S.P.B Charan
Interviewer : Daya Kingston | Camera : Balaji | Coordination : Venkatesh | Text : Daya Kingston
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S.P.B Charan wears many hats, singer actor and producer. As he gets ready for the release of Va-Quarter Cutting where he has a fun character, we catch up with him.

Did you become a singer because of your father’s influence?

No, actually I was far away from the industry. I did my B.B.A in Marketing in the U.S. and came back planning to start an ad agency and ad production. One day I had randomly gone to dad’s recording. Ilayaraja Sir saw me and said why you are waiting for a good day to start singing, start today. Then I sang the first song. After that, word spread that S.P.B.’s son is singing. It was not a designed entry.

What was the first song like?

I don’t even know what the first song was like. It was supposed to be a duet between S.P.B. and Ilayaraja for a movie called Puniyavathi. There were lot of chorus bits and a few lines that were isolated. He made me sing those lines.

How do you live up to comparisons when you are SPB’s son?

I don’t know if I have lived up to it. I have got some good numbers. The comparison is always there. Many have told me that my voice sounds like dad’s when he was younger. I have my own hits, so I have done justice.

Many have told me that my voice

sounds like dad’s when he was


Which are your favorite songs?

Luckily most of the songs I have sung are melody numbers. The Telugu numbers I have sung for Keeravani Sir, Mani Sharma, Devi Shree Prasad for Mazhai, A.R.Rahman sir, Ilayaraja sir, it’s hard to pick one or two as I have not sung thousands of numbers. O Shanthi from Vaaranam Aayiram is one of my favorites, songs from Alaipayuthey, Mazhai and a few Telugu films too.

How is it working with different music directors and their styles?

Not much of a difference, just get in front of the mike and start singing. That’s basically what our job is, only thing varies is the kind of motivation. Ilayaraja sir is strict in few things. Rahman is not like that, he just says you keep singing however you feel. He collects all the tracks and you don’t know how it will eventually take shape. For Ilayaraja sir, the track is set, so you can sing and listen to it then and there and know this is how the song will be. He is strict about pitching and improvisation. Rahman gives you the liberty to sing however you want.

How was it singing in Mazhai for Devi Sri Prasad?

Devi is pretty cool. I sang one song in the recording studio and one in his bedroom, he’s that cool. We are very good friends, he lets me do what I want, I give him suggestions and I try that with the song and vice versa. All music directors are pretty casual. Technology is there so they have a laidback attitude to music. You can take your time to sing a song. It’s not like there is a whole orchestra waiting for the singer the way things were before and you had to record in a stipulated period of time.

Almost all my songs are melodies

but I like to do the peppy ones

What kind of songs do you personally like to sing?

Almost all my songs are melodies but I like to do the peppy ones. There are some in Telugu that have become hits and I would like to perform them onstage. Those are more upbeat ones and get the audience going.

Have you had formal training in music?

No, unfortunately not.

Did you find that as a disadvantage?

If you know the ragas, it’s very easy to pick up a tune. I can pick up a tune well but still if you know music it’s faster and better.

How was it recording for the ‘Om Shanti Om’ song?

Nobody was there when I was mixing the song. I went there and there was a problem with the lyric, so I ended up doing it the following week. Gautham and the lyric writer was not there, it was just me and Harris. He has got this amazing studio, a really small voice booth but with amazing lighting that set the mood for this song. He asked me to do what I liked and I think he liked what I gave him.

After singing how is it that you got into acting?

I suddenly got a call from K. Balachander’s office, Min Bimbangal. They wanted some guy for the serial Oonjal and they wanted someone who knew music. I said yes, went for the audition and got picked. It was not a conscious thing to move on to acting. I took the opportunity and people appreciated it.

Does your father help you with singing?

I never had any formal training and with my dad its only post-mortem. He listens to the songs and tells me you could have done it better. He makes suggestions in the tuning like you should have concentrated in this place, things like that. I take all those pointers because when I am singing, I have to be conscious about my tuning so that it turns out well because dad is going to eventually hear it and tell me if its good or not. He has been happy so far.

Which is your favorite role of the ones you did?

I have not done 25 to 30 movies so it’s easy to pick. The baddie I did in Unnai Charan Adainthen, Saroja’s role and Quarter Cutting that is coming out for Diwali. I am looking forward to it; I think I have done a good job.

What’s your role in Va-Quarter Cutting?

It’s a supporting character for hero Shiva as his would-be brother-in-law. This guy is supposed to be responsible and Shiva tries to impress him that he is the right match for his sister.

What got you interested in production?

I always wanted to get into ad film making. I had digressed into singing and acting. While doing Oonjal, a friend of mine Samudrakani narrated a story to me and I really liked it and wanted to produce it. It was a very small budget movie to start off and the artistes were just Venkat Prabhu and me. I told dad and he liked the script and asked me to go ahead.

What made you chose Mazhai?

