A voice evergreen in its appeal
From: The Hindu, Date: 06-09-1996
She has sung so many songs that she has lost track of
the number. The titles and awards recieved by her are
countless, but the golden voiced singer is humility
personified. Lakshmi Sundaram draws a profile of P.
P. Susheela after a brief gap has rendered a song
composed by A. R. Rahman for the Tamil movie ``Indian.''
The voice still sounds so sweet that even today film
music lovers are thrilled to hear her voice. Susheela's
career spanning a period of three to four decades is a
very satisfying one to the artiste.
Known as the Lata Mangeshkar of the South, Susheela who
herself has great admiration and respect for Lata and
Asha Bhonsle, strikes you as a person who is modesty and
humility personified, who has probably sung thousands of
songs and cannot recall the exact number. Till a few
years back she was the uncrowned queen in film playback
singing in the South.
``Music is God's gift to me. Mine is a music family but
I am the first to sing'' says Susheela. Born in
Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh, she is the daughter of
Sheshavatataram and Mukund Rao, a leading criminal
lawyer of his time.
She studied classical music in Maharaja's Music College,
Vizianagaram under the principalship of the famous
violinist Dwaram Venkatasamy Naidu. With a first class
diploma, Susheela went to Madras for higher studies in
music in the Music Academy under the principalship of
Musiri Subramania Iyer. She started giving classical
music performances in public and also through All India
Radio, Madras, Vijayawada, Bangalore and Hyderabad
Susheela, always fascinated by film music, was thrilled
when she was called to record a song for a film.
It was a Telugu movie ``Kannatalli'' and in Tamil her
first playback was for ``Petra Thai'' were she sung with
A.M. Raja under the direction of Pendyala Nageswara Rao.
Her melodious voice caught the attention of other music
directors and she became a much sought after playback
singer. There was no Tamil movie without songs by her.
Susheela has sung for all the South Indian language
films. Her songs in movies like ``Pava Manippu,''
``Palum Pazhamum,'' ``Parthal Pasitheerum,'' ``Uthama
Puthiran,'' etc. still remain favourites of film music
She sang effortlessly and with comprehension and while
singing brought out the depth of the lyrics. Susheela's
was never a strained singing. While recording in film
studios, recording theatre or while giving public
performances of light music concerts, Susheela was
composed, calm, totally devoid of gimmicks or
mannerisms. In this she is very much like Lata
Mangeshkar who is a picture of composure and dignity.
Susheela has sung a lot of songs under the music
direction of composers Viswanathan-Ramamurthi, and has
rendered the maximum of songs with T. M. Soundararajan.
As Susheela talks she goes back to those days when the
lyrical beauty of the songs captivated the audience.
``Who can forget the lyrics of the great Kannadasan''
she remarks. She is perturbed at the sex and violence in
present day films and feels music is also going in that
She strongly objects to vulgarity in lyrics. She feels
``music is now too much noise and gimmicks'' and sadly
remarks ``a playback singer of my calibre may not be
able to sing such songs'' and so these days one rarely
hears a Susheela song in a movie but as she explains ``I
have not bid adieu to film playback.
Even now if any of the present day music directors want
me to record a song for a movie, I am willing but it
should be a song with meaning and melody.'' Like the
song ``Kannukku Mai Azhagu'' in ``Puthiya Mugam.'' The
song so melodiously sung comes across as a whiff of
fresh air and the picturisation is also good. It fetched
a golden disc award to Susheela. She looks on her career
with satisfaction. She has worked with music directors
Subbiah Naidu, G. Ramanathan, K. V. Mahadevan,
Viswanathan-Ramamurthi, Devarajan, Raghavan Master,
Babu, Dakshinamurthi, in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and
She is the recipient of the National Award for female
playback singer in 1969, 1971, 1977, 1983, 1984 and has
also bagged the Tamil Nadu State Award, the Kerala State
Government Award and from her home State Andhra Pradesh
she has won the Best Playback Artiste Award given by the
Madras Film Fans Associations and during the
Indo-Pakistan war she entertained the jawans at the war
front. The Government of Tamil Nadu has honoured her
with the title of ``Kalaimamani'' and again in the year
1991 she won the Tamil Nadu State Government Award as
best playback artiste for 1990-91. In August 1992
Susheela was conferred the honorary Doctorate at
Washington, U.S. by the North American Alumni
Susheela has lost track of the titles, awards and
honours bestowed on her in her career. Married to Dr.
Mohan Rao, who has kept himself away from the limelight
of his wife's career, but has been very supportive to
her. Susheela is grateful to him for providing a
congenial domestic harmony and environment so that her
music career flourished. She has one son.
``Cinema as a medium of entertainment should be
wholesome and so should music'' Susheela feels. The film
industry is manipulating the audience saying it is
giving the audience what they desire. It is not so. If
the film makers give sound entertainment with melodious
music, the audience will definitely appreciate it. Film
makers with an eye on commercial compulsions are
exploiting the audience, remarks Susheela.
Susheela who is deeply interested in classical music
says ``M. S. Subbalakshmi is the ultimate in music. She
is Sangeetha Saraswathi and M. S. Subbalakshmi has done
a great service to humanity through her music.''
Susheela is now turning more and more to devotional
music and has recorded quite a few cassettes.
People who heard her in the 50's feel no difference when
they heard her it ``Pudia Mugam'' and ``Indian.''