When the voice acted: Recalling SP Balasubrahmanyam's journey as a voice actor
SPB's voice transcended the limits of songs and has been the identity for actors in the talkie portions too. Here, we recall his indelible contribution to cinema as a voice actor
A famous Chinese proverb goes, "The tongue can paint what the eyes cannot see." It's a saying that could easily apply to the work of SPB as a voice actor. Whenever Kamal's DCP Raghavan swore at a goon to close the gate, or Kameshwaran flirted with Thiripurasundari, or when Nandu gives a discourse on good and evil in the Telugu versions of Vettaiyadu Vilayadu, Michael Madhana Kamarajan and Aalavandhan, respectively, the voice we heard was SPB's. Telugu audiences who loved Kamal's performances over the years in these films, and more, would readily agree that the dubbing of SPB was nothing short of marvellous and added immensely to those films.
Singer Mano, who has been the primary voice of Rajinikanth in Telugu, just as SPB is to Kamal, says the legend's experiment with voice started with his singing. "Back then, SPB anna was the first one to experiment with such a lot of modulations in multiple languages. The composers were so much in love with this quality of his that they composed songs exclusively to test his ability to change voices." He adds that this practice of SPB's carried over to dubbing too. "It would be impossible for a person to dub in 10 different variations in Dasavatharam without transforming into the roles mentally. Being the extraordinary performer that he is, SPB anna aced the voice of every single character. Even if someone watches the film blindfold, they can differentiate between the various voices."
Raveena Ravi, actor and leading voice artist, seconds Mano's statement. She believes the inherent performer in SPB enhanced whatever he did in cinema. "SPB sir is extremely expressive and versatile. He connects to the soul of people through his voice. The dynamics and variations he delivered as a voice actor is something that cannot be recreated."
Mano remembers the times when SPB insisted that Mano dub instead for certain films which had a unique dialect. "It SPB who suggested that I dub for the Telugu versions of Sathi Leelavathi and Pammal K Sambandam. He trusted I would do justice to the voices as the films had Coimbatore and Madras accents, respectively, in the originals. These two films became huge hits in Telugu and my work was lauded by many. This wouldn't have happened if anna hadn't suggested my name."
Writer Ramakrishna, who has penned the Telugu dialogues of classics like Indian and Iruvar, and has worked with SPB in most of his dubbing projects, calls him an all-rounder. "It would be unfair to classify him under one tag. He experimented with everything and was successful in all of it. The voice modulation he gave for Mohanlal in the Telugu version of Iruvar is poles apart from his work in Bharateeyudu (Indian). He added a special something to films every time he dubbed."
Filmmaker Suresh Krissna, who has been a long-time associate of the singer, says only a talent like SPB can create magic with his modulation without spoiling the essence of the original. "SPB dubbed for the Telugu version of Aalavandhan. His variations between Vijay and Nandhu's characters were so brilliant that the Telugu version felt like it was competing with the original." The director adds that he wasn't surprised when SPB gave him such an output as he always admired the excellent actor in him. "SPB is such a lovely actor. It is natural for him to understand the nature of a character while lending his voice." Suresh Krissna goes on to recall the time when SPB went the extra mile to master a modulation and hurt his voice as a result. "In Indrudu Chandrudu, we planned to have a special song for the older character with a unique voice tone. SPB took it up as a challenge and perfectly recreated Kamal's diction and sang the entire song with it. But he pushed his voice a bit too hard and ended up damaging it. It took him almost a month to recover."
Singer and voice actor Chinmayi states that SPB was a pioneer in breaking the stereotypes of what a singer could do. "Despite being a successful singer, he took up acting, composing, dubbing, and even film production. He saw all mediums equally; he judged and hosted small screen shows with the same enthusiasm. He broke the stereotype that singers should only sing, way back in the 80s." She adds that SPB's life inspires people to be and do more. "I have had people come up to me and dictate that a singer must not be hosting shows or dubbing for films. Back then, I didn't have a solid reply for them. But if they were to do it again now, I would say, 'If SPB sir could do it, so can I!' That is the kind of confidence his life has given to people like us."