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V A K RANGA RAOV A K Ranga Rao

He has a collection of over 42,000 gramophone records of music, dramas and speeches, in around forty Indian languages and dialects and 30 foreign languages.

Music Scholar, Dancer, Film Historian, Book Reviewer, Art Critic and Orator, Venkata Anandakumara Krishna Ranga Rao is truly a connoisseur who defies straightjacket categorisation. The son of Ravu Janardana Krishna Ranga Rao - the Zamindar of Chikkavaram and Saraswathi Devi, V A K Ranga Rao says that he can only read, but is not educated. And yet, he happens to have guided many research scholars, directly and indirectly. For 36 years, his dance has been an offering on Sri Krishna Jayanti in Karvetinagaram and on Ashada Sudhdha Saptami in Srinivasa Mangapuram temples near Tirupati.

He believes that a person has different dimensions at the same time. And if his passion for factual documentation takes him into the past, he reaffirms, that it is clearly grounded in the present. "For me", he says, "It is all a continuum".

What are your earliest memories of music or dance?

At 3 or 4 years I was already able to sing twelve to thirteen songs, in different languages. I was told, (much later though), that as an infant I would bawl for gramophone records, instead of the sweets that one would normally expect kids to ask for. In those days, the only source of entertainment was the weekly half hour radio programme. That is how listening to gramophone records became part of the family's day. As children we were also treated to Sitaram, Court Dancer of Bobbili, performing at home. She would demonstrate to us, children, simple dance poses. And long after the other kids had left, I would still sit before her as she communicated through her art.

V A K Ranga Rao with his gramophoneWhat criteria did you use in selecting gramophone records?

Initially, I collected those records that I liked. It was only around 1970 that I gradually came to this realisation that the 78 rpm records were being phased out and in India there was no one with a substantial personal collection of these records. There were stamp collectors and book collectors….but no gramophone record collectors. That was when I started making it a point to buy every record I could lay my hands on, that I did not already have.

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Are there any recordings that you wish you had, but have not been able to lay hands on?

There is this song 'Aye Chaand', from the Film '26th January' (an allegory on the Freedom struggle). It is exquisitely orchestrated, with predominantly Hawaiian guitars. C Ramchandra told me that for this song, Lata Mangeshkar was the main singer and the chorus was sung by Asha, Usha and Meena! I asked Asha (Bhonsle) and she told me that she had not sung for this song, but Usha and Meena had. I have seen this film twice and have heard it over Radio Ceylon. But I haven't been able to find this record.

There is also Geeta Dutt's (Geeta Roy) recording of the Hindi adaptation of Bing Crosby's 'Till the end of time'. It is called 'Thandi Thandi Pavan aa rahi hai'. That's something I wanted to get, but couldn't.

Of the Indian male and female singers you have heard, who are your favourites?

When it comes to the male voice, it is unquestionably Singer-Music Director Chitalkar Ramchandra. I have around one hundred of his songs, both solos and duets. Actually, not many know that his first two films were in Tamil. He told me that he sang only when he could not get the singers he wanted. There is something delightfully off-the-cuff and spontaneous about his singing. In his own words, he never wished to polish a song to a jewel.

Of the female singers, my favourite is Geeta Dutt, even though she was not always on the sharp edge of sruti.

V A K Ranga RaoWhat would you call a good personal music collection?

There is no question of 'good' or 'bad'. The enjoyment of music is a totally subjective and emotional experience. What I think of as sweet or captivating is what chord the music strikes in my mind. It is not only singing in key or within the metre, which is important. Mukesh, for instance, did not always sing in key. But that did not hinder people from enjoying his music. A good song has to hold your attention. It has to give you an experience that is beyond the sum of its parts.

What are you currently working o
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n?

I am now involved in the documenting of film history. There is only a part of the information that can be had from record labels. The rest, I am gleaning from songbooks and interviews with people.

It is simply not enough to know that Cecil B Demille was the Director of 'The Ten Commandments'. It is equally important that we know, who the Art Director was and who the Special Effects expert was. This is because Cecil B Demille could not have made the movie without the rest in his team. That is much the same with film-making in India. But documentation in India is for the most part, inadequate and in several cases dishearteningly inaccurate.


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