident in his two initial songs in Tamil, Aval Oru Navarasa Nadagam (Ulagam Sutrum Vaaliban) and Pottu Vaitha Mugamo (Sumathi Yenn Sundari) for MGR and Sivaji Ganesan respectively. The songs gave a certain zing to the onscreen image of both these matinee idols as Tamil cinema began its transition from black & white to colour. Thereafter, of course, SPB became the 'voice' of Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth as well as actor Mohan, who played a singer in most of his films. My most favourite song by SPB for Mohan, though, is from a film which does not have Mohan play a singer. The song? Nilave Vaa from Mouna Raagam.