Music

Honour for a melody queen

Print edition : April 29, 2016

P. SUSHEELA, the melody queen of south Indian films, whose illustrious career spanned several decades and was marked by five National Awards and a dozen Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh State awards, besides the Padma Bhushan in 2008, has now been honoured with an entry in the Guinness World Records.

The Guinness adjudicators have recognised the singer, now 80, as the world record holder for having sung 17,695 solo, duet and chorus-backed numbers in 12 Indian languages, including Tamil and Telugu, since 1960. The Asia Book of Records has also recognised her stupendous feat by awarding her a certificate and a badge for singing the most number of single studio recordings. “My heart is in music,” she said while reacting to the honour from the London-based Guinness World Records.

Susheela thanked everyone who had helped make her career an illustrious one. A handful of her fans and well-wishers had set up psusheela.org and submitted a detailed catalogue of her numbers to the Guinness World Records organisation, which verified the same in January and bestowed the honour on her. The Guinness World Records in 2011 featured Asha Bhosle for singing 11,000 solos, duets and chorus-supported songs in over a dozen Indian languages.

Hailing from a music family in Andhra Pradesh, Susheela, who was born in 1935 in Vizianagaram, completed a diploma in music in the Maharaja Music College there and honed her skills under the musicians Subramaniya Iyer and S. Rajeswara Rao. She was singing songs in All India Radio when the noted music director Pendyala Nageswara Rao spotted her talent and introduced her in 1952 in a Telugu film called Kanna Talli, which was also made in Tamil as Petra Thai. She sang a duet with playback singer A.M. Raja for the film.

From then on it was an ever-growing career graph for her. She sang thousands of songs in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi and other Indian languages. The Tamil film Kanavane Kankanda Deivam in 1955 and Missiamma in the same year catapulted her into instant fame, though she had to face stiff competition from singing stalwarts of her time such as P. Leela, Jikki, M.L. Vasanthakumari, A.P. Komala and Sulamangalam Rajalakshmi, among others.

Her distinct and mellifluous rendition laced with impeccable phonetic clarity of the language made her stand out even among the distinguished.

The era between the 1960s and the 1980s was witness to the emergence of melodies with beautiful lyrical content in Tamil cinema, and Susheela found herself fitting perfectly into the setting. Not a single movie in Tamil and other south Indian languages then could ever be complete without her golden renditions.

She sang several timeless classics for music directors such as K.V. Mahadevan and Viswanathan-Ramamurthy and with singers such as T.M. Soundararajan, A.M. Raja and P.B. Srinivas, mesmerising music lovers.

She and the noted singer S.P. Balasubramaniam sang 1,336 duets, the pair that sang the most number of duets.

She was active as a film singer until the year 2000, after which she shifted to non-film numbers such as devotional songs. “If asked, I can sing even now,” the veteran says with a smile. Hers has been the hauntingly mellifluous voice for more than half a century now.

It was the Tamil poet and lyricist Vairamuthu who wrote a fitting accolade to her in his book Intha Kulathil Kal Erinthavargal (Those who threw stones in this pond), where he says that he worships “Susheela Amma”.

“If death comes to embrace me, I will ask people to play a melody of Susheela and leave with the door shut. Before I die I want to live again,” the poet immortalised her thus.

Ilangovan Rajasekaran

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