ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Last Tree in a Wasteland?

S P Balasubrahmanyam

S P Balasubrahmanyam’s influence on the Telugu people extends beyond singing and cinema.

Two weeks ago, we lost versatile singer and actor S P Balasubrahmanyam (known popularly as SPB or Balu) to COVID-19. Television news channels predictably covered the event in the most nauseating of manners, with no regard for the family’s privacy, and with no commitment to decency whatsoever. Television channels aside, there was an outpouring of grief online. Many social media users tried to recall their favourite SPB songs—but there were too many. SPB was only 75. He had been posting vlogs on YouTube regularly until a week before he had tested positive for COVID-19; he even posted a video message after getting hospitalised. It is so difficult to fathom that only a month later, he is no more.

Five decades of a career in film music, not to mention a successful acting career, along with memorable television stints—SPB meant a lot to all the different film industries in India. But as is known, each film industry in India is a universe in itself. SPB was remembered fondly yet differently in each of these universes. To the Hindi audiences, SPB’s was the mesmerising voice that made a young, early 1990s Salman Khan seem even more handsome (if such a thing was possible). The Tamil and Malayalam audiences remembered him for his long and formidable partnership with the great Ilaiyaraaja, and for the rousing music from the 1980s and 1990s; there seemed to be an SPB–Ilaiyaraaja song for every mood. The Telugu audience grieved too. “Balu” was a Telugu, without a doubt. How would Telugus make sense of his life and his demise? But beyond the platitudes and the media circus was a silent pain, a certain numbness. We must go back to the literary scene in the 1940s, to really understand SPB’s place in Telugu society.

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Updated On : 14th Oct, 2020

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