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Music cannot thrive without rasikas

Ghazal is the highest form of an artist’s expression.


Come Monday (September 22), this man completes 78 but his energy belies it. New Woodlands Hotel is his favourite haunt. Sporting a bright srichurnam on the forehead,and a zari turban, a zari shawl casually draped over the left shoulder, he sits surrounded by books and diaries. A dozen pens that peep out of his pocket complete the picture. Yes, it is P.B. Sreenivos, singer, writer and composer. “Remove M from the word ‘Music’ and U become sic,” he quips. And that sums up his passion for the art. Excerpts:


A musician should first be a good rasika. The singer should grasp the manobhava of the music director and if the rasikas receive it in the same frequency that will be the greatest award for the singer. Music cannot thrive without rasikas. I love my fans. Once a rasika expressed his appreciation for my song, ‘Nilave Ennidam Nerungathe’ (from the film, ‘Ramu’). I felt happy but then I told him that it was just a fraction of what composer M.S.Viswanathan had visualised.

Training in classical music…

I joined classes when I was in Kakinada, but could not stand the way the varnam was butchered. So I quit and that was the end of formal learning. I was blessed with an excellent grasping power, which meant that I could reproduce any music I heard. I still remember the night, when after returning home from a concert of GNB I sang the Thodi raga exactly the way he had sung. My mother, who was highly impressed, encouraged me to sing more of classical music but my heart was in film music.

Joining the film industry…

My father was against it. My mother Seshagiri Amma had a sweet voice. She was a great influence on me. I was all the time singing the hits of Rafi, Manna Dey, Talat and Mukesh. Lata’s songs were a virtual education in modulation. Completing B.Com was a pre-condition to my joining the orchestra of veena vidwan and composer Emani Sankara Sastri. So I got my degree. I also started working with B.S.Kalla and got my first break when I rendered a couplet for the Hindi film, ‘Mr. Sampath.’ On listening to it, S.S. Vasan had told Sastri that my voice was a good find for the industry. This is one of the best complements I’ve ever received. R. Nagendra Rao gave me the first break in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada for the film ‘Jathakam,’ a multi-lingual. I got noticed and there was no looking back. I’ve even recorded five songs in a single day. Only S. Janaki’s voice and mine were used for ‘Policekaran Magal’ and ‘Sumaithangi,’ which was a record of sorts in those days.

Flair for languages...

Writing has been my passion and I have written more than two lakh songs of all kinds — ghazals, bhajans, verses, dohas, etc., in many languages. I meticulously learnt to read and understand them. I managed to gain proficiency in two months. As a first step, I released a book titled ‘Pranavam’ in eight languages. I still continue to write. Lata (Mangeshkar) in fact is quite impressed with my Urdu skills. A song in English, “Man to moon; Moon to God,” written, composed and sung by me with S. Janaki was released to commemorate man’s landing on the moon. I received letters of appreciation both from the then President Nixon and Louis Armstrong.

Music directors...

MSV composed tunes to suit my voice and the sequences. Once on a tour of Denmark, we stayed in a house where the lady played records of all my songs (listening to them was her hobby). MSV was surprised. We teamed up to give many hits. Adinarayana Rao, K.V. Mahadevan, Brother Lakshman, V. Dakshinamurthy, Babu Raj, Devarajan, G.K. Venkatesh, Rajan Nagendra… all of them have produced great music.


The advent of new singers never worried me. I was quite philosophical about it. After all, nothing is permanent and everything is bound to be overtaken. I enjoyed it while it lasted. Those days, a single mistake meant recording the song all over again. And so we tried to do our best. And those songs have endured the test of time.

Romancing ghazals…

Yes, I’m very fond of ghazals and have penned many. Naushad had special words of appreciation for my Urdu ghazals. A Tamil ghazal album of mine sung by O.S. Arun was well-received. One song from it was used by K. Balachandar in his tele-serial ‘Sahana.’ Ghazal is the highest form of an artist’s expression. Words play an important part with music playing a supportive role. Urdu can be called the language of ghazals; nevertheless, I have attempted the same form in other languages too. Subbudu’s brother, P.V. Krishnamurthy who was with AIR Bombay, wanted me to record ghazals for them during my brief stopover while travelling to South Africa. As I was a South Indian the musicians were very diffident about my ability to render Urdu ghazals but after the programme comprising ghazals of Mir Thakee Mir, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Sahir Ludhianvi and one penned by me, they commended the judicious balance I had struck between the lyrics and music. My mudra is Shabash Aftab Khokhonadvi.


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