Memories of Yesteryear (2): P.B. Sreenivas (1930-2013)
Early last week when my spouse turned from the computer to give me the sad news of the veteran play back singer P.B. Sreenivas (PBS)passing away, the news didn’t hit me at that time until 48 hours later as I was listening to PBS songs as usual.
As a fan of Tamil movie melodies PBS’s soothing voice has been in the background of my growing up big time!
Baby-boomer generation of children, born between 1946 -1964 from the Indian sub-continent are accustomed to listen to songs on the short- wave radio, from a “tea-kadai” or barber saloon on their way to school unless the family was privileged enough to own a LP record player or the good old big armed His Masters Voice gramophone. This was the pre-era of audio tapes, compact discs, MP3 or MP4. Baby -boomers of that era from Jaffna heavily relied on the commercial services of the Radio Ceylon (now SLBC) and Trichy, Chennai and Vivitha Bharathi radio stations from South India for their daily dose of melodious entertainment.
Kaatru Veliyidal Kannamma – Kappallotiya Tamizhan
As I vividly remember, my childhood memories are associated with music blaring from my grandmother’s radio while I played with my cousins and neighbourhood children in the front yard at Chundikuli, Jaffna. This was the time I heard many Tamil cinema songs sub-consciously and the lyrics particularly from ‘kaviyarasu kannadasan’s songs are glued to date in my mind. The very first PBS song etched in my mind of is “ninapathellam ”(நினைப்பதெல்லாம் நடந்துவிட்டால்) where PBS rendered his voice to the then young Muthuraaman in ‘Nenjil-ore -alayam’ (நெஞ்சில் ஓர் ஆலயம்). I vaguely remember that it was my first ever Tamil movie which I saw on the screen.
Later on as a teenager, I was captivated by Srineevas’ gentle peaceful voice and he still remains my most favourite singer to date. In the Nineteen Seventies, Radio Ceylon had a segment broadcast in the mid-afternoons called “makalir ketavai” (மகளிர் கேட்டவை – Ladies choice) and most of the time it was dominated by PBS melodies and to a lesser extent with AM Rajah’s voice was indicative of the fact that the gentle soothing voice of PBS has been a grand choice among women. I also recollect that my late father remarked that how come Radio Ceylon does not include a segment for “magankal kaetavai” (மகன்கள் கேட்டவை-choice for men) and if so it would be blasting away with Shivaji & MGR movie melodies!
To top it up my spouse also had a soft corner for PBS melodies for the music of Visvanathan-Ramamoothy duo. As Diaspora where the Tamil radio waves were out of our range, we heavily relied on the audiotapes and it was no surprise those PBS movie melodies became the selection of the household most of the time. It turned out that our first ever investment for a compact disc player had been for his melodies in the early nineties. It was also noticeable that sub consciously we also had passed our taste on to our child when she was a toddler. Whenever we played the CD she had repeatedly wanted to listen to “visvanathan velai vendum” which she coined in her babble as ‘Vishhhvanatha song’!
“visvanathan velai vendum”
P.B.Srinivas or Sreenivas or Srinivos is fondly known as PBS was born in 1930 in East Godavari district of Andra Pradesh as Prathivathi Bhayankara Sreenivas (பிரதிவாதி பயங்கர ஸ்ரீநிவாஸ்). His singing career started at the age of 22 when he was debuted in 1951 for a Hindi film Mr. Sampat but his voice became popular after his performance in Premapasam (Hindi 1952). The young commerce graduate was introduced to the Tamil audience in 1953 in ‘Jaathakam ‘
The octolinguist was fluent in Kannada, Malayalam,Tamil, Telugu, English, Hindi , Sanskrit and Urdu and became a popular multi lingual singer in Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam& Hindi.
Tamil play back singer
After his initial career in the early fifties he slowly made the mark among the Tamil audience in the early sixties. His gentle singing voice was predominantly associated with actor Gemini Ganeshan and he was slowly replacing AM Rajah’s place for Gemini. He has also delivered his voice to actors Ravichandran, Muthuraman & Jaishankar. PBS also had rendered his voice for Shivaji Ganeshan and MGR but those songs were in a minority. He has sung with most of the female leading singers P.Bhanumathi, LR Easwari, Jamunarani, S. Janaki, Jikki, P susheela and also with his peers AM Rajah and TM Savundrarajan.
PBS has sung under many music directors including G. Ramanathan, MS Srinivasan and MSViswanathan – TK Ramamoorthi duo. The MSV- TKR duo were dubbed as ‘mellisai mannarkal ‘ (kings of light music ) by Shivaji Ganeshan and they worked together for over a decade (1952- 1965) for 700 melodies. The duo also shaped PBS’s career very much.
To top it up Kaviyarasu Kannnadasan’s lyrics were an added bonus for the audience too. The music directors and the lyricist used PBS and TM Savundrarajan, for many songs and you could clearly see the two styles running parallel – one gentle and the other with vibrant music and this of course was based on the trend of actors too such as Shivjaji, MGR and then Gemini, Muthuraman and Ravichandran.
Tamil fans would popularly remember his song ‘kaalangalil aval vasantham’ (காலங்களில் அவள் வசந்தம்) in the movie ‘Paavamannipu (1961). This is still a favourite after half a century not only among listeners from south India but also in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore.
This was one of the success stories of Kannadasan – MSV-TKR & PBS.
Then there was the box office comedy hit of CV Sridhar ‘s ‘kaathalikka Neramillai” (no time for romancing) which also carried many popular songs of PBS. The movie Sumaithaanki gave birth to a philosophical song namely “ mayakkama kalakkama” which always cheer up anyone.
While PBS was in his peak the MSV- TKR split may have had the impact on his career. His popularity rendering his voice to Kannada actors also robbed him from the Tamil fans. This also gave way to the newcomers like SPBalsubramaniam, KJ Jesudas and the likes. PBS made a comeback in 1979 in the movie ‘kadavul amaithu vaitha medai ‘under Illayarajah’s music and for vali’s lyrics and rendering his voice for Sivakumar. The song “ thenralae nee pesu” became popular but failed to secure chances for him . His last song ever recorded for a movie was in 2010 at the age of 79 for a Tamil movie “aayirathil oruvan”.
The veteran playback singer has sung nearly 3000 songs for Indian cinematic world. He has also sung Telugu Ghazals, sthothiram, subrapadam and some Christian songs. His play back singing was mostly for the Kannada Industry where he has rendered his voice to actors Rajkumar & Vishnuvardan. His voice gave an identity to Rajkumar and the duo was mightily popular in Kannada cinematic world.
Netru varai nee yaro
Generally the celebrity statues changes oneself but for PBS he was most admired for his humility and simplicity, a hard currency among the film world. He believed to carry many pens with him and write poetry then and there to sing on stages. Initial snapshots of PBS were somewhat in western suite and then he has moved on to his clanic hat and a shawl and the trade mark long red pottu.
He passed away early this month on 14th at Chennai aged 82. He is survived by his 3 children and his wife.
PB Srinivas will be fondly remembered for his soft gentle evergreen melodies by his fans forever.