Recent Film Classical Dance Finds

Sunday, November 5, 2017

And...I'm back! :) Some personal matters have kept me away for a long time, but a moment of inspiration and deciding that my posts don't all have to be lengthy mini-dissertations led to a new post finally, yay! I've gathered a collection of some new classical dance finds in Indian films from the past few years as well as the exciting posting of some songs from Sringaram! Enjoy...

Sringaram (2007, Tamil) - It's been ten years since the devadasi period film Sringaram released, and while there is still no DVD or online release of all the songs or the whole film, director Sharada Ramanathan gave us a yet another glimmer of hope on her Facebook page this past March and June when she said that due to continued interest in the film it would be "out in the public domain soon" and "soon be with a main global network for all to see" with directions to "watch this space" to be informed when. Back in 2015 she had announced a summer DVD release after a Doordarshan telecast brought great interest in the film, but nothing materialized. But this time around, I'm apt to believe something will happen given the appearance online in the last few months of songs and dances from the film. For a throwback to my past posts about Sringaram, I reviewed the film back in 2010 (note that I need to replace all my photobucket-hosted photos on my blog, ugh!) and also wrote about its dance sequences.

"Three Seasons" - Posted to Sharada's YouTube account in April, "Three Seasons" features Saroj Khan's unusually on-beat choreography that is characteristic throughout the film, and trained Bharatanatyam dancers Aditi Rao Hydari and Hamsa Moily perform the Bharatanatyam and Odissi sourced and inspired movements beautifully in elegantly simple practice saris. I find it mesmerizing...

The lovely group procession dance sequence made an appearance last fall on Facebook as well here:

New 1950s Footage at Net-Film: Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai, E.V. Saroja, Chitrasena, Vajira, and Padma Subrahmanyam!

Sunday, July 17, 2016
Today I thought, "I wonder if Net-Film has digitized any new videos featuring South Asian dance since I last visited," and they most certainly HAVE—including nattuvangam/training footage of Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai, Bharatanatyam by E.V. Saroja, and Kandyan creative dance by Chitrasena and Vajira!

I had discovered the online Russian digital film/newsreel archive Net-Film back in 2013 when I posted about discovering rare video of the dancers Tara Chaudhri, Guru Gopinath, and Indrani Rahman at the site. Net-Film seems to have since expanded its collection beyond just Russia's Central Studio of Documentary Films, the "oldest and largest film studio in the former Soviet Union," to also include many other studios equaling storage of "about 50,000 films" that are being regularly digitized. Since Net-Film is aimed at providing paid licensing for its content, all the video clips are small, full-length "previews" which have the running timestamp prominently and annoyingly displayed at the bottom to aid requests for exact footage segments. Net-Film also seems to have updated the backend technology and usability of the site and it is no longer glitchy.

The Morning in India (1956, Russian)

This documentary film "about the history of India, struggle for independence, and present of the country" has the rare finds in reels 6 and 7 which focus on Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

Swapna Sundari Dancing in Kissaa Kursee Kaa (Hindi, 1977)

Sunday, June 19, 2016
Today I was alerted to Anuj Kumar's days-old The Hindu article about the 1977 Hindi film Kissaa Kursee Kaa which reveals that the director used classical dance forms "performed by Swapna Sundari to anchor the narrative." Swapna Sundari! I always enjoy finding examples of famous dancers performing in cinema, and learning that the well known Kuchipudi and Vilasini Natyam dancer Swapna Sundari danced in a film was certainly surprising!

It's a controversial film for Swapna to have involved herself in. A scathing satirical and symbolic work spoofing the Indira Gandhi government, Kissaa Kursee Kaa (Tale of a Throne, aka Kissa Kursi Ka) was made during the turbulent period known as “the Emergency” when India's government declared a state of emergency ushering in a dark period in India’s modern history which saw basic freedoms and rights suspended. The print we see on YouTube is actually a remake of the original that was banned and never released and had all its prints destroyed by the government. After the Emergency was lifted, director Amrit Nahata reshot and released the film in 1977 (while The Hindu article and YouTube video list 1978, I've listed 1977 which is the date the Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema and many other articles list). The film has been in the news recently again after Nahata's son has demanded the original prints be returned or compensation be made. I would love to hear what Swapna's experience was in taking part in this film, but I've not been able to find any other mentions of it.

While the dances are disappointingly underwhelming and brief (what a let down!), they are notable not only for being an uncommon example of South Indian dance being performed by trained dancers in a Hindi film but also featuring what looks like Kuchipudi dance movements. The male dancer is another rare sight whose identity I'm not sure of—according to a friend's translation, the film credits list Sudharshan Dheer and Raghavan as possibilities, and since the male dancer looks nothing like the late famous Kathak dancer Sudharshan Dheer, my guess is he must be Raghavan. I bet Sudharshan Dheer assisted with choreography especially the Kathak parts.

Muthukumara Pillai On Screen in Kannika (1947), and Other Nattuvanars in Indian Cinema

Saturday, November 28, 2015
Thanks to two YouTubers who have uploaded songs from the 1947 Tamil film Kannika in the past few months, Bharatanatyam dance history aficionados can now witness on screen the nattuvanar Kattumannar Koil Muthukumara Pillai (1874-1960, also known as Muthukumaran or Muthukumarappa, of the village Kattumannarkoil aka Mannargudi or Kattumannargudi) at the age of 73 playing the role of a nattuvanar in the song "Natanam Adinar":

Muthukumara Pillai can be seen at 1:14, 1:58, closeup at 2:55, and 3:51 onward
(the lower quality version includes 2 more seconds where he begins to speak, but it's cut off!!)

How do I know it's him? I had read a while back in the September 1993 Sruti magazine feature on Muthukumara Pillai (for brevity, MKP) that when he was in Coimbatore from 1944-1947 teaching exercises and dances to young boys at a drama company, he "came in contact with Pakshiraja Studios and trained the proprietor Sriramulu Naidu's wife Saroja for her lead role in the film 'Kannika' [and] Muthukumara Pillai himself too made a brief appearance in the film." When I watched the recently-uploaded songs and compared the nattuvanar's appearance with known photos of Muthukumara Pillai, it was clearly him! Compare these stills from Kannika with a photo of MKP that I featured in my post on Muthuswami Pillai and that must have been taken in the late 1930s which were the years the young man on the right, Muthuswami Pillai, trained with MKP.

Left: Kannika  Right: Muthukumara Pillai [credit: Mohan Khokar]
This Kannika footage is incredible because Muthukumara Pillai belonged to the oldest generation of nattuvanars whose hereditary artistic practice was discovered in the twentieth century transformation of what we today call Bharatanatyam. What's more, he along with his contemporary Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai (also known as Pandanallur Meenakshisundaram Pillai, from Pandanallur village, for brevity MSP) are often remembered today as the two top-ranking gurus and nattuvanars of their generation who trained most of the first non-hereditary Bharatanatyam dancers who spread and popularized the art form far and wide. The two of them each trained such legends as Ram Gopal, Rukmini Devi Arundale, Mrinalini Sarabhai, and Kamala Lakshman.

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