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Remembrance: 10 classic SP Balasubrahmanyam hits

The prolific singer, who died on 25 September, is reported to have recorded over 40,000 songs in 16 Indian languages. We revisit 10 of his hits from Telugu, Tamil and Hindi cinema.

Shriram Iyengar

Sonal Pandya

With singer SP Balasubrahmanyam's death from complications caused by COVID-19, Indian cinema lost one of its legends in playback music. The affable, smiling singer lent his voice to heroes from the 1960s to the new millennium. He sang for stars as well as newcomers while retaining his identity as a singer.

Throughout his career, SPB, as he was known to fans, sang for films made in as many as 16 different languages, including all the official languages of the South. But he was recognized most for his hits in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi cinema.

We list some of Balasubrahmanyam's classic tracks which fans are certain to keep humming.

Title song — Sankarabharanam (1979, Telugu)

SP Balasubrahmanyam was not the first choice for music director KV Mahadevan for the Carnatic classical music-based album of this film. But the singer, who had not undergone formal training in music, took up the challenge for the JV Somayajulu-starrer and picked up his first National award for Best Male Playback Singer for the title track in the bargain. The film, of course, went on to become a big hit.

'Tere Mere Beech Mein' — Ek Duuje Ke Liye (1981, Hindi)

Fifteen years after making his debut has a playback singer in cinema, SP Balasubrahmanyam entered Hindi films with Ek Duuje Ke Liye. The film, directed by K Balachander, also introduced Kamal Haasan to Hindi audiences. The love song, a duet with Lata Mangeshkar composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal, brought SPB his second National award for Best Male Playback Singer.

'Devi Sridevi' — Vazhve Maayam (1982, Tamil)

This Gangai Amaran composition is as charming and playful as the film's two leads. This foot-tapping number saw SP Balasubrahmanyam deliver a beautiful duet with Vani Jayaram as he played off the performance of Kamal Haasan. The lyrics themselves were a play on the film's heroine's name, Sridevi, and SPB charmed his way through them with his inflection. For anyone looking for a lesson on voice acting in playback, this is the perfect place to begin.

'Thakita Thadimi' — Sagara Sangamam (1983, Telugu)

This National award-winning dance film by K Viswanath starred Kamal Haasan as a once-promising classical dancer who turns to alcohol. Balasubrahmanyam brought to life the tongue-twisting number composed by Ilaiyaraaja and penned by Veturi Sundararama Murthy.

‘Nilave Vaa’ — Mouna Ragam (1986, Tamil)

Balasubrahmanyam had an innate connection with the moon. This composition saw two close friends, Ilaiyaraaja and SPB, combine to deliver a beautiful melancholic romantic number. The depth of pathos and compassion that SPB conveyed without losing the harmony or the melody was a sign of his impressive talent. And, of course, there was the composition by the maestro.

‘Dil Deewana’ — Maine Pyar Kiya (1989, Hindi)

Just as he became associated in the minds of fans as the voice of Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth in the South, SP Balasubrahmanyam became the voice of Salman Khan in Hindi cinema, starting with the blockbuster romance Maine Pyar Kiya (1989). The songs by Raamlaxman were instant hits and the singer won his first Filmfare award for Best Male Playback Singer for 'Dil Deewana'.

'Saathiya Tune Kya Kiya' — Love (1991, Hindi)

A sentimental and nostalgic favourite, 'Saathiya Tune Kya Kiya' is an evergreen romantic number remembered more than the film starring Salman Khan and Revathy in which it featured. The Anand-Milind track was 'inspired' by the music of Ilaiyaraaja in Prema (1989), and the duet with KS Chitra was a frequent 1990s earworm.

‘Kaadhal Rojave’ — Roja (1992, Tamil)

From the maestro to the Mozart of Madras, SPB covered them all. And all of them coveted him. The debut of AR Rahman gave the singer a place in one of the best music albums of the 1990s. The title track will always be anchored to memories of snowclad mountains in Kashmir and to love as much as it is to SPB's voice.

'Pehla Pehla Pyar' — Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994, Hindi)

SP Balasubrahmanyam and Salman Khan were pretty synonymous during the 1990s. Most of the star’s hit songs of the decade were sung by Balasubrahmanyam and Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994), another blockbuster for Khan, was no exception. SPB sang as many as nine of the 14 songs from the Raamlaxman soundtrack.

‘Oruvan Oruvan’ — Muthu (1995, Tamil)

Another AR Rahman creation, this one is a personal favourite of Rajinikanth's. A typical hero song, its hero is undoubtedly the voice. SPB begins with a high-pitched alaap that sets the foundation for a galloping rhythmic song that is addictive. The powerful lyrics, the orchestration, and the style of Rajinikanth add to the magic of SPB's vocal performance that remains, for lack of a better word, mesmerizing.

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Indian cinema