After years of assisting the legendary K Balachander, Suresh Krissna branched out on his own. His films feature some great collaborations with SP Balasubrahmanyam. There’s the playful love-soaked ‘Valaiosai’ in the Kamal Haasan-starrer Sathya, and Rajinikanth’s legendary ‘Vanthenda Paalkaaran’ in Annamalai. He speaks to Baradwaj Rangan about being part of projects where musical history was being created with a very talented singer called SPB. Excerpts.
When you joined K Balachander, it was at the time of Ek Duuje Ke Liye. It was the first album that made SP Balasubrahmanyam burst out in Hindi. But, is it true that at the time Laxmikant–Pyarelal did not want SPB for Kamal’s songs?
I never thought this day would come so soon, that I would have to give a tribute and talk about SPB, who is no more.
Any music director will love a love story. They know that it is going to be a musical and songs will have a lot of prominence. With this film, they knew there was tremendous potential. LV Prasadji and Laxmikant–Pyarelalji go back a long way. So, they automatically came into the picture. When casting was discussed, Lata Mangeshkarji was confirmed but they wanted someone for the male voice.
K Balachander sir said the whole movie was about a Tamilian who also learns Hindi in a new city. Kamal Sir’s permanent voice was SPB in Tamil cinema and he had never sung in Hindi. So, he felt that, along with Kamal Sir, if SPB also came on this journey, it would look very nice. Initially, there was a discussion because a Hindi song had to sound like a Hindi song. But Balachander sir was very clear that Kamal was going to dub for himself. So, finally everybody agreed and I think that decision was a fabulous decision. When Laxmikant–Pyarelal heard SPB’s voice, they were floored, and they loved the way he improvised. After this, he sang for many of their other films as well.
With Sathya, we got a magnificent Ilaiyaraaja-SPB song with Lata Mangeshkar which is ‘Valaiosai’. What are your memories of that recording session?
If SPB sang for the first time in Hindi in Ek Duuje Ke Liye, it was Lataji singing for the first Tamil in Sathya. There, SPB used to discuss Hindi pronunciation with Lataji; here, she asked him, “Sir, kya hai?”. The beautiful part here was that when Raja sir composed this song, Kamal Sir and I were there. He said that the song is very nice and that he wanted to introduce a new singer. When he asked him who it was, he said Lata Mangeshkar. We asked him, “Enna Sir solreenga…” SPB said he would keep himself free the day she came for recording. SPB was already there to receive her. It was a sight, and I still have that photo with Raja sir, Kamal sir, SPB… rarely do we get such a moment. She practiced very hard and SPB was helping her with the pronunciation. He is a gem of a person and he spent almost half a day there.
Another major thing that you have contributed in terms of keeping SPB’s memory alive is establishing the Rajnikanth introduction song — the first song he sings on screen. Annamalai and Baasha kind of established that SPB will sing Rajini’s introduction songs. Tell me about those two situations.
SPB had sung a lot of songs for Rajini sir. What was new was that I was working with Rajini sir for the first time and so was Deva sir. For Kavithalayaa, it was the first time without Ilaiyaraaja sir. I was not supposed to be directing the film, but came on board 48 hours before the shoot. When I heard the story, there was a brief line about travel. I was born and brought up in Bombay. For me, Salim-Javed and Amitabh Bachchan are always at the back of my mind, and heroism is something I was familiar with.
I had never met Rajini sir throughout the seven years that I worked with KB sir. When the film was being made, there was a discussion about the introduction. My point of view is that it should come in the title. That is how we came up with the idea of a title song. But everybody asked what was there to sing when there was no situation. Rajini sir’s character was that of a milkman, and he was reminded of a poem in Kannada about the cow and milk. We liked the idea, but didn’t know what to do. Then, I told Deva sir about a popular Marathi song that every fisherman would sing, and I sang it in my own way. Deva sir caught that, and composed ‘Vanthenda Paalkaaran’.
The idea was to get SPB to sing the song and when I hummed it to him, he looked at me. He knew where the source was, but said that it was brilliantly adapted. When he was told that it was Rajini sir’s introduction song, he put in a lot of effort into it. SPB was in full swing, and you could feel the energy. Prabhu Deva did the choreography for it. But, when you hear this song without SPB’s voice, it will fall flat. Nobody can sing so powerfully and energetically.