Below is a list of all 34 practice numbers I can think of in Indian films where the purpose of the song or scene is not "performance" but rather informal "practice" overall. It's interesting how many of them are from the 80s and 90s, the seeming "golden era" of this type of classical performance in film. The videos below are listed in rough order of awesomeness, favorites first. If you can make it all the way to the end, consider yourself a classical dance nerd like me! (Or maybe it's just list-making nerd?) Enjoy!
Sringaram (Tamil, 2006) - This is an absolutely beautiful Bharatanatyam Padam piece made all the more enjoyable by the English subtitles. It features Manju Bhargavi (many years after her performance in Shankarabharanam below) and Aditi Rao Hydari. I really hope that this gorgeous film gets released on DVD one day; my posting of this clip is a plea to the makers to do so! (My separate post on the dances from this film is here).
[Video removed at request of director.]
Dance Like A Man (English, 2003) - Shobana, one of my favorite classical dancers, gives some beautiful performances in this film accompanied by the delightful music of Ganesh-Kumaresh. I must point out the hilariously-bad performance of Arif Zakaria in the second clip starting at 1:35. He is clearly giving his all in an effort to keep up with Shobana, but it's a lost cause. His expressions of sheer terror and then joy at getting through the number are priceless. The last clip below is a nice, slow-moving expressional segment featuring Shobana being taught by a devadasi. (Update: More about Shobana's film dances here and here).
Yugant (Bengali, 1995) - I got a hold of this film after learning that its dances were directed by Ileana Citaristi, an Italian woman who moved to India in the 70s and learned Odissi under the legendary guru, the late Kelucharan Mohapatra. While many of the dances in the film are modern, I was delighted to find two scenes of Odissi dance practice especially since it's a rarity in Indian films. The film is a slow-moving drama about a man and woman's relationship; the romance is at a rocky place during the first scene below as evidenced by the very humorous "interruption".
Vanaprastham (Malayalam, 1999) - Like the rare Odissi dancing above, this film features another rare dance form in cinema, Kathakali. The lovely dance scenes are heightened by the gorgeous cinematography and atmosphere; I will have a review of this phenomenal film posted soon. The child featured in the young boys' practice scene gives a glimpse of the exaggerated facial expressions seen in the dance form, and he looks so much like Mohanlal it's a wonder of casting! (Update: My review of the film is here).
Sagara Sangamam (Telugu, 1983 - Salangai Oli in dubbed Tamil) - In this part of the film, Kamal Hassan's character is being asked to apologize to the young woman for a bad review he had written about her dance performance and is accused of knowing nothing about classical dance. When confronted, he asks her to show him how she expressed the lyrics on the cassette. He then shows her how it's really done by dancing Bharatanatyam, Kathak, and Kathakali versions of the song clip. He ends it by telling her that she is too concerned with the audience's reaction and calls her "Nache Mayuri," a "Dancing Peacock." Ouch.
Shankarabharanam (Telugu, 1979) - Real-life classical dancer Manju Bhargavi gives an earthy and glowing practice performance here on a rooftop with the overcast-crowned sea in the background. It looks like something pulled straight out of real life- hitch up the sari and dance when the mood moves you!
Ananda Bhairavi (Kannada, 1983) - "Guru Brahma" - Here, a Brahmin priest (Girish Karnad) teaches a little girl Kuchipudi and demonstrates the hand gestures and postures for her to mimic back. It's a delightful song with some nice dancing; I wonder where that little girl is now! Edit 12/11: Uploaded the Kannada song versions from this film since the quality is much better; corrected release date. (Update: My post about this film and its dances is here).
Ananda Bhairavi (Kannada, 1983)- "Chaitrada Kusumaanjali" - As a continuation to the clip above, this song shows the little girl growing into womanhood under the tutelage of her dance instructor. I'm such a huge fan of the grown actress' dance skills- she forms such beautiful, crisp lines, and gets ample opportunity to show them off here. Edit 12/11: Embedded the Kannada version of this song which is in much better quality; corrected release date.
