'Language is a bridge, not a wall'

'Language is a bridge, not a wall'

PBS had revealed his witty side in an interview to Deccan Herald

'Language is a bridge, not a wall'

Unless he is not in town, evenings at ‘Woodlands drive-in’ and later ‘New Woodlands’, the favourite joints of Chennaites, would hardly be complete without the serene presence of P B Sreenivos or PBS as he was known.

“I must be their oldest, youngest customer,” the venerable singer and music composer chuckled with laughter, in the course of a rare interview he gave to Deccan Herald here a few years ago. Witty to the core, he then added, “a joke fails when there is no laughter.” That laughter vanished into eternity on Sunday.

Often seen in the same seat at Woodlands every evening, downing cups of tasty South Indian filter coffee, it was also the locus of his inspiration. Gently stroking his ‘Mysore Turban’ as nimble fingers would play a ‘Veena’, and adjusting his drooping spectacles, PBS would sit there for hours, chat with friends, even while making either copious notes about something in his thick diary or composing one of his innumerable songs in several languages, including Sanskrit.

Going down memory lane, PBS not only spoke of music and the love for it as “divine”, but also saw a robust sense of humour equally at play in the healthy life of humans. “A world sans humour is no world at all,” he quipped in Tamil, even as he recalled with gratitude the people who shaped his career. “I am indebted to G K Venkatesh (late music director) who introduced me to M S Viswanathan (another famous film music composer) and the thespian Rajkumar in Bangalore,” PBS opened up that evening.

It was a concatenation of circumstances that gradually elevated him without which PBS’ musical genius would neither have found expression nor flourished for nearly four decades.

After completing his BCom, as PBS, from his coastal hometown of Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh, set sights on then South Indian film capital, Madras, it was not to his father’s liking. “My father wanted me to be a lawyer. I joined the Law College, but left it after a year. My father then realised that it (Law) was not written on my head,” recalled PBS. By then, PBS had trod to ‘Gemini Studio’ in Chennai, in 1951.

The then ‘durbar musician’ at Gemini, Prof Emani Sankara Shastri Garu, took a liking for PBS and introduced him. That enabled PBS to get a foothold in Gemini. His very first audition song was noteworthy with Naushad setting the score. “Shankar Shastri was most impressed with me, at a time when Mohammed Rafi was the ruling icon those days,” he said.

“But my first break in Hindi cinema came with Mr Sampath in 1951; it was a great opportunity, with haunting female voices of those days, Geetha Roy, Shamshad Begum and Jikki “singing with me duets and triplets,” recalled an excited PBS. Still, his dream was to sing with Latha Mangeshkar.

That dream came true when PBS lent voice for Dharmendra in a duet song that Latha sang for Meena Kumari in the Hindi movie ‘Mein Bhi Ladki Hoon’ (I am also a Woman, the Hindi version of the Tamil film, ‘Naanum Oru Penn’). Latha was held with such great reverence by PBS that he later named his daughter after her.

Southwards, the doors for PBS then opened, when the popular Kannada actor Rajkumar said, “let PBS sing for me”. Thus their journey started with the Rajkumar-starrer ‘Bhakta Kanakadasa’ which was a super-hit film in Kannada, recalled PBS.

“My voice matched amazingly with that of Rajkumar,” said PBS. The rest as they say was history. There was no turning back for this playback singer. “I had the luck of singing for the top-most heroes of those days, even as with God’s grace, I could stand in this field to this extent,” confided PBS. Sreenivos traced his early inspiration to his mother, Seshagiri, who “was a very gifted singer in both classical and light music and played the Veena as well,” he noted.

Learning as many languages as he composed songs and poems in, all “mostly self-taught” as he put it, PBS saw it as a complementary process in expanding his creativity frontiers to include composing ‘ghazals’ too.

“Language is a bridge, not a wall,” he mused, adding, “I must have written some two lakh songs”. Only his diaries and log books should open them for posterity’s sake.
With a sharp eye for histrionics, among the top stars PBS discussed during that interview, he rated J Jayalalithaa as a “very versatile artiste”. Expressing profound grief at his passing away, the AIADMK leader in a message said PBS’ death has left behind a void in the music world that cannot be filled, even as “it is also a great personal loss for me”.

Though no Central awards came his way, PBS was honoured with the ‘Kalaimamani’ award by the Tamil Nadu government and ‘Ganakala Sarvabhouma’ award by the Karnataka government. He was also among others a former advisor to the Tamil Nadu government music schools.

Maestro remembered

He was the most sought after singer for almost two decades between 1955-75. He was the chosen one for veterans like Dr Rajkumar, Nageshwar Rao, NTR, Gemini Ganesan and Prem Nazir. He would go for a rehearsal before singing a song and would sing up to five songs a day.

Dwarakish, producer-director-actor

I met him last Saturday in Chennai to invite him for an event on May 8. We had organised a function to felicitate him and had invited all singers who have been honoured with Padma awards. He had accepted the invitation despite his ill health. He was a great musician. I have lots a friend of 55 years. It is a personal loss to me.

K S L Swamy, director and actor

He had a very emotional voice. I will not forget the way in which he encouraged me to come up in my career. Despite his star value, he mingled with all artistes.

Bharathi Vishnuvardhan, actor

The whole of South India remembers Dr PBS for his rich contribution to the film industry. He had a great voice which nobody could imitate. He was a perfectionist.

Rajan, music director

Dr PBS and I entered film industry around the same time. I share some great moments with him. He was fond of masala dosa.


Sudarshan, actor

He was my music teacher and people of my generation grew up listening to his songs. He had the sweetest voice. He had sung hundreds of philosophical songs in Tamil and a few in Kannada in low tone which touched hearts and emotions.

Hamsalekha, lyricist-music director

Dr P B Srinivos was a great singer and a great human being. He never sold art for money and opposed commercialisation of music.

Velu, Lahari music


DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
GET IT
Comments (+)