Top 25+ South Indian Playback Voices who earned fame in Bollywood
K. J. Yesudas – a prominent voice with alternate Hindi cinema in the 1970s and early 1980s
Yesudas stormed into Bollywood film industry with early 1970s, he did only less work in association with Bollywood. He mostly concentrated on to south Indian music, apart from singing a few popular songs for Bengali, Marathi and Oriya languages since late 1970s. He was given first break to Bollywood by Salil Chowdhury with whom he has been frequently associated with for many Malayalam movies since 1960s. He later collaborated with Usha Khanna, Bappi Lahiri, and most importantly Ravindra Jain to give a few classic songs of Bollywood belonging to a separate genre never heard before. Read more about Yesudas’ association with Usha Khanna. He also bagged one national award and one Filmfare award for Hindi movies.
S. P. Balasubrahmanyam – The ghost singer of Salman Khan’s early musical hits
As a typical playback singer, SPB is perhaps the most successful south Indian playback singer in Bollywood. He remained the early ghost voice of Salman Khan and Kamal Hassan in Bollywood film industry, and is best known for his association with Rajshree productions. Unanimously he remained as the top playback singer of Tamil film industry in the 1980s and 1990s, and owns many evergreen songs in music maestro Illayaraja’s compositions. Though he is not a trained singer similar to Kishore Kumar, he is a recipient of 6 National awards, only next to Yesudas in the male playback singer category, and he owns a unique distinction for winning in four different languages including Hindi.
He mostly worked with Ram Laxman, followed by Nadeem Shravan and Anand-Milind. His association with Rahman has given some evergreen hits such as “Yeh Haseen” and “Roja Jaaneman” of Roja. He was one of the top singers of Bollywood in the first half of 1990s, and created a niche of his own through his distinct voice, similar to K. J. Yesudas. He also bagged his single Filmfare award through Meine Pyar Kiya, apart from several nominations.
Anuradha Paudwal – The most successful female South Indian voice
A Kannadigan by birth, she completely dominated the Bollywood scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She was a strong competant to Alka Yagnik during this period. Her devotional and film songs with T-series are equally famous. Recipient of a National award for a Marathi song, she is a winner of four Filmfare awards from 11 nominations. She shot to instant fame through the songs of Aashique, and there was no turning back after that. Her voice was frequently used for Madhuri Dixit in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She recorded the popular duet of Pukar – “Kismat Se Tum” in the year 2000 for A. R. Rahman, one of the last hit songs of Anuradha sung for Madhuri, and the last movie pairing Madhuri with Anil Kapoor.
Anuradha has sung 100s of hit songs for Bollywood and other regional languages. All her songs of Aashique were immensely popular, especially Nazar Ke Samne and Dheere Dheere Se. A few more immensely popular songs of Bollywood include – Mujhe Neend Na Aaye of Dil, Dhak Dhak and Koyal Si of Beta, Kehdo Ki Tumho of Tezaab, Tera Naam Liya and O Ram Ji of Raam Lakhan, Title Track of Hero, Title Track and Meinu Ishq Ka of Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin, Bahut Pyar Karte Hain of Saajanetc.
Vani Jayaram – Popular through the songs she sung for Guddi
Quite different from other south Indian playback singers, she started off her career with Guddi in 1971. The movie included only three songs, composed by Vasant Desai and all of them were sung by Vani. “Bole Re Papi Hara” based on the Hindustani raga “Miyan ki Malhar” went on to become a huge chartbuster. Her distinct and new voice also made the song extremely popular and evergreen. Still now, Vani is best known for this particular song. The movie also included the popular prayer song, Hum Ko Man Ki Shakti Dena pictured on Jaya Bhaduri. Though she had a promising career ahead, later she fully switched on to south Indian films, and became a well-established singer of all south Indian languages. She is a recipient of Filmfare award for the movie, Meera.
Shankar Mahadevan – Of Kerala Origin
Shankar Mahadevan was born in Mumbai to a Tamil Iyer family from Palakkad, Kerala. He started off his career as a playback singer in the 1990s, and his association with A. R. Rahman got attention in Hindi and Tamil films. His voice was well-used by Rahman for peppy numbers such as Urvasi of Humse Hain Muquabla during his early phase in playback singing. He also bagged his first National award for best singer in Rahman’s composition for a Tamil movie, Kandukonden Kandukonden released in 2000. Same year he also played a cameo role as a singer in the top Tamil film album of the year – Rhythm. The song ‘Taniye’ established Shankar Mahadevan as a leading playback singer of south.