Time. I have gotten into cinema to do good cinema. I don’t think there was anything wrong with Mazhai but it was beyond my capacity. Unnai Charan Adainthen was finished in one crore but though people said it was a good movie, I made a loss. I thought that to recover everything I should do a big film. I bought the rights for the film from Telugu. I approached Ravi and Shriya and they liked the film, we thought it would be successful but unfortunately it was not. But its about picking scripts, I want variety in my productions.

What made you pick up that script of Chennai 600 028?

So far I have done movies that no-one else had done except Mazhai, a common commercial cinema. Unnai Charan Adainthen was a script based film about a thick friendship, there are a few movies, but here its how the friendship affects the woman, a love triangle within the friendship which was never exposed in cinema before.

Chennai 600028’s concept was about our lives, how we played cricket on the grounds and streets. It was packaged very well by Venkat Prabhu. He gave me the script and asked me to get it directed by someone else. But I said, this is about our lives and nobody else can know what we have been through. Either you or I have to direct it and you better do it. He was petrified but I said we would do it together.

Your equation with Venkat Prabhu

We are childhood friends. I know him for about 25 odd years. Its not like we had to work together but we have been through a lot together. In Unnai Charan Adainthen, I introduced him as hero and it was his first film. We were doing a lot of concerts together and traveled together. It was a natural evolution and our friendship became a professional relationship. I am very proud of him; he is one of the biggest directors in Tamil cinema now.

How is he on the sets?

Venkat Prabhu’s personality is that he is such a fun guy. He is so casual yet gets things done. Sometimes though on the sets he would tell me, no-one is working, come and shout. I would scream at everyone and they would start working. After the shoot, everything is casual.

Venkat Prabhu’s personality is

that he is such a fun guy

When I listen to a script, it has to

excite me

So how do you choose the scripts for producing movies?

It’s what I like. When I listen to a script, it has to excite me. It has to be very different, if it is something I have seen in Tamil cinema or any other language, I won’t do it. It has to be new, fresh and it has to appeal to me as an audience.

How do you look at profit and loss in producing movies?

That has been a problem so far. We have been able to mange the cost of production well but unfortunately the amount that has been generated in the B O is not adequate. I wonder if my choice of films is wrong and it appeals only to a certain kind of audience and not pan-India or pan-Tamilnadu. I am more city –centric and must cut down on that and be more liberal.

There are rumors that you may quit production

It could be true and something that I am contemplating right now. There are few distributors and the industry is lucky because of Red Giant, Cloud Nine and Sun Pictures because they are buying some movies and making them hits. There are no individual distributors any more and no small time ones who can release films on their own. We have to depend on these three companies to pick them up and they need stars. Invariably, every star has a waiting period of 2 to 3 years and everything is done on borrowed money. It just doesn’t seem to work out. I probably may just do one last movie and want to do Chennai 600 028 Part II if that works out. I have been approaching one big hero for some time and he has accepted and I am trying to look for a script, these 2 will be my last productions.

There is a talk that tickets of low budget movies be priced less than high budget ones?

We cannot manipulate the exhibitors because they are providing facilities.

Tell us about playing the lead in Vaanavarayan–Vallavarayan

That is yet to happen, when it happens let’s see. It’s a fun film and I am looking forward to it, it’s still only in the paperwork stage though.

What’s your role in Va-Quarter Cutting? Can you elaborate?

This is a fun movie, I have been a fan of Pushkar and Gayatri, they come from a different kind of a thought process, or take Kumararaja Thyagarajan who is Aaranya Kaandam’s director; they all have a very eccentric thought process. I have seen Oram Po and had a blast. When I had an opportunity to do this character I was really excited. The kind of movies they do and the way they do it is really good. I was working with Nirav Shah; it was fantastic; he is one of the top technicians in our country. The whole team, Y Not studio, Lekha, Shiva, G.V. Prakash, all of them. We had a fun time; we shot 60 days and all during nights. It was fun from the beginning to end, I hope it works.

A good opening ensures success. Your take?

Well, ticket rates have gone up. Good facilities are available, new screens, there is revenue there. The greater number of screens and prints are more; revenue and digital prints have come in too. We don’t have to spend 60000 to make a print; a fraction is all that is needed. This translates into people going to all theatres. You no longer need a film to run 100 days, by two weeks you know. This is a healthy trend, there will be more theatres and more movies produced.

What are the current projects you are working on?

Aaranya Kaandam is the only one. It has been selected by the South Asian Film Festival at New York. I am looking forward to that and hoping it will get picked up by some studio.

Tell us a little more about Aaranya Kaandam

This is an action drama that has Jackie Shroff, Ravi Krishna, and Sampath and introduces Yasmin and Ponappa. It has romance, comedy and a multiple screenplay.

I am living my dreams right now

Your future plans and ambitions

Never thought of it. I am living my dreams right now. If I have better times, I will do more movies. Cinema is my passion.

Can you give some tips for budding singers?

I am not a trained singer so you shouldn’t ask me. If you have talent, meet music directors, audition and if you are lucky you will make it. Keep the ambition going and the fire burning.

Tags : SPB Charan, Venkat Prabhu, Va-Quarter Cutting, Chennai 600 028, Saroja
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