My Favorite "Twin" Dances in Classic Indian Cinema

Sunday, October 3, 2010
I was first introduced to what I call "twin" dances when I saw the song "Aduvome" in Naam Iruvar some time back on the Dances on the Footpath blog. In the song, a young Kamala Lakshman is shown dancing twice in the same frame through some special effects magic.  The film released in 1947 (way before Hollywood's similar effect in The Parent Trap) and I'm intrigued by just how they did it!

As I've been watching more and more classic Indian films I've noticed the "twin" dance, a dance featuring two young women (or one superimposed twice) who perform the same dance movements, was a popular presentation style. In my opinion, the best "twin" dances are those based on South Indian classical dance forms because the crisp moves look stunning when seen in parallel.  I suppose I could call these dances "dancing duos" or something similar, but since they have the specific characteristic of each dancer following similar movements close to each other, I'll stick with "twin dances."

Here are my favorite "twin" dances in classic Indian cinema:

Ratha Kanneer (Tamil, 1954) - Kadhavai Saathadi - Here, the Sai-Subbulaxmi sisters perform a fantastic Bharatanatyam number with slower abhinaya in the first half and then some faster dancing in the second half!  It's unbelievable how in sync they are from 3:15 to the end (my favorite segment!). While this song seems very light and cheery, the film itself seems to be very dark and daring for its time.  Sai and Subbulaxmi were best known for their "twin" dances and as such show up six times on this list!  Richard had a wonderful post (with excellent comments) regarding the sisters and their films on his blog.  It's a shame there is so little information out there on them.Update: I've published many posts since on the Sayee and Subbulakshmi sisters!

Starts 1:27:50

Nirmaalyam (Malayalam, 1973) - "Panimathimukhi Baale" - This is an excellent Mohiniattam dance by two unidentified young women- it might be my favorite Mohiniattam piece I've seen in older films.  The slow, languid grace of the dance form is simply beautiful, and I've always loved the hip fan the dancers wear that perfectly echoes their swirling movements around the torso.  This song would be even prettier if it (and the white and gold costume) was in color. There's also a couple of white dudes watching the performance which make me curious about the film.

Bhakthakuchela (Malayalam, 1961) - Vikramarajendra - A nice Bharatanatyam-based number by two young women who each look suspiciously like Kamala Lakshman from a distance (and one I'm still holding hope that it is!). Since they are each of different height, I discarded the idea that this song is a "superimposed" visual effect of the same dancer like in Naam Iruvar (though it does use that effect near the beginning)Edit: Yes, the dancers are Kamala and her sister Rhadha! Though the dancers can't match the perfect sync of Sai Subbulakshmi, they are very skilled and charming.  And I love the copious fabric used on their fans and pyjama legs making for a lovely dance silhouette and araimandi.

Neethipathi (Tamil, 1955) - This one is a repost from my favorite classical songs list I've nearly convinced myself the dancer on the right is a young L Vijayalakshmi (it looks so much like her!), and the dancer on the left is simply radiant.  Such a great find.  Edit: It appears the dancer on the right is indeed L. Vijayalaxmi, and the dancer on the left is EV Saroja (see the comments)!

Start 3:08

Azaad (Hindi, 1955) - Aplam Chaplam - This one seems to be the most well known "twin" dance of the fabulous Sai-Subbulaxmi, and it is such a peppy and addictive Bharatanatyam-based number! They show off their posing flexibility and stamina at 2:04.

Mallaikalan (Tamil, 1954) - "Neeli Megan" - A slower Bharatanatyam dance by the Sai-Subbulaxmi sisters with some beautiful arm postures and hastas at the end. I learned from Richard's blog post on this song that Azaad was a remake of this film, which explains the similarity in costume and look.  I'm not surprised that the Tamil version retains more classical authenticity while the Hindi remake "spices" things up a bit.

Bhaktha Kuchela (Malayalam, 1961) - "Paaril Aarum Kandaal" - I have spent much time staring at this lovely dance trying to figure out if it's the same dancer repeated twice or two different dancers!  I settled on the latter because they look slightly different in the closeups (I think they are the same exact pair from the first Bhaktha Kuchela song above).  Edit: See this post for a better and longer version of this video! Ramesh identified the dancing as Lavani for me; Lavani is a style from Maharashtra which I have a difficult time identifying (other than the free-pallu sari style).  A very nice number and song!

