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P. Susheela (Telugu: పి.సుశీల)

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Smt. Pulapaka. Susheela (Telugu: పులపాక. సుశీల) (born 13th November, 1935) is an Indian playback singer very popular all over India for singing songs in various different languages that are present in India like Kannada, Tulu, Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, Paduga, Malayalam, Oriya, Telugu, Sanskrit and Sinhalese. Susheela has been a successful play back singer in the Indian film industry for four decades and recorded over 60,000 songs. She has worked in Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi, Bengali, Oriya, Sanskrit, Tulu Badaga and Sinhalam with the sweet voice swaying hearts for all audiences throughout the world. Almost in all the languages in India we can hear her songs. There are many hit songs that still stand evergreen in the heart of the people forever. The voice of Susheela is also one of the major strength for her in her path of success. She is very highly gifted that her voice still remains in the heart of many people and no one forgets her great works to the Film industry. P. Susheela is also called as “Queen of Melody”.

Early life:

She was born on 13th November, 1935 to Sri. Pulapaka Mukunda Rao, a leading advocate and Smt. Sheshawataram in Vizianagaram District, Andhra Pradesh State. This couple had 9 children and Susheela was the 5th of those 9 children. She lost her mother at a very early age. The noted banker Pulapaka Seethapathi Rao, former managing director of State Bank of Hyderabad, was her father’s younger brother.

In her early school days, she participated in all music competitions, sometimes to the detriment of her academic education. She went on to study music at Maharajah’s Government College of music and dance in Vijayanagaram and graduated in first class. So this made her earn interest in both the developing art fields – music and dance. She late joined the Sangeeta Academy in Chennai. She had her guidance completely under Subramani Iyer and completed a degree in music; ultimately making her professionally trained in music for her to enable to excel in the field of music.


In the year 1950, music director Pedyala Nageshwara Rao was in a great peek stage and also he was searching for new singers. The new singer search was for the All India Radio. This proved out to be a chance for Susheela to initiate her career with film industry and so did it begin. Of the five people selected to the final level of auditions, Susheela was finalized for her voice was so attractive that it was the main source of her getting into the final list. After this occasion of getting selected through the auditions, she sang her first the song “Edhukku Azhaithai”, with A.M.Raja for the 1951 Tamil movie Petra Yhaai (Kanna Thalli in Telugu). Her start with the career was so auspicious that her first song was recorded in a Telugu new year’s day at the Prakash studio in Andhra Pradesh. By this time of Susheela entering into the industry, she was just 16 years old; the youngest contest who competed in the audition.

Susheela began her professional career at a time when the competition among the play back singers in the film industry was highly intense. It was the time when famous singers like M.L.Vasantha Kumari, P.Leela, Jikki, Jamuna Rani, T.V.Rathinam, Radha Jayalakshmi, Soolamangalam Rajalakshmi, Rao Balasaraswathi Devi, A.P.Komala and K.Rani were in the industry with the high number of songs led by them. This was not an obstacle for Susheela to shine in the industry. Nevertheless, she achieved great popularity in short time and by the year 1955, many Indian movies featured her voice in one or more songs.

She rendered memorable songs in various south Indian languages under the musical composition of K.V.Mahadevan, M.S.Viswanathan and Saluri Rajeswara Rao. Her versatility with music and her passion on working towards many films and languages increased as days passed by making her a complete singer and an she prone to be an award winning play back singer in the film industry inclusive of the languages she sung. Since Susheela was a Telugu by birth, it was pretty easier for her to get along with the Telugu songs she sang. But it was hard for her to sing inTamil and her way of pronouncing Tamil words were indeed a great trouble for her. So, Meyyappa Chettiar made her learn proper Tamil form a Tamil teacher so that with ease, she can sing Tamil songs with no strain and the outcome of the song will also turn out to be better with her magical voice, a blend of her sweet voice and proper pronunciation of Tamil words ultimately led to grand success of the songs she sang. Susheela can either read or write in Malayalam, but had sung over 2000 sings in Malayalam.

Thus began a huge legacy of Susheela, who sang in almost all the films produced since 1955 through 1960s and 1970s till 1985. The legendary Tamil musicians Viswanathan, Ramamurthy duo wrote some of the most evergreen songs of Cinema history in the voice of Susheela. Her duets with the acclaimed singers Ghantasala in Telugu, T. M. Soundararajan in Tamil and P. B. Srinivas in Kannada marked a new era of duet songs in the South Indian music industry. She, along with T. M. Soundararajan went on to record more than hundreds of songs with Viswanathan, Ramamurthy.

Susheela made her entry when so many singers were displaying their talents and were very popular. But her entry in 1952 outshone others and soon pushed all of them to the background. Right from 1955 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 60s and the early 70s. Whoever be the music director, whoever be the lyricist, whoever be the co-singer, the song became popular with her finesse. She continues to rule supreme in the hearts of her fans through the thousands of numbers she has rendered in a very long and enviable career.

The 1970s also saw Susheela in her prime form winning almost all the awards both Nationally and in all the four states of Southern India. She also recorded even Hindi songs during this period with music directors like KV Mahdevan, Laximkant Pyarelal, L. Vaidyanathan and Laxmi Kiran, S.L. Manohar, Ajit merchant, G. Devarajan and S.N. Tripathi. It was in this era that she sang few notable songs for another prolific Indian music director Illayaraja. Though Janaki took over the leading position in the from 1980 with her strong association with M.S.V and Ilayaraja, Susheela continued to be at the top till 1985 and after 1985 was still opted by several music directors for her legendary vocals. After 1986, she became selective about film songs and she continued to have hit film songs till 2005.She even won awards for songs in Telugu films – Vishwanatha Nayakudu in 1987, Godavari Pongindi in 1989 and Tamil film Varam in 1989. She sang duets with Kishore Kumar in 1986 for the film Singhasan – Chalta hai do dilon ka kaise sansaar and Tere Liye Maine Janam which became popular.

