V 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.