V A K Ranga Rao
December 28, 2003
Born in the 1930s in Madras, his mother tongue is Telugu, medium of education English, at the Good Shepherd Convent (Madras), the Bishop Cotton's Boys High School (Bangalore) and the Madras Christian College School (Madras). He did go to the Pachaiyappa's College, Madras but got no degree, not even qualifying as an undergraduate. But a good foundation for English was laid at the three schools and a love for Telugu flowered with the blessings of Sri Malladi Ramakrishna Sastri and flourished under the guidance of Dr. Arudra.
The pre-natal seed of dance was sown by Bangalore Nagaratnamma received nurture from two other Devadasis, Gaddibukta Sitaram who served both God Venugopala and the Rajah at Bobbili; and Kalavar Ring alias Saride Lakshminarasamma of Vizianagaram, famous for her songs on disc, her dance in Mejuvani, her harikathas and her charity.
An inherent hunger for cinema of the vintage era made him a staunch devotee, a fanatic of facts, a connoisseur of film history and its documentation (The British Film Institute's Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema records its special thanks to him). His passion for gramaphone records of the 78rpm kind, made his collection of 42,000 in forty national and international languages, a unique source of knowledge and culture. In turn, it acquainted him with languages, dances, and music of many lands.
With this background, he built up a reputation by his definitive essays on all these aspects published in the Indian Express, the Hindu, the Madras Mail, Screen, Sruti (all in English), Andhrapatrika, Andhraprabha, Vijayachitra, Jyoti and Vaarta (in Telugu). As a book reviewer, he is relished by the reader, feared by the careless author, for the integrity and intelligence he invests in them.
He fought and won many a battle against the gramaphone record companies, for the proper crediting of banners, lyricists and music directors, which brought a lot of royalty to them without diminishing the companies' legitimate income.
Many scholars preparing their doctoral theses received guidance and first-hand knowledge unavailable elsewhere, from him. Though the Indian contingent could not give him proper credit due to the objections arising out of the inferiority complex of their educated and official guides, the foreign ones on the other hand, openly acknowledged his contribution. His unseen hand requesting anonymity has improved many books by esteemed publishing houses and internationally famed authors, by removing factual inaccuracies, correcting translations and hence improving readability.
His respectful familiarity with the works of Tallapakka Annamacharya, Kshetrayya, Sarangapani and other dance compositions, has inspired many dancers including his gurus Kalanidhi Narayanan, the Dhananjayans and Padma Subrahmanyam into their own interpretations.
His radio and television programs have underlined the importance of documenting and archiving popular performing arts. His lectures, including live demonstrations or video clips, have opened up the art of commercial cinema to scholars, clearing away Bostonian cobwebs.
His first lec-dem about Dance in Cinema for the Natya Kala Conference of Sri Krishna Gana Sabha about two decades ago when Padma Subrahmanyam was the convener, spurred a scholarly interest in cinema dance. His informal talks on these subjects in various cities and towns of the country, in which he demolishes the shibboleths erected by educated charlatans and doctored ignoramuses with logic irrefutable, have evoked strong feelings, the kind he believes, that sustain, cleanse and rejuvenate any living art.
For three hundred and forty five days in the year, he is available for use and abuse by kindred spirits, at Ram Mahal, 36 Pycrofts Gardens, Chennai 600006, India.
Ph: (91- 44) - 28278308