Susheela shifted her focus from films to Devotionals and Light Music. But she continued to get to sing melodious film songs from 1984 to 1999 though she had after 1985 cut down on offers for singing in films. She also concentrated more on stage shows across the Globe where many associations world wide invited her to perform for their organized shows. She recorded more than 1000 devotional songs for various audio companies. In 1988, acclaimed music composer Naushad insisted her to sing “Janaki Jaane” for his Malayalam film Dhwani. She also recorded few of her career best songs for Illayaraja, A. R. Rahman and others in the 1990s. “Kannukku Mai Azhagu” from the film Pudhiya Mugam (1993) composed by Rahman was praised all over for its lyrical content and rendition. She had hit songs in Tamil till 2005 and sang many devotional and folk songs from 1986-2005 and did many live shows from 1990 to 2005.

Personal life:

P. Suseela is married to Sri.Mohan Rao. The couple were blessed with a son named Jayakrishna, and his wife, Sandhya Jayakrishna, is a singer who debuted with A. R. Rahman in Iruvar. They had two daughters namely Jayashree and Subashree.

Awards and Honors:

National Film Award:

  • Best Female Playback Singer(Tamil): Uyarntha Manithan (1969) for the song “Paal Polave Vaan Meedhile (Naalai Intha Velai Parthu)”
  • Best Female Playback Singer(Tamil): Savaale Samaali (1971) for the song “Chittuk Kuruvikkenna Kattuppaadu”
  • Best Female Playback Singer(Telugu):Siri Siri Muvva (1976) for the song “Jhummandi Naadham Sayyandi Paadam”
  • Best Female Playback Singer(Telugu): Meghasandesam (1982) for the song “Priye charusele”
  • Best Female Playback Singer(Telugu): M.L.A. Edukondalu (1983) for the song “Yentha Peethovaade Gopaludu Venugopaludu”

State Award (Best Female Playback singer):

  • Tamil Nadu State Award: Uyarntha Manithan/Lakshmi Kalyanam (1969) for the song “Paal Polave Vaan” / “Brindavanathukku”
  • Kerala State Award: Oru Penninte Katha (1971) for the song “Poonthen Aruvi Ponmudi Puzhayude”
  • Kerala State Award: Sandyakal (1975) for the song “Poovukalku Punya Kaalam”
  • Andhra Pradesh State Award: Daana Veera Soora Karna (1977) for the song “Kalagantino Swamy”
  • Andhra Pradesh State Award: Naalaaga Endaro (1978) for the song “Kalyanini Kanulunna Manusuku Kanipinchu”
  • Tamil Nadu State Award: Anbulla Athaan (1981) for the song “Aazhakkadal Neenthi Vanthen”
  • Andhra Pradesh State Award: Meghasandesam (1982) for the song “Aakulo Aakunai”
  • Andhra Pradesh State Award: Sangeetha Samrat (1984) for the song “Entha Sogasugaade”
  • Andhra Pradesh State Award: Vishwanatha Nayakudu (1987) for the song “Kavi Jana Samaaja Bhoja”
  • Andhra Pradesh State Award: Godavari Pongindi (1989) for the song “Eppatla Godavari Pravahistondi”
  • Tamil Nadu State Award: Varam (1989) for the song “Magane Magane Kannurangu”

Lifetime Acheivement award:

  • LifeTime Acheievement Award by American Telugu Association on July 10th, 2004 at Chicago, USA.
  • Bharathi Daasan Award by Tamilnadu Government
  • Kalaimaamani Award by Tamil Nadu Government in 1991
  • Raghupathy Vangayya Award by Andhra Pradesh Government in 2004
  • Kamukara Award by Kerala Government
  • Screen Videocon Lifetime Acheivement Award in 1996
  • Filmfare lifetime acheivement award in 2006
  • Lifetime acheivement award by Cinema express

Other Awards:

  • Sangeetha Kala bharathi by Detroit Telugu Association in 1979
  • Telugu Association of North America in 1995
  • Awards for Excellence by IAAFA in 1993
  • Telugu Association of Southern California in 1995
  • AVM ’50 award in 1997
  • Madhura Gaana Madhuri Award
  • Award by Telugu Association of Greater Chicago
  • K.B.Sundaramabal Award
  • K.V.Rao Jyothi Rao award in 1999
  • Ghantasala Award for 2003
  • Tamilnadu MGR Cine Cultural Academy Award in 1994
  • Subbaraami reddy award in 1996
  • Award by Indian Performing Rights Society
  • Award Presented at Andhra Pradesh Rashtra Yuva Janostav
  • Bharath kalachar in 2001 (gaana kala bharathi)
  • Kala Saagar Award
  • Award – Tribute To Shivaji in 2003
  • Jayshree International Life Time Achievement Award: Kalabushan ( presented by Smt Jayachitra)
  • Thyagaraja Ganasabha: Only singer to be presented this award by Thyagraja Ganasabha Andhra Pradesh
  • Krishna Pushkara Award
  • Kamukara Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Gaana Saraswathi by Sangeeth Melody Orchestra
  • Aasthana Gayini in Shri Kalahasthi Shiva Temple
  • Madras film fans association award (26 times)

Other honors:

  • “Padma Bhushan” by the Government of India in January 2008
  • Special Jury Swaralaya Yesudas Award for outstanding performance in music
  • Raghupathi Venkaiah Award for lifetime achievement to Telugu Cinema by Andhra Pradesh Government in 2001
  • Recevied Doctorate by Andhra University
  • Honourary Doctorate at Washington, U.S. by the North American Alumni Association
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