Lata Mangeshkar can’t believe one of her favourite co-singers, S P Balasubramaniam is no more. “I was given to understand SP Balaji was recovering from COVID-19. All of a sudden, I heard he is no more. I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was another one of those fake-death rumours that keep surfacing about everyone including me. Unfortunately, this rumour was true. I am still in a state of disbelief,” she said, while speaking about the legendary singer’s untimely passing.
Lataji remembers singing with SPB for the first time in 1981. “The film was Ek Duuje Ke Liye. It was a cross-cultural love story. I sang for the Punjabi girl and Balaji sang for the Tamil boy played by Rati Agnihotri and Kamal Haasan. We recorded a large number of songs for composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal and all of them became big hits,” she recalled. Lataji added, “In one of the duets Hum bane tum bane ek duuje ke liye Balaji had to say, “I don’t what you say” to my Hindi singing. He made those simple words sound so playful and profound. Then came the chartbusters in Maine Pyar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain Koun. Every song in these two films was a superhit and they were all sung by Balaji.”
Which of the hits in the above films were most memorable to sing? She said, “Tere mere beech main kaisa hei yeh bandhan anjaana in Ek Duuje Ke Liye, Tu chal main ayee in Maine Pyar Kiya and Diditera devar deewana in Hum…Aapke Hain Koun were great fun to record. And listeners enjoyed them just as much. The thing about Balaji was that he brought his own special flavor and energy to every song he sang. In that sense he was like Kishoreda (Kumar). I remember he would take all of us all by surprise by adding something unexpected into a song… an exclamation an interjection… he always had some surprises up his sleeve during recordings.”
Lataji didn’t meet SPB much outside the recording studio. “But he did come home not so long ago. He had brought a gift for me. I was deeply touched. Balaji belongs among the great co-singers I had the opportunity to sing with like Mukesh, Mohd Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey and S P Balasubramaniamji. He always brought something special to our songs together. Though he was born in Tamil Nadu, he was equally proficient in Telugu and Hindi. I consider Balaji a true artiste. When he sang the world stood still and listened.”