What Kiran Ravindran has with him is a treasure. This journalist-cum-writer, is extremely rich, in terms of his collection of gramophones and gramophone records.
The collection is special, since the number is so huge (he has not counted them yet) and has immense historical value. Especially the gramophone record collection with 45 rpm, 78 rpm and LP records (rpm stands for ‘revolutions per minute and LP stands for Long Play). Equally huge is his collection of old audio cassettes.
The oldest would perhaps be the 78 rpm record of Rajam Pushpavanam, a Carnatic musician, released in 1930. It has one keerthana each on its two sides. “My aunt gifted it. Interestingly, the other day I happened to find Chandu Shankar, grandson of Rajam, on the Facebook. He is with the Microsoft. I don’t know whether he is aware of her great songs,” Kiran says.
Kiran also has the first playback gramophone records of some of the greatest playback singers of the country. “When I was in school, I used to collect audio cassettes. Later, I came to know about the gramophone records. I am now converting the songs I have in cassettes and records into the CD format,” he says.
Most of the gramophone records are from Chennai. Some are gifts and the songs fall into all genres of music. And his cousins Dr Ravikumar and Devi have contributed their bit to his collection. “I prefer the golden oldies and you don’t find much songs after the 80s’. You have to keep the records dust-free,” he says.
The records collection is not restricted to songs alone. He has records (in three parts) of Mahatma Gandhi’s speech at the prayer meeting held at the Birla House in 1948, hours before he passed away. The speech by Dewan Bahadur A Ramaswamy Mudaliar at the Round Table Conference and Congress election speech by S Satyamurthy fall into the speech category. Stage songs too are part of the collection.
Don’t be surprised that there is a special place for K J Yesudas in his collection. Being a great fan of the legend, Kiran has taken pains to collect almost all his songs, in the records, cassettes and the CD format. “Almost 99 percentage of his songs are there. He knows I have so many of his songs. But he has not come here yet. My ultimate dream is to bring him to my home so that he can see it all,” Kiran says with much excitement.
It was Yesudas who wrote the foreword for Kiran’s book ‘The Playback in Malayalam Cinema’, a comprehensive history of Malayalam film music from early beginnings in the 1930s to the first decade of the current century, released in 2008. The book, which received the Atlas-Film Critics Award for the Best book on Cinema for the year 2008, has been translated into Malayalam as ‘Malayala Cinema Pinnani Gana Charithram’ by the Kerala Bhasha Institute.
Another individual whom Kiran would like to bring to his home is Usha Uthup. He has the first 45 rpm gramophone record released by Usha Uthup (then Usha Iyer) - ‘Jambalaya’ and ‘Green Back Dollar’ in his collection. “I even showed this record to her when I met her. She kept on looking at it, saying, ‘My record?’, in disbelief.” Kiran also has four LP records - with photos of young and beautiful Usha on the cover- which came out before she became a playback singer.
He also has the record with Jayalalithaa’s first playback song ‘Amma Endraal Anbu...’ from the film ‘Adimai Penn’ besides other hit songs of her, an LP record with ‘Hymns from Rigveda’ by K J Yesudas, songs by Lalgudi Jayaraman, G N Balasubramaniam, Palakkad Mani Iyer and other Carnatic musicians, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Kishori Amonkar, Nirmala Devi, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan etc.
At his sprawling home near Sasthamangalam Kiran cherishes his gramophone record players, some eight of them. This include HMV’s radiogram (gifted by cousin Ravikumar), the Murphy radio, Monarch 78 rpm gramophone player and Emisonic gramophone players!
Kiran is now working on a dictionary of Malayalam Cinema titled ‘Malayala Cinema Nikhandu,’ commissioned by the Kerala Bhasha Institute. Another work coming up is ‘Malayala Cinemayile 100 Prathibhakal’. He has done the English subtitles for the films ‘Nottam’ and ‘Pakal’, has made documentaries (on Mahila Mandiram, Thiruvananthapuram, early Malayalam cinema, and M K Kamalam to name a few) and short features and was the chief coordinator of a documentary on Dr Kaviyur Revamma, directed by Lenin Rajendran.
Going by his dedication, you needn’t be surprised if this 40-year-old fulfills his dream, “that of developing a historical museum dedicated to cinema and music.”