Hariharan – Known for beautiful rendition of ghazals and melodies in film music
Hariharan, originally a Malayali is a well-established ghazal singer and has admirers across the world. His magic with Rahman has also given some evergreen renditions in Tamil and Hindi films. His association with Lesle Lewis formed Colonial Cousins, which give several fusion albums. His contribution to film music is significantly large in A. R. Rahman’s music, such as huge chartbusters – Pachai Nirama (Alaippayuthey), Telephone Manipol (Indian), Thottaal Poo Malarum (New), Vennilave (Minsara Kanavu), Anbe Anbe (Jeans), Chandiranai Thottathu (Ratchagan), (Kurukku Chiruththavale (Muthalvan), Uyire and Kuch Kuch Rakhma (Bombay) and Thamizha Thamizha (Roja) in Tamil, and soothing Tu Hi Re – a duet from Bombayaside Kavita Krishnamurthy. He sung its Tamil and Telugu version aside Chitra. Roja Jaaneman from Roja also had a second version in Hariharan’s voice.
Hariharan is a well-established name in ghazals and pop music. He is associated with Hindi music scene since early 1980s. However he shot to fame in the 1990s, with a series of Tamil and Hindi hits in association with A. R. Rahman.“Tu Paas Hai” of Taal and “Chanda Re” of “Sapne” were instant chartbusters. Rahman reserved some special songs of Hariharan. Though he has sung less number of songs for Rahman, most of them turned to be huge chartbusters. “Hai Rama” of Rangeela, “Ajooba” and “Tauba Tauba” of Jeans, “Mil Gaye Mil Gaye” of Love Birds and “Ay Hairathe” of Guruare a few more.
Mahalakshmi Iyer – The most successful south Indian female voice since 2000s
Kozhikode, Kerala is her native place and she was born and brought up in Mumbai. When she took her music career seriously, she took up classes in Urdu language to make her accent perfect. She gave some of the finest renditions of Bollywood in Rahman’s music such as Kismat Se Tum of Pukar, Chalka Chalka Re of Saathiya, Jai Ho of Slumdog Millionaire, E Ajnabi of Dil Se etc. The remixed version of ‘Aaja Piya Tohe Pyar Doo’ was also recorded in her voice.
K. S. Chithra – Known for sweet and melodious voice
Chithra is the most established female voice of south Indian film industry since mid-1980s. She currently holds the record of maximum awards in National Film Awards (Best female playback singer). She won 6 awards for three different languages including Hindi which is a record. She won National award for “Payali Chun Mun” of Virasat. She is a recipient of Kerala State Film Award for Best Singer 15 times (11 times in a row which is a record), apart from state awards of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.
K. K – Known for rock and high pitch songs
Many newcomers and singing sensations like Arjit Singh and Ankit Tiwari see KK as their inspiration. Some of his popular songs include – Khuda Jaane of Bachna E Haseeno,Kya Mujhe Pyaar Hai of Woh Lamhe, Zara Sa of Jannat, Tune Maari Entriyaan of Gunday, Tu Jo Mila of Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe of Dil Chahta Hai, Bardaast of Humraaz, Ding Don of Kuch Toh Hai, Tu Aashique Hai of Jhanjar Beats, Aashayein of Iqbal,Tu Hi Meri Shab Hai of Gangster, Alvida of A Life in a Metro, Dil Kyun Yeh Mera of Kites, Tu Bhoola Jise of Airlift, Abhi Abhi of Jism 2 etc.
A. R. Rahman – Who is indeed popular as a singer also
Rahman is an internationally acclaimed musician of south Indian origin. Of Kerala origin, his father R. K. Shekhar was a popular music composer of Malayalam in the 1970s. During the glorious period of R. K. Shekhar’s music career, his expected death shocked the family a lot. Later the family settled in Chennai, and Rahman started his career as a music director with ‘Roja’. Rest is history. Without going into the details of his glorious career as a music director, I would like to discuss his singing ability. Rahman was earlier reluctant to use his voice to record his songs. Once he told in an interview, the singing journey of Pakistani music legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan inspired him to start his career as a singer.
Sujatha Mohan – The voice behind Ishq Bina and Bheegi Bheegi Raatom Mein remix
Sujatha Mohan is a popular south Indian playback singer, next to Chitra in popularity. She has rendered some extremely melodious songs for Bollywood, and a few turned to be chartbuster hits. Sujatha is behind the humming voice of the trendsetter song of early 1990s –Roja Jaaneman (Roja) in both the versions sung by Hariharan and SPB, and composed by Rahman. She also rendered her voice for its original version ‘Kaathal Rojave’ aside SPB and Telugu version too. This particular movie also marked her successful beginning with Rahman, and worked with him for his second album –Yoddha in Malayalam released one month after Roja.