Sruthi Layalu (Telugu, 1987) - What I want to know is who is this little boy and is that bottle glued to his head! (Edit: The boy is Shanmukha Srinivas). The performance showcases the "plate shimmying" seen distinctly in Kuchipudi, though I cringe a bit watching the bleeding feet at the end. Overall, awesome.
Swarna Kamalam (Telugu, 1988) - “Koluvai Unnade” - This song was featured in my favorite classical dances post; It’s a nice dance with a humorous twist; Bhanupriya’s character in the film hates practicing dance hence her irritable expressions and funny behavior. Watch out for the little boy who is also quite the dancer (and, I suspect, the same little boy in Sruthi Layalu)! (Update: My post about Bhanupriya's dances in this film is here).
Kamaladalam (Malayalam, 1992) - This film contains some fantastic Kathakali dances as did Vanaprastham listed above. Here is a practice clip scene featuring a young Vineeth and some wonderful expressions from the group.
Swathi Thirunal (Malayalam, 1987) - "Alarsara" - Abhinaya (expression) features center-stage in the first part of this clip. In the last minute, the dancer can be seen full-length in a glowing white sari dancing what looks to be Mohiniattam. The blouseless sari is due to the time period the film is set in, and it adds to the languid beauty of the performance. Edit 12/11: Uploaded better-quality version.
Siri Siri Muvva (Telugu, 1978) - This is a charming song in which Jayapradha's character is shown dreaming of learning Kuchipudi while practicing in the mud. It also features one of those staples of "real" classical dance practice, the wooden box that is struck to keep time (I have no idea what it is called- anyone want to enlighten me?). The film was later remade into Hindi as Sargam.
Azhagan (Tamil, 1991) - Bhanupriya plays a dance instructor and love interest of Mammootty's character in this film. In the scene below, she gives a wonderfully-pissy practice performance when confronted. My favorite part is when she moves away from Mammootty in a ghungroo-enhanced huff after he turns off her music. The attitude! She tells him that dance was everything for her and she didn't dream of love or men until he came into her life and swept her off her feet. Update: There's also a small practice segment of Bhanupriya in this dream sequence.
Sagara Sangamam (Telugu, 1983) - This scene showcases a packed Kathak dance class that holds Kamal Hassan's character mesmerized. He succeeds in communicating to a woman whose language he does not know that he wishes to join the class and much to his delight makes it in.
Autograph (Tamil, 2004) - This very short scene features a beautiful Mohiniattam group practice scene with exquisite lighting and atmosphere. For that alone it is worth a view.
Kamaladalam (Malayalam, 1992) - This is a lovely Mohiniattam practice scene in the film; Mohanlal's character clearly comes and disturbs the session. And in the surprise of the evening, the end of the clip (starting at 9:48) features a white dude practicing Kathakali. Now I really have to see this film... I'll also note there is a short Mohiniattam practice scene where Mohanlal is teaching in this clip.
Nache Mayuri (Hindi, 1986) - This film immediately begins with a scene of Sudha Chandran admiring a woman practicing classical dance on a nearby patio and then dancing on her own. Sudha looks absolutely beautiful.
Nache Mayuri (Hindi, 1986) - This scene in the film features Sudha Chandran dancing in a Kathak class. As I noted in my review of the film, Sudha plays herself in this film about her own real-life story of losing part of a leg in a car accident and continuing to dance with a prosthetic. She dances so admirably well despite her condition! There's also a brief scene of her dancing at the beginning of the video below if you want to "rewind" to it.
Bawarchi (Hindi, 1972) - In this sweet film, Rajesh Khanna plays the role of a cook hired for a family who ends up changing it for the better. One of the many skills he has is Kathak knowledge, which he teaches to one of the girls in the family in a nice practice scene.
