years, 40,000 songs and still going strong
The South Indian version of Lata Mangeshkar, P. Susheela enters
the 50th year of her singing career, this year. The five time National
Award winner has recently turned music director and as brought out
a devotional album. In her long, chequered career, Susheela has
rendered over 40,000 songs, a record by any standards! Though she
has cut down on her film assignments, Susheela is busy composing
music and performing in concerts at home and abroad. Excerpts from
an interview with the melody queen of the South.
along, you’ve been behind
the microphone singing others’ tunes. How do you feel
conducting the orchestra for your private album?
Oh! it is a very tension-ridden job. Now I feel singing
is much easier. But this also is an experience which I am enjoying.
Moreover, the urge to prove myself as a composer has been fulfiled.
And the album is devotional, in Sanskrit, eulogising the man I worship,
Puttaparthi Satya Saibaba. Titled Parthi Sai Bhajans, the album contains
10 songs written by Dr. Saikrishna Yachendra and rendered by me and
my niece Sandhya Jayakrishna.
Tell us about your early days as
a singer and how did you develop interest in a singing career?
It is an old story, about 49 years old. I hail from a well-to-do
family from Vizianagaram, the birth place of many well-known
singers and musicians like
Ghantasala and Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu. My father, Mukunda Rao was a famous
criminal lawyer. My parents wished to see me as a great classical singer like
M.S. Subbulakshmi. I was an avid listener of Lata Mangeshkar’s songs
over radio. I obtained first class diploma in music. In fact, I came to Madras
in 1951 to enroll for the Sangeetha Vidwan course. Music director Pendyala
Nageswara Rao spotted me at a children’s radio concert and took me as
a lead singer for Kannathalli. And the rest is history (smiles).
mentioned listening to Lataji’s
songs on the radio. We also hear that she too is fond of you.
Tell us about your interaction with the famous Mangeshkar family.
I cherish each moment of my association with them. Long ago,
she invited me to her home. I can never forget the warmth and
affection she has showered on
me. One has to learn how to respect artists from her. When I won my first National
Award for the Tamil film, Uyirnda Manidan produced by A.V.M. there was a gala
function. Lataji and Naushadji graced the function. After that we met many
times and exchanged thoughts on music and allied topics. Even Ashaji calls
me Didi. I used to tell them that you are not four sisters but five. The fifth
(that’s me) was born in the South by the wish of God.
Why did you shun offers from the
Hindi film industry?
It is true that once Filmalaya approached me to be their permanent singer.
That was when I went to Bombay to sing for the Tamil dubbed version of Nayadaur.
The bosses of Filmalaya heard the songs and asked me whether I know Hindi and
gave me the offer. I did not accept the offer for lack of proper guidance then
and also because I was busy down South, singing for both Tamil and Telugu films.
Of course, I did sing for Hindi films like Bachpan and Wohi Ladki, besides
some dubbed films.
from Pendyala and M.S. Viswanathan to Ilayaraja and A.R. Rahman,
worked with over 50 music directors. Among them, who do you
think was a tough
A good music director is the one who knows how to extract the best from the
singer. M.S. Viswanathan gave me some of my best songs. So did Ghantasala and
Pendyala. Under the baton of MSV, Mayingugiral or maadu (from Uyirinda manidan),
from K.V. Mahadevan, Manoo maakunu kaanu (Moogamanasulu) and from Ghantasala,
Aligina Velalo Choodali (Gundamma Katha) are some of the songs I consider as
my best. I sang not only for Ilayaraja but for his son Karthik Raja too.
hear that you’ve
rendered over 40,000 songs in all the South Indian languages.
you manage such a buy schedule?
In those days, we used to do a lot of rehearsals. So we didn’t find it
difficult. Moreover, it is God’s gift. I do not know Malayalam. But I
have sung nearly 5,000 songs in the language. Before singing the song, I always
ask for the story and the situation. So while singing, it is easy to get into
the skin of the character, for which I am rendering the voice. That was possible
during the ’60s and ’70s, the golden period of film music.
do you rate today’s
We have some very talented singers today. They are doing their
job according to the dictates of the times. If you give me a
2000 year speed song, I too
render it the way they are doing. Everybody now is trying to give something
new. Some are liking the music some are not. Those who do not, are going
for the old songs. It is a cycle. The melody of the ’70s will be back
soon. In fact, it is already on the way in, again.
the present track system of singing a part of technological
Why then do
you abhor it?
The track system may have its advantages. Each singer need not
wait for the other singers and also the orchestration can be
done with each musician separately.
But I still prefer the old system of all the instrumentalists and singers working
for the song in unision. There is a rhythm and order. In the track system,
even if there is an iota of lag, then the song loses balance. Just switch off
the background music and listen to the voice alone; you find ups and downs.
Loud music camouflages this. That is the reason today’s music is like
Your advice to the present generation
I’ve stopped giving advices. Those days have gone. Today, they’ll
Recently, after the announcement
of the Padma awards by the Government, there was some resentment
from the film folk for not awarding a Padma Bhushan or at least
a Padmashree to such a versatile singer like you. Do you have
any regrets on this count?
Recognition acts as a tonic for any artiste. If it comes through the Government,
it makes one happier. But I am happy that the Kerala Government has done a
unique thing by felicitating renowned singer K.J. Yesudas when he turned 60
recently. I do not expect any awards or titles. I do my work sincerely and
in the process if they come my way, I am happy.
Your future plans?
I do not plan anything. Things just happen. I think this was all pre-destined
by God. But yes, I would like to compose music for a video album.