The SP Balasubramanyam and Chitra Show with SP Sailaja and SP Charan

A Sold Out Extravaganza!

Pictures and Story by Meena Yeggina

Many concerts come and many concerts go. We revel and criticize but mostly enjoy the experience be it a Sonu Nigam, or even Shreya Ghosal. With SPB, you just cannot forget: Not just his melodies but also his passion for life, for secularism, for a better India, for a better film industry with better values. SPB not only regaled audience with his songs but also with his memories that go back almost half a century––spicing them with his wisdom and productive criticism. This dialogue in-between his songs makes the audience’s experience richer and more satisfying. In addition, it all makes so much sense and realistic because SPB comes across as a person who genuinely cares and is seriously anguished with the present volatile condition of Andhra Pradesh in general and the film industry in particular.

The SP Balasubramanyam show which also showcased the singing sensation Chitra, along with SP sailaja and SP Charan rocked and moved the audience with its foregone and nostalgic melodies from yester years. The Live-in concert was presented by the Bay Area Telugu Association (BATA) on September 15, at Chabot College.

The 66-year-old stunned the audience with his unwavering voice and high pitched melodies. His passion for music and a better India comes across in his every sentence as he is a breathing and imparting book of knowledge on movies, lyricists, music composers and producers.

At one point he says of tollywood: “There is so much mediocrity flaunting in the industry with so much confidence that (with the help of media)people started believing that ‘maybe this is sahityam, maybe this is music, maybe this is the best and maybe this is the right language...people are not able to think beyond this point. The days of producers such as of Navatha arts who wanted the best lyrics in pure telugu are no longer existing.” With this observation made, he goes on to sing, one of the best songs one can remember, from Panthulamma, written by “Apara Srinadhudu” Veturi Sundara Rama Murthy, Veena Venuvaina Sarigama Vinnava tuned by Rajan-Nagendra. The packed audience shrieked with delight.

“It is the responsibility of the film industry to produce films that are both entertaining and morally enriching. They cannot blame the audience who are accused of wanting and encouraging only bad films. At the same time audiences too should act more responsibly,” he lamented. Easier said than done.

His passion, presence, professionalism, his still-so-young, sultry voice, and his oh-so-formidable stage presence, his incredible talent and song presentation, the power and force of his music, and the emotional roller coaster one rides through his musical journey of self expression and feelings of life leaves you numb and reeling from the experience. Chitra too sang exquisitely and received thunderous applause from audience. This six-time National Award winner is extremely shy and very wary. Many a times, SPB had to coax her on to the stage and actually force her to come forward and closer to the audience. She would sing and go with almost no interaction with audience. However, each of her soul-stirring songs were guzzled down by the appreciative crowd.

SPB, on the other hand had no such inhibitions. Sripathi Panditaradhyula Balasubrahmanyam born 4 June, 1946 is also an actor, music director, voice actor and film producer. He won the National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer six times. He won the Nandi Awards 25 times from Government of Andhra Pradesh.

He has sung over 40,000 songs in various Indian languages. He is the only playback singer in India to have won National Film Awards across four languages. He has also won a Filmfare Award, three Filmfare Awards South and numerous state awards from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. He is a recipient of civilian awards such as Padmashri (2001) and Padma Bhushan (2011) from the government of India.

SPB went on to sing a song from a recently released film called Devasthanam by K. Vishwanath. Music composed by Veerapani about Telugu Thalli and also of Saraswathi. It reminds of you lyrics and music of the 70s, he reminisced, which it does.

“I asked to sing this song without any fee as I liked it very much. I just wanted to be in the album,” he revealed. His witty humor and anecdotes became the focal point of the event. While introducing his son SP Charan he insisted that it took him more than 40 years to be where he is. But with his son the audience expected the best right from the first song, he said. “It puts a lot of pressure on him. “Please give him your blessings as Charan’s career is very young and he still has a long way to go.”

