Paramasivan: treasure trove of ranga geethegalu

Musical plays of the yesteryears have rarely been recorded. But here is a man who remembers more than 1200 songs. His passion is undiminished even at 80.

“I am 80 years old. I have spent 76 years in theatre”, when I heard the senior citizen on the stage say this, I thought he must have got mixed up. But I was wrong.

He joined the Chamundeshwari Karnataka Nataka Sabha, which was then run by Nandi Basappa for the Mysore Palace authorities, at the age of four because of abject poverty. “My father was an archaka (priest) in a small temple. His income was not sufficient to feed our family of seven”, says R Paramasivan. He can can sing 1260 Ranga Geethegalu (songs from the plays) from his memory in a majestic voice even today.

Theatrical life

He first donned the role of Charudatta’s son in the drama Vasantha Sene in Bangalore. He sang a couple of songs and said a few dialogues. He earned a princely sum of three silver coins. Those days theatre companies were run on share basis and all the artists shared whatever the play earned as per the length and importance of the role each one of them played.

Paramsivan’s house is home to many musical instruments. Pic: Sudha Narasimhachar

He has been in theatre ever since. “I played Narada, Prahlada, Dhruva, Anjaneya and so many other roles. Devendrappa, the court musician of Mysore Palace spotted me and took me home. He trained me in vocal music up to the level of Vidwath. I have been performing on AIR right from my 12th year. I was an AIR artist in Mysore and at present I am an AIR/DD Bangalore artist.”

Paramasivan is a Vidwath (equivalent of MA) in Veena and Violin and has worked with all leading theatre groups like the Gubbi Company, Subbaiah Naidu Company, Hirannaiah’s Company and many others. He worked with actor Rajkumar who went on to become a superstar, from 1944 to 1952 in the Subbaiah Naidu company as an actor, singer, harmonium player and composer.

He has been playing the harmomium since 1949 and has worked with leading music directors like Kalinga Rao, who is a doyen in the field of sugama sangeetha (light music), Padmanabha Shastri and G K Venkatesh. “I cannot forget my multiple roles as playback singer, actor and composer in famous plays like Krishna Leela and Subhadra. I even acted as Karna in a Gamakageya Nataka (a musical) ‘Kunthi Karna’ of B S Kaushik. We played many shows of this play in Chennai and Bangalore” he adds. Besides, Paramasivan has also composed music for 20 dance ballets for famous dance schools like the Keshava Nruthya Shaala of Late Keshava Murthy and Kalamandala of Usha Datar.

He composed music and played instruments for the Chalana Chitra Kalavidara Sangha plays in Chennai.

When he is not singing

Since Paramasivan started working young, he had no formal education. He took up SSLC exam privately, passed with a first class and joined the Government of Mysore as a music teacher. One of his sisters B Nagarathnamma, too entered theatre as a child. She later formed an all-women theatre group, donned male roles and created history. His other sister R Manjula too is a famous comedy actor in theatre.

Age hasn’t come in the way of his passion for theatre. Pic: Sudha Narasimhachar

His wife S K Jayalakshmi, aged 62 years, is a retired teacher of JSS High School, Mysore. She is a post graduate with a B.Ed. She says the issue of his education never came up. “Those days, marriages were arranged by parents. Since my husband had a Government job, was a good person, from a good family, had a small house to live in and did not have vices, my parents chose him” she says.

Their daughter 28-year-old Smitha Paramasivan is a software engineer, married and settled in California. She is a Bharathanatyam dancer. Their son Deepak Paramasivan, aged 30 years, has just finished his PhD in Energy and Climate Modeling from IISc. But he has a keen interest in music. He sings and plays many instruments like the violin, harmonium, sitar and sarangi. He is training under the famed sarangi artist Ustad Fayaz Khan.

The simple house that the family lives in Rajajinagar I Block has not enough space for all the instruments and the large number of trophies that Paramasivan has been winning all his life.

Legacy for the future

H S Govinde Gowda, a retired Deputy Commissioner of Commercial Tax and H G Shivalinga Murthy, a theatre person, have jointly arranged to record 1000 Ranga Geethegalu in ten CDs and also print books containing 2500 songs just to save this wonderful treasure for the future generations. They are doing this just for their love for this form of art and their respect for Paramasivan’s talent. Shivalinga Murthy has been working with Paramasivan in the theatre for quite some time and is his favourite student.

Govinde Gowda has collected an ocean of information from the Palace and other places. He even contributed five lakh rupees for this project. Paramasivan has compiled, composed, sang and roped in other singers for this mammoth project.

Paramasivan dictates these songs from memory while Shivalinga Murthy has been writing it down, this process has been going one for over a year now. Eighty singers including B Jayashree, granddaughter of Gubbi Veeranna have lent their voice to this music compilation.

The CDs and books are going to be released on 19 November, 2011 at Nayana Ranga Mandira, adjacent to Ravindra Kalakshetra at 6.p.m. Theatre personalities Master Hirannaiah and B Jayashree will be present.

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