I have spent the last month or so on a mission to find each and every single instance of Classical Indian Dance in Indian films. Given my enjoyment in making long, meticulous lists, this has been a most satisfying adventure! Guided by some fellow bloggers posts, friends, loved ones, and sheer Google-Fu, I’ve discovered some beautiful dances and even a few seemingly-rare gems along the way.
Commencing with this post today, my next series of posts will be about classical dances in Indian cinema: lists of my favorites, twin dances, informal practice scenes, humorous dances, dances featuring men, Tandav dances, lesser-seen dance forms, spectacular dances in general, and more! This is actually what I originally envisioned my blog to be but never had enough time to explore until now.
This post focuses on my most favorite classical film dances from black and white Indian films. There are many dances that I enjoy (and that will be highlighted in future posts!), but this post focuses on my top 11 that I love to watch repeatedly and that either keep me spellbound or immensely entertained. Old black and white films are such a pleasure to watch because I feel as though I'm discovering “lost” treasures and songs nearly forgotten.
Of course, as I noted in my Indian Classical Dance Extravanganza video, these dances are not “pure” classical dances but rather the filmy variety. What I love about film dances is the energy the camera generates through angles and editing as well as the beauty visualized through costume and set design. There’s just something magical about dances seen on screen.
And now, the list in order of affection:
Jalsaghar (Bengali, 1958, Dir: Satyajit Ray) - This nearly 8-minute dance, my friends, is what I wish more Kathak performances in films looked like! The dancer is Roshan Kumari, a well-known Kathak artist, who danced in a few other Hindi or Bengali films like Jhansi Ki Rani, Mirza Ghalib (see below!), Waris, and Basant Bahar. I love the way that her skirt gently floats back down after her fast chakkar spins; it's unfortunate that her eyes are obscured by the shadows in the print. The most magical part begins at 6:50-- I find myself holding my breath as the rhythm (and the ghungroo bells) speed faster and faster and faster, the beautifully-repetitive Hindustani music beckoning me to lose myself for a few moments.
Arundhati (Oriya, 1967) - “Abhimanini” - Odissi dancer Minati Mishra gives a lovely performance here mixing Odissi and Bharatanatyam movements. She can be seen most clearly in the last third. The English subtitles are a bonus! Since Odissi dancing is so rare to see in Indian films, I was over the moon when I discovered this gem. The s-shaped Tribhang posture is so gorgeous.
New Delhi (Hindi, 1956) - “Kanhaiya Tori Murli” (and the preceding dance scene) - It’s so lovely to see such nearly-pure classical Bharatanatyam in a film song; I’ve been told Vyjayanthimala is performing a classic Alarippu (thanks Ramesh!), which is one of the first things Bharatanatyam dancers learn. A shortened clip of this has been on You Tube for a while, but the one I’ve posted here also includes the full “Kanhaiya Tori Murli” song that directly follows it which includes at the very end a short segment of classical dancing again- not to be missed!
Chori Chori (Hindi, 1956) - Thillana dance - Here Kamala Lakshman performs a Bharatanatyam piece set against a lovely background and lighting scheme. I was first introduced to the dances of Kamala Lakshman through Richard’s Dances on the Footpath blog. I’ve been surprised that she’s not as well known as Vyjayanthimala yet she was such a huge star and instrumental in making Bharatanatyam popular and respected through cinema. Richard wrote a nice blog post about her here.
Narthanasala (Telugu, 1963) - "Jayagana Nayaka Vigna Vinayaka"- L Vijayalakshmi (aka L Vijayalaxmi) is a dancer I see a lot in classic Telugu films performing pseudo-classical. Her dancing in “Jayagana…” is perhaps the most classical that I’ve seen her get, and I find the way NTR directs her and even “dances” a little himself very charming and fun. Apparently, Nartanasala was a huge hit during its day and remains a classic.
Neethipathi (Tamil, 1955) - This song features a common dance theme from the period--what I call a “twin dance” in which two young women dance the same movements opposite of one another. I happened onto this song accidentally when I was looking for more information on Kuchalakumari, a trained Bharatanatyam dancer who danced in many films (and was the dancer opposite Kamala Laksham in the Konjum Salangai dance competition song). There are some beautiful classical movements, and the dancer on the left is completely delightful in her emoting. The dancer on the right reminds me a bit of L. Vijayalakshmi with her sweet-as-sugar face; anyone know who the dancers are? I’ll have another post later on these “twin dances” in Indian films.
Padikkadha Medhai (Tamil, 1960) - “Aadi Pizhaithalum” - What starts out as a delightful Bharatanatyam practice scene between two children turns into a… “wait, who is this dancer!!” When I first saw this song I was immediately reminded of Vyjayanthimala and her quick movements and facial expressions! I soon learned the dancer was EV Saroja, a trained classical dancer. While the song quickly turns to a folksy dance, I’m so charmed by the beginning that it finds a place on this list.
Shiv Bhakta (Hindi, 1955) - "Kailaashnath Prabhu Avinaashi" - While this song is less classical than many of the others, I am so charmed by Padmini’s grace and beauty that it finds a place here. I can’t keep my eyes off of her and her expressive face, and I love the way she embellishes the choreography.
Mirza Ghalib (Hindi/Urdu, 1954) - Another dance of Roshan Kumari makes the list! Unlike in Jalsaghar, this song only lasts just over a minute, but it is another wonderful Kathak piece.
Maro Charithra (Telugu, 1978) - "Vidhicheyu Vintalanni" - These last two songs feature none other than Kamal Hassan! His classical dances in the Telugu film Sagara Sangamam (Salangai Oli in Tamil) are well known, but I had no idea that he also did some short classical-like dances in two black and white films in 1978 (thanks Ramesh for the tip!)! The song Vidhicheyu begins with a home practice scene involving sufficiently tight bell bottoms; Kamal dances again briefly at 1:22 and then resumes again for the finale at 3:43 which is endearing and makes one wonder: “just how does he dance with those tight pants!“
Nizhal Nijamakirathu (Tamil, 1978) - The tight pants make a showing again here at :34 seconds in where Kamal dances for some children while his thick-spectacled admirer looks on. Can’t really compare it to dances like Vyjayanthimala’s above, but it’s so much fun (and deserves a wider audience!) that it belongs here on the list.
And that wraps up the list, though I will say it was agonizing deciding which songs were my top favorites. I'm excited to discuss all of the other lovely songs in themed-posts coming soon!