Shripathi Panditaradhyula Balasubrahmanyam (SPB) is a living legend. One of the reasons he is revered by fans across age groups is the fact that he has made an unparalleled contribution to the musical landscape without even receiving a formal education in music. By his own admission, even after nearly six decades as an award-winning playback singer, he can’t write a musical notation. And yet, there is no match for the might of his singing prowess. He is a natural phenomenon.
Besides singing in mainstream films across 16 languages including Tamil, Telugu Kannada, Malayalam, Hindi (the man has sung over 40,000 songs and that’s a record in itself), he also appeared in a slew of films in significant roles.
Not many playback singers have managed to achieve what SPB did as an actor. He received a lot of love from the audience and carved a niche for himself as a character artiste.
As the singing legend turns 73, here is the list of films in which SPB delivered as an actor:
Keladi Kanmani (1990): SPB recommended director Vasanth, who was a longtime assistant of K Balachander, not to do his debut movie with him. He told Vasanth that if the movie fails, he has nothing to lose but the young director will be doomed even before he starts. But, a determined Vasanth persuaded the singing legend to act in the film. Contrary to SPB’s concerns, the film became a huge hit successfully running for 285 days in Tamil Nadu theaters. SPB played the role of a widower with an impressive singing talent. The film follows the ensuing family drama when his teenage daughter doesn’t approve of his idea of getting married again. Under maestro Ilaiyaraaja’s compositions, the film’s soundtrack also became a huge hit. It is difficult to sperate SPB from his performance in ‘breathless’ song “Mannil Indha Kaadhal”.
Thiruda Thiruda (1993): Who can forget SPB’s performance as CBI officer Lakshmi Narayanan? His effortless screen presence and his ability to naturally add to the underlying humour helped Mani Ratnam’s heist comedy. It is easily one of the sharpest performances by SPB as an actor.
Kadhalan (1994): It won’t be wrong to say it was a turning point in the acting career of SPB. As after this film, he became a go-to actor to play the hero’s father. In the romantic drama, which was directed by Shankar, SPB had played the role of an easy-going police constable and a warm and doting father, who gets his son drunk so that he can mend his son’s broken heart. In the early 90s that was the benchmark of an ideal father.
Ullaasam (1996): SPB plays a doting father again but with a little variation. He was not warm and charming like constable Kathiresan. But he played a forever disappointed father, who loses sleep over the uncertain future of his unruly son.
Which is your favorite SPB film?