It’s quite the story and perhaps one tailor-made for the movies. Despite the inspirational nature of the true story and the respect Sudha should be given, I thought the movie was not as great as I expected. First, I expected to see gobs and gobs of classical dancing with carnatic music and live musicians- you know, the real deal. In reality, the film features a handful of short scenes of Sudha dancing classically (or watching others dance) informally off-stage, and the longer on-stage dance songs in the film are of the “filmified” classical variety accompanied by Lata Mangeshkar belting out ear-piercing modern Hindi tunes. The performances were not "real" Bharatanatyam/Kuchipudi as I thought they would be. When there was actual classical/carnatic music used, it was presented devotionally and there was no dancing! During a scene of angst, I kept hoping Mayuri would dance with her crutches like Sandhya in Jal Bin Macchli Nritya Bin Bijli! The long dance sequences in the film were sweet enough and full of fun, kitschy costumes, but I was expecting more. According to the intro credits, Gopi Krishna choreographed all the dance sequences.
That said, the short sequences where Sudha dances on her own show her incredible gracefulness and joy. She is one of those dancers whose love for the art form is clearly visible. It’s unbelievable how well she dances with a prosthetic leg! While she can’t do the half-seated Araimandi position, of course, she does twists, turns, and even puts all her weight on her prosthetic foot at times. Her ghungroos ring equally well on both feet. If someone didn't know she had a prosthetic leg I doubt they would be able to notice it in her performances in the first half. I didn't know which foot was fake when I first watched it and couldn't figure it out! Of course, after I learned it was her right foot, the stiffness became quite obvious. Imagine the amount of practice it would take to execute these moves and not fall flat on one's face! I tried imagining having to place weight and pivot on an object that cannot be felt by your senses- what immense effort it would take.
In addition to the lack of quality classical dancing, the other problem is that the film has an over-the-top, melodramatic feel to it. All emotions are marked by dramatic swellings of orchestral strings and nothing is subtle. There were so many dialogue-heavy scenes between characters, and since I was watching a VCD from Induna I had no subtitles to help me and ended up fast forwarding through a lot of the talky parts (which ended up being quite humorous as VCDs speed up voices into chipmunk mode when you FF, I learned!).
I felt like the film spent too much time on characters talking to each other; rather, it needed more realism and backstory to show us Mayuri practicing and improving her dance skills and how she slowly built her status and popularity (rather than “poof! she’s a superstar!”). There were some laughable scenes such as the implausible car crash, fiery stage accident, and the mother's constant irritation with everything. The second half of the film, however, did a fairly good job of focusing on how much anguish she felt in her condition and showing us how she slowly endured physical therapy and increased the complexity of her dance to finally be able to use her leg normally. I just wish more time had been spent showing us how she became such a great danseuse.
As to the plot, here's a little summary and some screencaps I took:
Mayuri (Sudha Chandran) is a young woman who falls in love with classical dancing after seeing others perform the art.
However, Mayuri's mother is extremely upset that her daughter is showing interest in dance. In the past, a family member had become a popular dancer who was tragically killed when a fire broke out on stage during a performance (in a very WTFey sequence).
Mayuri can't stop following her passion though and discovers a local dance class through a male classmate who encourages her to follow her passion, and they fall in love.
When the mother finds out Mayuri is actually dancing and performing, she continues to freak out, spew verbal tirades (as she does through most of the film) and even stabs herself in the stomach at one point (but don’t worry, in the next scene she’s good as new!). She is determined to get Mayuri’s marriage fixed but Mayuri won’t have it! As Mayuri continues to dance, we see suddenly that she’s become quite the dancing superstar with attention from the national press.
But her success only lasts so long; after a terrible car accident while in her boyfriend's car, Mayuri wakes up and is horrified to find her right leg has been amputated below the knee.
On top of that, she later finds out her boyfriend is seeing another girl, and her mom continues to be an irritating nutbag. Mayuri, depressed and full of angst, lets her frustrations out in a song of devotion (or perhaps anger?) to Nataraj. She's got a sorry lot in life at this point!
Things begin to look brighter when Mayuri learns of a new prosethic leg device. Her initial experience with it is incredibly difficult and painful (one grossout scene shows her leg squirting blood after she dances vigorously), but a later model made with the latest technology is more comfortable and allows her to flex the foot and bend the toes a bit.
After much practice, she is able to regain her ability to dance and ends the film with a stage performance that leaves the entire audience in tears. Though my favorite part was when her sorry excuse for a boyfriend comes crawling back to her at the end and she ignores him, dancing blissfully in her house as he tries to get her attention behind the window, in vain. You go girl!
In doing research on Sudha Chandran, I had no idea she has been very popular since this film released. She continues to act in TV serials and films and was a contestant (dancing with her prosthetic leg) on the Indian version of Dancing with the Stars (Jhalak Dikhla Ja). Her full story can be found over at the Disability India Network. It's obvious from that article that the pain she was shown to experience in the film was drawn from her actual experience.
So overall, I thought the film was a wonderful, inspiring story but simply didn't do full justice to its source material.
Here are some videos of the film (Update: Relinked April 2013):
Sudha's stage performance before she has the accident. Unless you knew beforehand her right leg was fake, it would be difficult to tell!
A very short segment of classical dance practice:
Mayuri's end performance with her prosthetic leg clearly visible: