21 Songs in a Day, that’s Legendary SP Balasubrahmanyam For You

SP Balasubrahmanyam was an accomplished actor and dubbing artiste besides a legendary singer.

3 min read
SP Balasubrahmanyam at a concert.

Playback singer SP Balasubrahmanyam passed away on Friday afternoon in Chennai. Most of India came to know of SP Balasubrahmanyam after he sang for actor Kamal Haasan in the 1981 hit Ek Duuje Ke Liye. The Hindi film revolved around two lovers battling cultural differences and parental opposition (Kamal played a Tamilian in love with a north Indian girl played by Rati Agnihotri) and was a tragedy that went to become a blockbuster. Balasubrahmanyam played off with Lata Mangeshkar in the romantic numbers of the film’s soundtrack which were hugely popular. However, the singer was a household name down south much before.

SP Balasubrahmanyam with Kamal Haasan.
SP Balasubrahmanyam with Kamal Haasan.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

SP Balasubrahmanyam or SPB, was multilingual and has received 6 National Awards for Best Playback Singer for his songs in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi. It’s no surprise that he also holds the Guinness World Record for recording the highest number of songs by a singer, reportedly over 40,000 songs!

While SPB made his debut with the Telugu film, Sri Sri Sri Maryada Ramanna in 1966, the singer established his credentials as a playback singer in all the major languages across south - Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam, in the late 60s itself. It was the 1980 Telugu film Sankarabharanam, that shot him to singing stardom. The iconic musical drama directed by K Vishwanath won SPB his first National Award for playback singing.

After the huge success of Sankarabharanam, there was no looking back. SPB along with female playback singer S Janaki under the baton of music director Ilaiyaraaja reigned over the Tamil film music charts for years. Films such as Saagara Sangamam, Swathi Muthayam and Rudraveena made Balasubrahmanyam the most sought after singer in the film industry.

In his first innings in the Hindi film industry, SPB had become the voice for Kamal Haasan. After Ek Duuja Ke Liye, SPB recreated the magic for Haasan’s on-screen romance with Dimple Kapadia in Ramesh Sippy’s Saagar.

But his second innings as Salman Khan’s playback singing voice was a much bigger success. Salman made his debut as a lead actor in Rajshri Productions’ Maine Pyar Kiya, the musical romantic drama released in 1989 with 11 songs. Most of these numbers were duets featuring Balasubrahmanyam and Lata Mangeshkar. Maine Pyar Kiya was a blockbuster and the soundtrack was immensely popular setting record sales of audio cassettes for HMV.

After Maine Pyar Kiya, SPB became irreplaceable as Salman Khan’s onscreen voice as his playback singer, something like what Kishore Kumar became for Rajesh Khanna after the success of Aradhana. Balasubrahmanyam delivered several hit songs for Salman Khan-starrers such as Patthar Ke Phool, Love, Saajan and Hum Aapke Hain Koun.


SPB also recorded 3 songs in AR Rahman’s first film as a music director - Roja, including Kaadhal Rojaavae. The film, directed by Mani Ratnam, originally released in Tamil and was later dubbed into Hindi. Balasubrahmanyam sang in both languages and his songs topped the charts once again.

SPB’s collaboration with AR Rahman gave us several delightful numbers in the 90s in films like Duet, Gentleman and May Madham.

Over the decades SPB has also played character roles in several Tamil, Telugu and Kannada films. He was last seen making a cameo appearance in the Telugu film Devadas starring Nagarjuna Akkineni, Nani, Aakanksha Singh and Rashmika Mandanna.

SP Balasubrahmanyam with Prabhudeva in <i>Kaadhalan.</i>
SP Balasubrahmanyam with Prabhudeva in Kaadhalan.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Besides being a legend in playback singing, not many know that SPB was also an accomplished dubbing artiste. Balasubrahmanyam dubbed for Ben Kingsley in the Telugu version of Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. He also dubbed for stars like Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth and Salman Khan for the Telugu dubbed version of their films. SPB provided dubbed for the seven characters played by Haasan in the Telugu version of his film Dasavathaaram.

Amongst all his accomplishments, the one that stands out is SPB’s distinction of having recorded the most songs in a single day. He has reportedly sung 21 songs in 12 hours for music composer Upendra Kumar in Kannada. Balasubrahmanyam as also recorded 19 songs in Tamil and 16 songs in Hindi in a single day. SPB was honoured by the government of India with the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan in 2001 and 2011 respectively.

An extraordinarily multi-talented artiste, SP Balasubrahmanyam has no doubt left a void in the Indian film industry, that will be hard to fill.

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