Charan who came on to the stage with “Nenu nenu ga lene ninna monnala,” from Nagarjuna’s Manmadhudu said that such an introduction makes him very nervous. “I have done many concerts and sang many songs but after this introduction (from my dad) I am getting very nervous. But I will try my best.”

Frankly, the songs that Charan sang from Manmadhudu and Varsham are sung by him alone in the movies too and it was obvious that many in the audience (including me) did not know about it. But these days with so many youngsters coming along almost everyday and all sounding the same what with digital mixing and technology, nobody knows who is singing what anymore. It’s very obvious that Charan is still under the wings of SPB and is nowhere close to his legendry, gigantic and notorious music skills or wisdom. Many a times he comes across as a self-conscious and hesitant young singer. It could be his slim, and petite personality in comparison to the mighty presence of SPB.

In praise of composer Vishwanath, SPB said that it was an honor to sing for this Music Chakravarthy (At 83, the Tamil Nadu government presented Vishvanath with the award Music Chakravarthy three years ago). “Today who we call geniuses such as Ilayaraja are his students,” he said. In tribute to him he sang Athreya’s Nuvvena, sampangi puvvula nevvena, to the utmost pleasure of the pure music lovers. This is indeed a rare treat.

Not only could SPB sing to the rapture of his audience, but he could stop kids crying with his witty and wielded comments such as “parents, please share your chocolates with your kids too, dont eat them all yourself,” upon which most parents took their crying children out of the auditorium. He could, with a raise of his hand or a frown of his eyebrows, start or stop audience from clapping and applauding.

“I have never seen such magnetic singing personality on stage who can just make the audience react simply the way he wants with a wave of his hand” said Rajeshwari, a music connoisseur who came to see him perform from Pleasanton. “I was not sure if I could see him again. I just wanted to see him one more time,” she gushed.

Chitra, who is a legendry singer, and a six-time National Award Winner (same as Balu) sang several hits that the audience gulped down with pleasure. Born on July 27, 1963, in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, into a family of musicians, Chitra’s talent was recognized and nurtured from an early age by her father, the late Krishnan Nair. He was also her first guru (teacher). Her elder sister K. S. Beena is also a singer who has performed in many films as a playback singer

Chitra received her extensive training in Carnatic music from Dr. K. Omanakutty, and got a Master Degree in Music from the University of Kerala. She was selected for the National Talent Search Scholarship from the Central Government from 1978–1984.

She is married to Vijayashankar, an engineer and businessman and settled in Chennai. Their only daughter Nandana died aged 8, in a pool accident in April 2011 at Dubai.

She is a recipient of six National Film Awards (the most by any female singer), five Filmfare Awards South and more than thirty different state film awards. She is the only singer to have won all the four South Indian state awards till date.

Every time she walked on stage she received a warm welcome from the audience who loved her songs such as “asala em theliyadu naku” from Anthapuram. Chitra does not sing much these days in films and the reason is attributed to the death of her 8-year-old daughter in a drowning accident a year ago in Dubai. The nine-year-old is the only daughter of the soft spoken, well-liked Chitra. After 15 years of praying, Chitra delivered Nandana, a child diagnosed with down syndrome. However, thay had a happy life with this beautiful child until the unimagined happened. Chitra, according to various newspapers, is slowly recovering.

In a grand finale SPB took over and sang several of his hits in a medley beginning with “chuttu cheghami cheer kattalee chilakamma”.In conclusion of the three-hour concert, the singers ended the concert with the beautiful, heart wrenching patriotic song “Vandanam.” The song took audience into a patriotic rapture and they could not help giving a standing ovation to the singers.

“At my age it’s so hard to sing such high pitched songs. The minute I finish the concert, I just go and fall flat in my car in exhaustion. But as I am on stage it is you the audience and your love that makes me sing, come again and again. And that is what will keep me going,” ragaled the music supremo emotionally. And the audience, yes, of course, responded and welcomed with a huge round of applause.