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Honouring a legend

Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao strode like a colossus in the Telugu film music world. He is perhaps the first movie singer-composer of the South in whose memory a stamp and first day cover is being released today on his 29th death anniversary, writes M.L. NARASIMHAM.

MELODY KING: The singer-composer reigns supreme.

IF HE brought alive the pathos of life through his Kudi Edamaithe... ,enhanced the beauty of a moon-lit night through Lahiri Lahiri Lahiri Lo Oho Jagame Oogenuga..he sang Changavi Rangu Cheera Kattukunna Chinnadi like a teasing lover. A devout classicist in him brought the gods down to earth with Shiva Shankari, and Mukkoti Devatalu, Okkatainaaru.., while the patriot in him rendered Naa Janmabhumi Entho Punyamaina Desamu... Human emotions and music was never in such perfect harmony. The golden voice of Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao still rings in our ears and echoes in our hearts.

Transcending time and space for over 30 years, he ruled the Telugu film music world like a colossus. Almost three decades after his demise, he still continues to hold sway over millions of music lovers crossing generation barriers. Such was the mellifluous magic spell of Ghantasala in whose memory a first day cover and a stamp is being released today at Lalitha Kala Thoranam coinciding with his 29th death anniversary. This perhaps is the first occasion in which a stamp is being brought out on a movie singer-composer of the South.

He composed music for over 100 films in Telugu, Tamil and Kannada, and rendered over 10,000 songs - each as melodious as the other. To quote Ilayaraja, once a Tamil producer asked him to ensure that all songs would be hits in his film. Ilayaraja replied that only Ghantasala could give such a guarantee.

DOYEN AMIDST DOYENS: Ghantasala was the `soul' of these actors.

Ghantasala's genius as a singer, according to music historian and art critic V.A.K. Rangarao "lies in the fact, that he composed music keeping in mind the common man. As a singer he made modifications to the pronunciations, which made the song more acceptable to the audiences. That it should sound sweet was his main aim. His simplicity endeared him to everybody."

Two outstanding heroes of their time and still considered the best the Telugu film industry has produced, A. Nageswara Rao and N.T. Rama Rao greatly benefited by the peerless voice of Ghantasala. Whether he sang for them or other heroes or even comedians like Relangi and Ramana Reddy, Ghantasala had never changed his voice but brought in that distinct change with a technique of his own, in the expression of the lyric, to suit the mood and the situation. He was the unseen actor behind the screen, emoting exactly the way the actor on screen had to enact the song situation, making the job of the actors easier, as thespian A. Nageswara Rao agrees referring to his performance in Devadas and in other films.

In the words of late Adi Narayana Rao, "Music is the language of emotion.

A combination of notes though pleasing to the ear is no music, unless it represents the inflexion of the voice of man or beast, so as to rise to an emotion.

Ghantasala has such divine talent and with his songs he could move the hearts of the people."

Ghantasala's blending of classical improvisations to the art of light music combined with his virtuosity and sensitivity puts him a class apart, above all others in the field. The singer had won many laurels including the Padma Shri award. He was the `asthana vidwan' of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam.

Ghantasala toured U.S.A., Europe in l971 and gave many performances including the unique four-hour concert at the U.N. General Assembly, the first for a South Indian singer. He was there for raising funds for various causes. He had produced three films - Paropakari, Sonthavooru and Bhaktha Raghunath.

With wife Savitri

Ghantasala's private records on devotional and other subjects include the much acclaimed Bhagavad-Gita, Gurajada Apparao's Puthadi Bomma, Karunasri's Pushpavilapam and Sri Sri's poems. The last song he had rendered for a film was Chakkanivade, Bhale Takkari vade, from Yasoda Krishna. However, the last song he had rendered was for a documentary Bhadrachala Ramadasu Vaibhavam (music: Master Venu) on February 10, 1974, straight from the hospital bed. And the next day, two months after completing his 51st birthday, he left for the celestial abode leaving behind his mesmerising music spell. His contribution to Telugu film music is unparalleled.

As a tribute to the legendary singer, a temple is coming up at Lankapalli near Arasavilli. And at the helm of the construction is a young man, Sarathchandra (28), which speaks volumes for the singer's popularity even in the present generation.

Says Ghantasala Rathnakumar, who is also making a mega documentary on his father, "the temple is called Sivasakthi Devasthanam. A Sivalinga is placed on the temple gopuram and with my father's idol complete with veena in his hands is placed inside the sanctum sanctorum. Applying modern computer technology, divine songs emanate from the idol, giving a feel as if he is rendering them." Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust on some. Ghantasala belongs to the second category. All through his achievements he remained humble and simple, rising to the occasion, helping the needy. That was his greatest achievement.

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