Smt. Pulapaka Susheela (తెలుగు : పులపాక సుశీల), popularly known as P. Susheela (b.1935), is a legendary Indian playback singer associated with the South Indian Cinema for over six decades. She has been recognized by both the Guinness Book of World Records (17,695) and the Asia Book of Records (18,330) for singing most number of songs (solos & duets) in twelve Indian languages.
A voice that enlivened lives – and a recipient of the prestigious “Padma Bhushan” from the Govt of India, “Raghupathi Venkaiah Award” (Govt of Andhra Pradesh) for Lifetime Achievement in Cinema, “Kalaprapoorna Award” (Doctoral Degree by Andhra University for Art & Literature), “Arignar Anna Award”, “Bharathidasan Award”, “Kalaimamani Award” (Govt of Tamil Nadu) for Lifetime Contribution to Tamil Cinema, “Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award” (South), Five (5) National Awards for Best Female Playback and Eleven (11) State or Provincial Awards, “Ramineni Foundation Award” (Art), “Women Achiever Award” (Russian Cultural Center), “Lata Mangeshkar Music Award for Lifetime Achievement” – “Swarnakankana Puraskar” conferred by the Andhra Pradesh State Cultural Council (APSCC), “Sthree Ratna Award” (Chembur Fine Arts Society), “Kamukara Foundation Award” (Malayalam Cinema), Uninor Radio Mirchi Lifetime Achievement Award South, Telugu Fine Arts Society New Jersey – TFASNJ (Indian Culture & Arts) Susheela is widely acclaimed as a singer who defined feminism in South Indian Cinema and is well known for her mellifluous vocal performances for over 40,000 film songs across South Indian languages.
The songs “Paal Polave” from “Uyarndha Manidhan”, “Sonnadhu Nee Thana” (Nenjil Or Aalayam), “Malai Pozhudhin Mayakathile” (Bhagyalakshmi), “Mannavane Azhalama” (Karpagam), “En Uyir Thozhi” (Karnan), “Aalayamaniyin Osai” (Paalum Pazhamum), “Un Azhagai Kanniyargal” (Uthamaputhiran), Brindavanamum Nandakumaranaum (Missamma), “Thottal Poo Malarum” (Padagoti), “Thangathile Oru” (Bhagaprivinai), “Kanavu Kanda Kadhal” (Akbar/Mughal-E-Azam), “Ponmeni Thazhuvamal” (Yaar Nee), “Ninaika Therindha Maname” (Ananda Jyothi), remain popular today in Tamil Nadu.
At the 16th National Film Awards, it won the National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer for P. Susheela, making it the first Tamil film to win a National Award under that category. She was recommended for “Bharat Ratna”, the country’s highest civilian award in the year 2013 by the Governor of Tamil Nadu. Hailed as “Lata of the South”, “Melody Queen”, “Evergreen Nightingale of the South”, “Gana Kokila”, “Gana Saraswathi”, she is also considered one of the rich voiced singers whose pronunciation of the syllables to be more clear and precise in any of the languages she sang. In a career spanning more than six decades, she has recorded numerous songs in various Indian languages including Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi, Bengali, Oriya, Sanskrit, Tulu, Badaga & Sinhalese films.
“Susheela” – The very name would evoke memories of many a number rendered in her rich, reverberating and resonant voice to the fans of South Indian movies, be it Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada or even Sinhalese. With her mellifluous voice she has breathed life into thousands of lyrics, bringing out the right emotion lying under each word and making the song waft straight into the listener’s heart.
It was in 1950 that she rendered her first female duet – “Jaya Jaya Sri Maalva Raja Kulamani” – with A.V. Saraswathi for the Telugu film “Adhrushta Deepudu” (1950 – HMV/Columbia N28781) under music director Adhepalli Rama Rao & in “Sri Lakshmamma Katha” (1950 – A Short Verse) for the legendary C. R. Subburaman. ‘Petra Thaai’ was being made in 1952 in Tamil (“Kanna Thalli” in Telugu) with A. Nageswara Rao and G. Varalakshmi in lead roles. Susheela sang her first duet with A. M. Raja – ‘Edhukku Azhaithaai’ for the movie. The songs that she sung in ‘Kanavane Kan Kanda Dheivam’ (1955) brought her the popularity & accolades that she so well deserved. Especially songs like ‘Endhan Ullam Thulli Vilyaaduvadhum” (Pictured on Lalitha – Travancore Sisters Ensemble),’ ‘Unnaik Kan Thedudhe’ brought out her talent for rendition. Then came ‘Missiamma’ in the same year. Susheela became very popular with ‘Brindha Vanamum Nandha Kumaranum’ and ‘Ariyaa Paruvamada’ set to Carnatic Raga Karaharapriya. Creating a vast repertoire, her name soon spread in the Southern Celluloid and became the most sought after vocal artist over the next six (6) decades, earning a special place in the hearts of the elite and the masses.
