S. P. Balasubramaniam looked a bit groggy as he stepped out of an early morning flight. Hands akimbo he waited for his luggage, posed for photographs with a few youngsters and slowly lumbered his way to the waiting car outside.
“The flight was okay. For me business or any other class is all about the size of the seat,” he says with a laugh. “Very often I ask them to give me the adjacent seat, if it is free.”
Has he always been like ‘this’?
“No. As a child I was skinny, almost malnourished. Putting on weight was because of the lifestyle. Not eating on time and then junk food perhaps.” But a ‘pucca’ vegetarian and junk food? “Anything not cooked at home is junk food for me. In Chennai and Hyderabad it is fine. I get home cooked food. But in Bangalore and other places it is hotel food, the same rotis, curries and all. I try and stick to one hotel wherever I go; at least you have the consolation of having regular, familiar, junk food…” followed by that hearty laughter.
“I remember Naushad saab telling me about Mohammed Rafi saab. The singer once complained of pain in the knees. Naushad saab asked him to cut down on his weight and try out some exercises like playing badminton regularly. In fact, I remember how meticulous Naushad saab was with his daily walk even when he was well past eighty. I think this holds good to me.” Does he really try some sort of workout? “No. I have never tried anything. Call it sheer laziness. I used to be quite agile despite the weight, but of late I become breathless when I take a flight of steps. I think I must get working on my fitness.”
SPB’s talk veers towards Mohammed Rafi. “I met Rafi saab only once. It was at Prasad studio where he was recording and I was also there at the same time. I was recording for Ilayaraja and as soon as I completed a song ran to where Rafi saab was singing. They were having a break. I rushed in touched his feet and literally ran back. I was told Rafi saab asked those at the studio who that young man was. That was the only meeting with the great man.” Among his many ‘avatars’ one that is quite surprising is that of a dubbing artiste.
“Dubbing happened by chance. You could say I was trapped. The pooja for the film Manmadha Leelalu was on and I went there. Even before this the people involved in the film had sounded me on this possibility but I had politely refused asking them to give me songs instead.
At the pooja they were running a scene and they asked me read out a dialogue, which I did. At the end of it the people gathered clapped, patted my back and said my voice was recorded. They also told me that I could not go back now and had to do the whole film. Gradually, I began enjoying this.”
SPB has been the Telugu voice for Kamal Hassan, with Dasavatharam being the biggest challenge. “Except for the three characters that speak English I have dubbed for the rest, including the female voice. I have often asked Kamal why he does not go with his voice for the dubbed versions when he does it for the original Telugu films. His reply was why should he do it when he had my voice to do it.”
SPB has dubbed for stars like Mohanlal, Bhagyaraj, Salman Khan, Gemini Ganesan, Nagesh, Nagarjuna, Girish Karnad and for Ben Kingsley in the dubbed version of Gandhi.
“I have just done the dubbing for Anil Kapoor in Slumdog Millionaire.”