She is one of the lead singers of the most popular track of Taal – Ishq Bina. “Hai Jaana” of Pukar, “Kal Nahin Tha” of Viswavidhata, “Ishwar Allah” of 1947 Earth and “Tum Ho Meri Nigahon” from Kabhi Na Kabhi are a few more. In Vidyasagar’s composition, she sang the popular duet Rafta Rafta aside Udit Narayan for Hulchul. She sang the remixed version of evergreen romantic track – Bheegi Bheegi Raatom Mein aside Srinivas. Also read: 70+ Music Videos featuring Bollywood stars.
Janaki – Contemporary of Lata and Asha
Anuradha Sriram –“Prem Jaal” and “Dupatta Mera” among her chartbusters
Anupama – Of ‘Pappu Can’t Dance Saala’ fame
She is best known for the Tamil rendition ‘Chandralekha’ of Thiruda Thiruda and its Hindi version for Chor Chor. She is a find of A. R. Rahman, and she has sung several chartbuster songs composed by Rahman. Pappu Can’t Dance Saala is her most popular Bollywood song, which she sang aside yet another playback singer of south Indian origin, Benny Dayal. She also rendered her voice for Nazrein Milana Nazrein Churana. She was one among the singers of Ishq Bina – Taal, and provided back vocals for the title track of Dil Se. I Wanna Be Free for Tehzeeb and Jaan Tum Ho Meri for Viswavidata are other Rahman compositions. She sang the second version of the title track of unreleased film – Dus, and Yeh Raat of Aks.
Rashid Ali – ‘Aditi Haste’ fame
Rashid Ali was spotted by Rahman at a musical concert in London in early 2000s. Rahman gave him break through Tamil movies, and big break to Bollywood through Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. His song – “Kabhi Kabhi Aditi” became a huge chartbuster. He also sang “Kahi Toh”. Later he sang several chartbuster songs for Rahman such as “Cry Cry” of Jhoota Hi Sahi, “Nazar Laaye” of Raanjhanaa and “Sun Lo Zara” of Ek Tha Deewana. He regularly performs with Rahman for live concerts.
Benny Dayal – whose Pappu Can’t Dance & Kaise Tum Mujhe went rage across the nation
Less-heard south Indian voices in Bollywood
Bombay Jayashri – She is born in Kolkata to parents of south Indian origin. She is quite familiar to Bollywood fans through the popular romantic track – Zara Zara of RHTDM composed by Harris Jayaraj. “Chahoom Bhi Tho”from Force composed by same composer was also a hit.
M. G. Sreekumar – A 2-time National award winner for Malayalam film songs, he rendered the classic song Mera Dholna for Bhool Bhulayya aside Shreya Ghoshal. Mera Dholna is his most popular song up-to-date. His voice was used by A. R. Rahman for Jiya Jale of Dil Se, the first recorded song of Rahman with Lata Mangeshkar. Sreekumar rendered his voice for its Malayalam lines. The title track of Saath Rang Ke Sapne aside Alka Yagnik and Kissa Hum Likhenge of Doli Sajake Rakhna aside Anuradha Paudwal are his chartbuster Hindi songs. Baagom Ki Baharein and Sandhya Ki Laali of Sazaa-E-Kaalapani, Tum Jo Mile Humko from Gardish, Tu Hi Tu of Kabhi Na Kabhi, Hasta Hua Yeh Pyara of Yeh Tera Ghar Yeh Mera Ghar, Soja Chandini and Apni Jeb Mein of Muskurahat are some less-heard Hindi songs sung by M. G. Sreekumar. All these movies were directed by Priyadarshan, a well-established director of Malayalam movies.
Chinmayi Sripada – A Rahman find, she is best known for Titli Song of Chennai Express. She is gaining attention in Bollywood with her instant hit – Mera Naam Mary of Brothers. Main Rang Sharbaton Ka of Phata Poster Nikla Hero and Mast Magan of 2 States are other top songs. Zehnaseeb of Hasee To Phasee, Ay Sakhi of Ranjhanaa, Maiyya Yashoda of Jhoota Hi Sahi are a few more. She provided the back voices of two tracks for Guru.
Minmini – Minmini’s voice became a rage across the nation when she sang the different language versions of Chinna Chinna Asai of Roja, except her mother tongue Malayalam. She became extremely popular through ‘Dil Hai Chota Sa’. However this single song couldn’t lift her singing journey, and she end up her career with a few popular songs down south. Rahman has introduced countless singers to Tamil and Bollywood music, and it’s not an easy task to list them all.