It was a time when several other women had established their talents already and were reigning supreme – like P. Leela who started her career in 1948; Jikki who allured the audience with her lilting voice; the Carnatic music genius M. L. Vasanthakumari; P. A. Periyanaayagi, actress and singer; Jamuna Rani, A. P. Komala; R. Balasaraswati, Sulamangalam Rajalakshmi and Jayalakshmi, K. Rani, A. Rathnamala, S. J. Kantha among others. Each had a unique and distinct character and quality and had a large number of admirers. Smt. P. Susheela made her entry when so many singers were displaying their talents and were very popular. But her entry in 1950 outshone others and soon pushed all of them to the background. Right from 1952 there was not a single movie – for a very very long time – that did not have a song in her voice. Her career was at its best in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Whoever be the music director, whoever be the lyricist, whoever be the co-singer, the song became popular with her finesse. Her popularity among the masses was just unprecedented in the annals of Tamil & Telugu cinema.
Smt. P. Susheela is recognized as one of the greatest stars the world of south indian cinema has ever known and she has always had a high profile with a metrical stability in all of her renderings. She was an artist who scaled the heights and achieved a greatness that is only now coming to be fully appreciated. Her repertoire spans extensive recordings in all the major south Indian languages and are representative of the neglected audiography that she revived in the mind of the listener, that sense of wonder that was so central to the aesthetics of the various periods .
To the music of G Ramanathan, S V Venkatraman, C R Subburaman, S Rajeshwara Rao, Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao, Pendyala Nageswara Rao, Chalapathi Rao, S P Kodandapani, and Susarla Dakshinamoorthy, Smt. Susheela brings vocal qualities of both romantic beauty and passionate fervour. Smt. Susheela was identified with the roles of heroines, which she sang shyly introducing herself to the poetic artistry of those early times.
On her colloboration with composers K V Mahadevan, Viswanathan-Ramamurthy, Devarajan, Rajan Nagendra, Vijayabhaskar, Upendra Kumar, V Dakshinamurthy, G K Venkatesh and later M S Viswanathan, her vocalize presents a well a rounded and totally convincing picture of Kannadasan’s immortal libretto’s, has been singled out as one of the finest gramophone achievements of all time. She performed the Marudhakasi/Kannadasan/Vaali’s repertoire to great effect in the recording studio and on the celluloid.
Her hypnotic ambient and silkily beautiful voice and the structure mirroring the character’s inner turmoil in V Kumar/Shanker-Ganesh/Ilaiyraaja/Bappi Lahiri/A R Rahman compositions also proved an endless stimulus and source of inspiration for them , who enjoyed exploiting the descriptive possibilities of Smt. Susheela’s art making her the only communicative recitalist of our times. As well as comfortably encompassing the entire soprano range, Smt. Susheela’s voice in its distinctive lower and higher register was rich and powerful, enabling her convincingly to perform music written for other sopranos for she took great pains over their production and treated them as her own, in order to ensure their success, and also to ensure that the performances were faithful to the score. Her vocal lines is always rich in coloratura passages, serve as true representations of nature, but serve as metaphors to express the passions and sufferings of human characters.
Smt. Susheela can create a sense of turbulence which can break out directly in an aria or that determines the constant state of agitation. She does that so well by means of musical figurations which exploit every word in the literary text and exalt its dramatic meaning or by means of chromaticism and an almost unbroken line of semiquavers or add further pathos to a song whose slow progress expresses the burden of real tragedy. Smt. Susheela’s reputation nowadays rests firmly on her renderings. In all her repertoire, both the composer and the mezzo can be seen to share the same ideas in their creative development, and their aims, the rediscovery of the true function of music. Her voice could be called as Rolls Royce and in particular when she unleashes it at full throttle, a continued high quality performance. But whenever she rendered a song, her limpid phrases and sumptuous timbre melted hearts of stone for sure.
This site will feature the numerous Rare Unheard Masterpieces, Immortal Melodies, Duets & Solos of the Evergreen Southern Nightingale Pulapaka Susheela (P Susheela) and her Playback Journey in the Indian Celluloid spanning over Six Decades.