Remembering SP Balasubrahmanyam Through His Songs

SPB made his mark through thousands of evergreen songs, working with music directors spanning generations— from Kodhandapani, M S Viswanathan, Ilayaraja to AR Rahman and Deva.
SPB with Kamal Haasan
SPB with Kamal Haasan

SP Balasubrahmanyam’s musical legacy spans over 40,000 songs across six decades and five film music industries.

A six-time national award winner, Balasubrahmanyam had also been honoured with the Padma Shri in 2001 and Padma Bhushan in 2011.

As a singer, influenced by Mohammed Rafi, SPB had made his mark through thousands of evergreen songs, working with music directors spanning generations— from Kodhandapani, M S Viswanathan, Ilayaraja to AR Rahman and Deva.

A few years ago, the singer said he would still record a song every day, over 50 years after he made his debut in 1966.

It’s impossible to condense this vast body of work into a list of few songs.

We picked a few of his songs every fan of Indian film music should know:

SP had no formal training in classical music. Renowned playback singer S. Janaki first spotted his talent when he took part in a music competition while pursuing engineering in Chennai and told him he would have a bright future in the film industry if he gave it a shot.

The evergreen Tamil song ‘Ayiram Nilave Vaa’ from MGR-starrer Adimaipen was the one that catapulted him to fame in 1969 .

SP Balasubrahmanyam looms large as the man who voiced some of the most popular heroes in Indian films.

Balasubrahmanyam sang for generations of film actors in Telugu from legendary N T Rama Rao and Akkineni Nageswara Rao to Sobhan Babu, Krishna in the 1970s and 1980s, Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna, Balakrishna, Venkatesh since 1980s and 1990s, and Mahesh Babu, Allu Arjun and others of present time.

In the 1990s, he came to be known as Salman Khan’s voice as he sang for the actor in a host of films, including Maine Pyar Kiya, Saajan, Hum Aapke Hain Koun and Andaaz Apna Apna.

On Thursday, Khan had thanked the singer for “every song you sang for me and made special your ‘Dil Deewana’ hero Prem”.

Kamal Haasan, for whom SPB sang in several films, said on Friday that the singer’s fame would live on for generations to come.

SPB debuted in the Hindi film industry in 1981 with Ek Duuje Ke Liye in which he famously sang for Kamal Haasan.

The singer was known for having the knack to make his voice appear as though the particular actor had himself rendered the song.

He said his “secret” was that a singer had to be an actor to bring compatibility. “I have never changed my voice for Rajini or Kamal,” he had said years ago.

Some of SPB’s best work was with AR Rahman with whom he worked on films like Roja, May Madham, Minsara Kanavu, Duet, Kadhalan and Jodi. He famously also matched steps with Prabhu Deva in the peppy ‘Kadhalikkum Pennin’ song from Kadhalan.

Rahman called the singer “the voice of victory, love, devotion and joy.”

The singer’s discography in Malayalam is much smaller, but every Malayali would know this song from Kilukkam anywhere.

The singer also had a glorious body of work in Kannada and Telugu films. An obituary in The Hindu points out that SPB’s second film song was in Kannada, in 1966.