SPB, the man who scaled “Sigaram”

-: Ram Murali :-

SP Balasubramaniam (SPB) leaves behind a deluge of memories that threaten to flood the mind for many more days to come. But in a strange way, when artistes pass on, I tend to instinctively zone in one abiding memory that becomes even more indelible. With MSV, it was “Kanaa Kaanum KangaL Mella…” from Agni Saatchi. In the case of Vaali, it has been and will always be, “Ellorum Sollum Paatu” and “Nalam Vaazha” from Marupadiyum. Ever since I heard the news of SPB’s unfortunate demise, my thoughts have been focused on Ananthu’s Sigaram (1991). SPB played the role of a music director in the film, was the music director for the film and sung one of his most soulful numbers, Vannam Konda Vennilavey…To say that he excelled in each of these roles is not just hyperbole in the wake of his death. Rather, it is an honest opinion that I would like to record amidst all the tributes that are overflowing online.

The title Sigaram refers to Damodaran, a highly successful music director. He has a loving wife (the talented Rekha turns in a lovely performance) but his only child (Anand Babu) is an alcoholic. The joys and lows of a successful professional with immense sadness in his personal life, are brought out beautifully by SPB. He imbues every scene and every line with immense warmth and grace. Listen to him confess to his colleague (NizhalgaL Ravi) that his son “is committing the longest suicide.” It is a great line but the tenderness with which SPB utters it is what makes it tug at our heartstrings. In fact, every scene of SPB and Rekha is a delight to behold. SPB’s onscreen persona (from all accounts, his real-life character too) has mostly been that of a genteel, delicate, respectful man. And Sigaram, much like his other celebrated roles, is a showcase for his acting abilities. There is a wonderful little sequence where SPB seeks Rekha’s permission to go to Singapore for a concert. Right from the way he thanks her for giving him coffee, to the mischievous “contraceptive” comment, he plays this scene with endearing artlessness.

Pretty much every aspect of the Vannam Konda Vennilavey… song is remarkable. The context for the song (one that Damodaran composes for a film), the tune and the lyrics are all encapsulated into the first five minutes of the film. But especially poignant are the two scenes where we hear snippets of it later in the film. One is the scene where visually challenged kids visit an ailing Damodaran and sing a few lines for him. It is a very KB-esque moment. (Ananthu was KB’s Man Friday for several decades.) Even more poignant, especially now that SPB has left us, is the sequence where Damodaran returns from Singapore following his wife’s death. The way Ananthu utilizes silence to build up to the cathartic moment where SPB breaks down, is a masterful demonstration of cinematic technique in service of stupendous acting. Sigaram is filled with many such moments, big and small, where the writing, filmmaking and acting are top notch. Not many may have savored these moments, which is why I chose to highlight this film for my tribute.

As I reflect on the innumerable pleasures that SPB the ‘sigaram’ gave me as a singer, actor and composer, two phrases from Vannam Konda Vennilavey… assume added significance now:

Vinniley Paadhai illai…Unnai Thoda AeNi illai…

Rest in peace, Sir. And thank you for the memories.

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@rmurali2012

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