'The thing about Balaji was that he brought his own special flavour and energy to every song he sang. In that sense, he was like Kishoreda.'
Lata Mangeshkar cannot believe that one of her favourite co-singers S P Balasubrahmanyam has passed away.
"I was given to understand Balaji was recovering from covid. All of a sudden, I heard he is no more. I couldn't believe it," she tells Subhash K Jha.
"I thought it was another 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."
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 (played by Rati Agnihotri) and Balaji sang for the Tamil boy (played by Kamal Haasan)."
"We recorded a large number of songs for composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal, and all of them became big hits. In one of the duets, Hum Bane Tum Bane Ek Duuje Ke Liye, Balaji had to say, 'I don't what you say'm 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 all sung by Balaji."
Which of the hits in the above films were most memorable to sing?
"Tere Mere Beech Main Kaisa Hei Yeh Bandhan in Ek Duuje Ke Liye, Tu Chal Main Ayee in Maine Pyar Kiya and Didi Tera Devar Deewana in Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! were great fun to record," she says.
"Listeners enjoyed it just as much. The thing about Balaji was that he brought his own special flavour 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."
Lataiji and SPB also performed at live concerts together.
"We've sung together on stage at live concerts in Hong Kong and Malaysia. He was always a favourite at live concerts. There would be cries of 'Once More' from the audience after our duets. He was a wonderful human being and that reflected in his singing," she says.
Lataji did not 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," she says.
"Balaji belongs among the great co-singers I had the opportunity to sing with, like Mukesh, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey. He always brought something special to our songs together."
"Though he was born in Andhra Pradesh, he was equally proficient in Telugu and Hindi. I consider Balaji a true artiste. When he sang, the world stood still and listened."