Do You Know SPB Was Not The First Choice For Sankarabharanam?!

 - Sakshi Post

Sankarabharanam was arguably among the best Indian films themed on classical music, written and directed by K Viswanath. The film not only won the hearts of filmgoers but even earned critical acclaim across the globe. It remains as one of the best classics produced by Tollywood. JV Somayajulu, Manju Bhargavi, Chandramohan and Rajyalakshmi lived in their roles. KV Mahadevan composed music for Sankarabharanam.

More than anyone, the film will have a special mention in the life and career of legendary singer SP Balasubrahmanyam, who incidentally sang all the songs in the film. SPB got international recognition with the film besides receiving his first National Award for Best Male Playback Singer for his brilliant work. But here is the trivia that not many would have known or remember till this date -- that he was not the first, automatic choice for the film. Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna, the doyen of Carnatic music, was the originally thought-about choice to render his voice and do justice to the complex classical compositions.

But for some reason, Balamuralikrishna was not inclined to sing for Sankarabharanam even after knowing that the story of the film is completely based on Indian classical music. But at the same time, he did not reject the offer too. While he was dithering in his decision, the director and music director realised after sometime that this could jeopardise their plans of completing the project in time. Then, they came with this decision that had eventually turned out to be a masterstroke; they decided to train SP Balu, already renowned as a naturally gifted talent, in the finest nuances of classical music. As SPB himself acknowledged from public platforms several times, he was never trained in classical music till then. Despite his own inhibitions to shoulder such enormous task, he was convinced by KV Mahadevan and his assistant Puhalendi. SP Balu's natural ability to grasp things like no one else can and Puhalendi's persevered tutelage ensured that SPB emerged as a well-refined jem after a two-month-long rigorous training.

And the rest was history as all the songs of Sankarabharam became unbelievable hits and the film was acclaimed as one of the best Indian classics themed on traditional music. But with name and fame from the film, SPB also had to gulp down a few bitter experiences, all coming from his idol Balamuralikrishna. Balamuralikrishna was very angry with SPB and openly chastised him and the makers of the film for what he felt 'pollution of sacred Indian classical music by making a 'novice' sing those songs'. Given the amount of worldwide attention he got for these songs, SPB could have easily become arrogant and snubbed these remarks. But he chose humility over audacity. 

Displaying a pure and uncanny approach in respecting musical stalwarts, he said he would take them as Balamuralikrishna's blessings for him and try to hone his skills further. What's more, he even termed Balamuralikrishna as his 'father in the world of music.' He did not stop at that and kept speaking highly of the carnatic singing legend at every given opportunity, with a sense of great positivity. Even when journalists kept probing him about what he really felt inside his heart over this incident, he always maintained that he was a 'minnow' in front of a mountain called Balamuralikrishna and always said that he never deserved to sing Sankarabharanam songs and he only got the chance by sheer luck. More significantly, SP Balu also made headlines for famously announcing that, once he retired from playback singing, he would like to serve Balamuralikrishna as his disciple and learn the rudiments of carnatic music.

As time passed by, all the wounds inflicted by the Sankarabharanam snub were seemingly healed. And one could see Balamuralikrishna himself embracing Balasubrahmanyam as his 'most loved disciple'. One cannot discount the relentless efforts made by SPB before this to meet his 'father-figure' regularly and win over his affection in due course of time.

The best moment for Balasubrahmanyam to feel relieved or happy in this entire episode came when Mangalampalli himself paid the ultimate compliment to SPB. This came during one of the grand finales of the reality show that Balu hosted for many years. Gracing the televised singing competition as the chief guest, Balamuralikrishna stunned the world when he said: "The world has seen the best of both Balamuralikrishna and Balasubrahmanyam. My son and my most favourite disciple Balasubrahmanyam has grown in stature by leaps and bounds. Today, Balu can sing like Balamuralikrishna. But Balamuralikrishna can never sing like Balu..."

All that SP Balasubrahmanyam could react in gratitude to this generous compliment was to prostrate before Balamuralikrishna and pay obeisance to him with tears in his eyes..!

Coming back to Sankarabharanam, the film had a 365-day run at Royal theatre in Hyderabad. Quite a remarkable feat for a film that opened to almost empty halls in many places before the word of mouth positive talk made people flock to the theatres. Sankarabharanam won the Prize of the Public Award at the Besancon Film Festival of France in 1981. The film was also screened at the 8th International Film Festival of India, the Tashkent Film Festival, the Asia Pacific Film Festival, the Moscow International Film Festival held in May 1980 and many more.

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