Swarnalatha – A ‘Rahman find’ to Bollywood she earned National award for best playback singer through Rahman’s Tamil composition for Karuthamma in 1994. She got her break to Bollywood through Rahman’s maiden Bollywood venture – Rangeela. She sang the sizzling track –Hai Rama aside Hariharan. Her voice was also used for Mukkala Mukkabla of Hum Se Hai Muquabla, Ladka Dikha Diya and Maya Machindra of Hindustani and the romantic track –Dola Dola of Dil Hi Dil Mein by Rahman. She passed away in 2010 aged only 37. Apart from Rahman, her work with Illayaraja in Tamil was also appreciated.
Srinivas – He gained recognition through A. R. Rahman songs. He sang a few songs for Bollywood also. Kaisi Hai Yeh Rut of Dil Chahta Hai is one of the memorable songs of Srinivas. Dola Dola of Dil Hi Dil Mein, Aao Sunen Lehron Se Dhule Naghme of Raja Ko Rani Se Pyar Ho Gaya, Ek Bagiya Mein of Sapne and Khushiyon Ki Koshish of Phir Milengeare a few more. He also sang the remixed version of the evergreen rain song – Bheegi Bheegi Ratom Mein, aside another popular south Indian playback singer Sujatha Mohan.
Naresh Iyer – He received National award and R. D. Burman New Talent award for the rendition of Rahman’s composition – Roobaroo for Rang De Basanti. His voice was used for three songs of the film (Tu Bin Bataye and Paatshaala). His voice was also heard inPappu Can’t Dance Saala of Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, Yeh Kaala Bandar of Delhi-6 and Mein Chali of Force.
Vijay Prakash – A Sare Ga Ma Pa contestant of late 1990s he received his initial break through Baaz, followed by Rahman’s musical – Swades. Vijay is a leading playback singer down south. Some of his popular Bollywood songs include – Kandhon Se Milte Hain Kandhe of Lakshya, Sooni Sooni of Cheeni Kum, Jai Ho of Slumdog Millionaire, Fiqrana of Blue, Beera Beera of Raavan, Dil Ki Hai Tamanna of Force, Manmohini of Yuvraaj etc.
Vijay Yesudas – He is the new kid on the block. Son the gifted singer K. J. Yesudas, he has rendered his voice for a few Bollywood songs. He did playback singing for Priyadarshan movies such as Dhol (Bheega Aasman) and Chup Chup ke (Tumhe Se Yeh Dil Mera) and A. R. Rahman’s I have been waiting for moonlight – Solo track from Jhoota Hi Sahi.
Sanah Moidutty – The latest addition to Bollywood by Rahman, she is of Malayali origin born and brought up in Mumbai. She sang the popular duet Tu Hai of Mohenjodaro aside its composer Rahman. Earlier she has sung the less-heard song – Motto Ghotolo for Gori Tere Pyar Mein and the title track of Always Kabhi Kabhi.
Usha Uthup – And last, but not the least Usha Uthup is best known for her rendition of pop and English songs. A nominee of three Filmfare awards, she finally won it finally in 2012 for 7 Khoon Maaf. She was highly emotional and burst into tears when she won her first Filmfare awards for the rendition of ‘Darling song’ of 7 Khoon Maaf. She is of south Indian origin, and has roots in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Some of her popular songs include – Ek Do Cha Cha Cha of Shalimar, Shaan Se… of Shaan, Hari Om Hari of Pyaara Dushman, Koi Yahan Aha Nache Nache of Disco Dancer, Title track of Daud and Ramba of Armaan
Mano and Suresh Peters who sang Saila Ru Saila Re, M. M. Manasi who sang Daddy Mummy (Bhaag Johny), Malgudi Subha etc are a few more singers from South who did playback singing for Bollywood. Jikki, Jayachandran, P. B. Srinivas, L R Eswari and S. P. Shailaja (sister of SPB) – stewards of south Indian cinema, had a brief career in Bollywood.
A. R. Rahman has introduced many fresh voices to Bollywood in the past two decades. He has also been instrumental in establishing the careers of many less-known and struggling artists in south and Bollywood film industry. Read more about Asha Bhosle’s resurgence through Rahman tunes.
It can be noticed that while most newcomers among male playback singers from North or East started off inspired from music legends – Rafi and Kishore and occasionally Mukesh (single exception is Udit Narayan), south Indians have always maintained their unique and distinct voice free of all inspirations. Say Yesudas, Hariharan, SPB or KK- distinct voice is their asset. Same is the case of female voices such as Chitra, Vani Jayaram etc and many artists got inspired from them. For that special quality of south Indian singers, a big hats off to them all.
Also, for those who believe that south Indian people can never get perfect Hindi accent, the above list is perfect to prove that this popular belief is only a myth. If I have missed any south Indian artists in the list, please leave a comment below.