Khoobsoorat (1980, Hindi) - "Piya Bawari" - This is a very cute Kathak-inspired performance by Rekha and another woman (whose identity I'm not sure of) wearing simple saris dancing in front of a dude on a Tabla. I think the unnamed lady is an awkward dancer, but Rekha gives a nice performance that surprised me.
Umrao Jaan (Urdu, 1981) - "Pratham Dhar Dhyaan Dinesh" - This song features Kathak/Mujra practice dancing briefly by two girls and then by Rekha and another dancer. A nice, slow performance set to some haunting music.
Vaithegi Kaathirunthal (Tamil, 1984) - I learned of this clip when Prasanth at GoodTamilFilms wrote a blog post about the film. In the clip, Revathy is seen leading a dance class with her back facing the camera until her identity is finally revealed. The majesty of the South Indian temples towering in the background is beautiful.
Devasuram (Malayalam, 1993) - Revathy gives a brief classical practice performance in this clip; I like the way her sari is wrapped with a little fan in the front.
Thooval Kottaram (Malayalam, 1996) - This short scene features a group of young women practicing classical dance led by an instructor. This film also has a very nice Bharatanatyam competition number which I'll feature in a later post.
Maro Charithra (Telugu, 1978) - "Vidhicheyu Vintalanni" - A repost from my favorite black-and-white classical songs post, this song begins with a home practice scene involving sufficiently tight bell bottoms; Kamal dances again briefly at 1:22 and then resumes again for the stunning finale at 3:43.
Ek Duje Ke Liye (Hindi, 1981) - Kamal Hassan gets a lesson in classical dance in this song; the film is a remake of Maro Charithra. I'm not sure what possessed Kamal to hike-up his already too tight pants at 6:28!
Vanaja (Telugu, 2006) - These two Kuchipudi practice performances by the young star of the film, Mamatha Bhukya, are noteworthy because she learned the dance form with no prior training for about a year in preparation for the film. The sequences are rustically shot and worth a watch (especially with the English subtitles!)
Nizhal Nijamakirathu (Tamil, 1978) - Another repost from my favorite black-and-white classical songs post, 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.
Padikkadha Medhai (Tamil, 1960) - "Aadi Pizhaithalum" - Yet another repost from my favorite black-and-white classical songs post, this song features a very short segment of two children practicing Bharatanatyam and then transitions into a stunning non-practice dance performance of EV Saroja!
Marunaattil Oru Malayali (Malayalam, 1971) - "Govardhanagiri Kayyiluyarthiya" - This one is a bit too commercial and songish, but I love the dance movements and retroness of the whole thing. The women are definitely "practicing," so it finds a place on this list, albeit last. Edit: Yah...this song is pushing it. But Minai always has to throw in a curveball! Video viewable here.
Edit: Adding the following suggestions 10/29/10
Pournami (Telugu, 2006) - Thanks to Dustdevil for reminding me about this one! Here, Charmme practices classical-inspired dance in various picturesque locations whilst Prabhas accompanies her with his rhythmic drum. The part where she practices the rhythms with her feet while shopping for vegetables is a cute touch. While I'm not a big fan of Charmme's dance style, the spirit of the song is in the right place so it definitely belong on the list. Charmme also has a brief practice scene in this clip.
Raavanan (Tamil, 2010) - "Kalvare" - Thanks to Ramesh for pointing this one out to me!
Last: I almost listed the song "Chandham" from Chess (Malayalam, 2006), but that Dileep guy just ruins the whole thing for me and it's way too songy for the list... and just, bad. But I had to put it here for kicks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0fpf44jgXw&feature=related
And that ends the list! If you've made it this far, congrats for being as nerdy as me! :) As always, do suggest any scenes or songs that I might have missed and I'll add them to the list. I'm always hungry to find more examples of these kinds of things in film, or to just discuss them with others. And do let me know of any errors!