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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. Susheela.

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 stations.

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 lovers.

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 direction.

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 Kannada.

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 Association.

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.''

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