78-rpm shellac records in Sunny’s Gramophone Museum & Record Archive (Photo: Arohi Chakraborty)
India’s first record pressing plant was setup by HMV in Calcutta in 1908. That records from all over Asia were pressed there. These and many such facts have remained unknown to most of us for several decades. The reason – lack of conservancy efforts. Luckily, one retired forest officer in Kerala is recounting our music playback history in the most unlikely way – through his private collection of records and gramophones. His name – Sunny Mathew.
Sunny’s Gramophone Museum and Record Archive is abound with gramophones of varying pedigree, and several records - over 100,000 of them. Of these, some are century old, and some are the only remaining copies. Most of them sourced from an antique dealer in Mattancherry, and vaults of private record collectors.
Walking through the museum, one is transported back to the era when an unfamiliar device – the gramophone – turned India on its head practically overnight. The format gave birth to several recording legends – Abdul Karim Khan, Ustad Kurshid Ali Khan, Gauhar Jaan, Kesarbai Kerkar, Miss Rani among others. It is interesting to note how record companies latched on to everything popular those days – bhajan, western classical, Hindi and regional film, qawwali, comedy, drama etc to win more listeners and revenue.