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A versatile singer, SP Balasubrahmanyam 'represented' idea of India, now under attack

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*

SP Balasubrahmanyam (June 4, 1946-September 25, 2020), popularly SPB, who has the world record of singing more than 40,000 songs in 16 different languages of India, represented the idea of India, which is currently under attack. The film industry in Mumbai has been in Hindustani, and not Hindi. Bollywood was built mostly by those whose mother tongue was neither Hindi nor the city’s original mother tongue, Marathi, or what is often called Bambaiya Hindi.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when cinema was going through a new patch, though Mohammad Rafi had passed away and Kishore Kumar still dominated, many new singers emerged to give playback to new actors. Many of them were no match to the old trio of Rafi, Kishore and Mukesh. Most of them tried to copy the three legends.
No doubt, many did become popular, but two outstanding personalities provided us some of the most melodious songs of all times in Hindustani cinema. One of them was a “spiritual” voice from Kerala, the legendary Yesudas. Yesudas sang very few songs in Hindustani -- “Chitchor”, “Dada”, “Chhottee See Baat”, “Swami”, “Sawan ko Aane Do”, and so on. He remained a favourite of music director Ravinder Jain, who introduced him to Hindi world with 'Gori tera gaon bada pyaara'.
Almost all the songs that Yesudas sang became super hit, including “Aaj se pahle, aaj se zyada khushi aaj tak nahi mili”, “Jab deep jale aanaa”, “Jab saanjh dhale aana”, “Kaa karoon sajni aaye naa balam”, etc.
Born in the then Madras Presidency, SPB's entry into Hindustani films happened in 1981 with Kamal Hasan's remake of an old Telugu film, in which he and Rati Agnihotri were in the lead role, while music of the film was composed by Laxmikant Pyarelal. The film "Ek Duje Ke Liye" became one of the biggest hits. It was not merely because of the new actor Rati Agnihotri, but also because of the melodic voice of SPB.
For us, who had just entered the teen, it was a treat to listen to 'Tere mere beech me, kaisa hai ye bandhan anjaana', or ‘Mere jeevan saathi pyaar kiye jaa’, or ‘Bum bane tum bane ek duje ke liye.’ Later, we listened to his voice in Salman Khan films, all of which became superhit.
I am sure anyone who listens 'Aate jaate hanste gaate’ and ‘Socha tha maine man me kai baar' would fall in love with the voice of SPB. Whether you like Salman Khan films or not, his voice was energetic, versatile and youthful. He became the voice of Salman Khan in Badjatya's films, defining the romantic and flamboyant mood of the actor, whether it was “Maine Pyaar Kiya” or “Hum Apke Hain Kaun”.
If Yesudas is spiritual, SPB is versatile. After Kishore Kumar, SPB was the only one who could sing in such diversity and with such ease
What is important for me is, the way SPB sang the songs turned them into classics. Perhaps Hindi speaking Bihari-UP wallahs won't do that kind of hard work, even though there is a tendency among them to 'dominate' the industry. Pick up any song, there is so much 'lachak' in the voice of SPB. If Yesudas is spiritual, SPB is versatile. After Kishore Kumar, SPB was the only one who could sing in such diversity and with such ease.
Yesudas with SPB
SPB became a legend in his lifetime. He started his acting career much before many of us were born. He was not merely a playback singer but an actor and a producer, too. But he would be remembered mostly for his melodious songs.
When we pay tribute to SPB and his versatility, it is important for the Hindi speaking people to respect the contribution of non-Hindi speaking people to Bollywood. It is also time we do not use cinema to spread hatred.
We know Bollywood has loads of problems, including nepotism and other issues, but it has also gave us Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Shailendra, Sahir, Mazruh, Kaifi Azami, Rahi Masum Raja, Kishore, Rafi, Mukesh, Talat, Sachin Dev Barman, Naushad, Lata Mangeshkar, Yesudass and SPB.
While we may or may not watch Bollywood films, surely, their songs and lyrics have given life to millions of people all over the world. They give hope, they share pain, they give a reason to live. And what is more important, most of them did not have Hindi as their mother tongue, yet they became voices of the nation.
Bollywood has given some superb films highlighting secular, especially Hindu-Muslim, ethos, though it hasn’t yet opened up on issues of Dalit identity, women's rights, or issues nagging marginalised people. It is yet to open up to these issues, giving space to the aspiring Ambedkarite film makers, writers and actors, thus bringing about inclusion in the industry.
Yet, the fact is, the serene voices of Yesudas, SPB and others celebrate diversity of Hindustani cinema.
---
*Human rights defender

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