See Bhaktha Kuchela video above

Bharosa (Hindi, 1963) - "Dhadka O Dil Hadka" - A very fun, energetic number by Sai and Subbulaksmi once again!  Here they've decided to show off their acrobatic skills even further by bending their bodies all the way back to touch the ground! They've also clearly grown up from their earlier songs (and the taller one (Sai) looks a lot different!).

Chori Chori (Hindi, 1956) - "Man Bhavan Ke Ghar" - The inimitable Sai-Subbalaxmi once again! Here they switch it up a bit and dance a Kathak/Mujra (do I even know how to define these terms?) number which they manage to make very sweet and cute.

Sharada (Hindi, 1957) - "Aaju Re Baaju Naaju" - This song has a "tribal" theme and starts off with some entertaining set design, costumes, and singing before transitioning to the excellent team of Sai-Subbulaxmi!  They are so skilled at performing fast movements in sync.

Basant Bahar (Hindi, 1956) - In this film is a nice dance with Nimmi and Kum Kum performing movements inspired from north and south Indian classical dance set to a nice instrumental song.

Start 59:03

Mr. Sampat (Hindi, 1952) - "Aao Aao Kahani Suno" - This is a pretty dance with a young Padmini and another dancer whose striking features stand in contrast to Padmini's sweetness.

Pathala Bhairavi (Telugu, 1951) - "Vintha Katha" - This song has a "dance drama" style with various settings and styles on a very good print.  Only the first two dances retain the "twin" style, and I'll assume those are the "Vintha Katha" song (and not the "Raanante Raaneranoy" song).

Starts 37:13

Chitralekha (Hindi, 1964) - "Ae Ri Janeh Na Doongih" - While my list is comprised of all black and white songs so far, this color song was so great I had to include it!  There's lots of great varied "twins" dancing amidst shots of a romantic couple singing to each other. I haven't found many color "twin" dances that I like (many of them in the 60s and beyond tend to be in mythological films with gaudy outfits and dancing), but this one is lovely.

These remaining songs are "twin" dances that I ran across and liked but didn't consider my favorites.  I thought I'd list them in case anyone is interested:
  • Alibabavum 40 Thirudargalum (Tamil, 1956) - "Aaduvudu Paaduvudu Kasi" - Sai-Subbulaxmi court dance
  • Maragatham (Tamil, 1959) - Folk 
  • Kumkuma Rekha (Telugu, 1960) - Court-dancing style
  • Lajwanti (Hindi, 1958)- Aaja Chhaye Kaale Badra - Folk
  • Maa Ke Ansoo (Hindi, 1959)- Kisiki Aankh Ladi - Kathak/Mujra
  • Mohabbat Isko Kehte Hain (Hindi, 1965) - Mehfil Me Aap Aye - Kathak/Mujra
  • Halaku (Hindi, 1956) - Aji Chale Aao - Minoo Mumtaz and Helen folk


  1. The pick of these songs certainly has to be the ratta kanner song , which , apart from being a certified carnatic arrangement in atana with a mridangam/ghatam solo, also has the following provocative and somewhat laudible lyrics " close the door on the penniless suitor, even if he be god" and " Avoid the penniless musician/artist" and "seek the dumb/affection seeking wealthy suitor to climb the social ladders"

    They don't make them like they used to. :)

  2. Minai, this post is great - my favorite in the series so far. But that shouldn't be a surprise. :) Thanks once again for the references. If I were to do such a list, I think the only way it would differ is that I would include at least one of the many dances that starred both Padmini and her sister Ragini. But you did include Padmini, so I shouldn't complain. :)

    By the way, the trick of showing the same dancer twice in one frame was used on Padmini and Ragini in different films, to the effect that lots of people think certain dances are Padmini-Ragini dances when they consist of only one or the other. The trick was also used with Vyjayanthimala.

    The first Sayee Subbalakshmi clip is great, and I don't think I had seen that one before. I am glad to have learned just a little more about these dancers (including preferred spellings of their names :) ) thanks to comments sent to my blog by members of Sayee's family, two which comments appeared under the post that you linked to. (I don't know if Subbalakshmi is still around, but it was sad to see that Sayee had died just last year.)

    I agree that at least one of the dancers in the Bhakta Kuchela dances looks like Kamala Lakshman. I'm pretty sure one is Kuchala Kumari, especially since this was mentioned as one of her films in one or two articles that I saw.

    And while we're identifying daners :) ... In the Chitralekha clip, one of those dancers in pink is Minoo Mumtaz.

  3. P.S. I was so eager to rush comments out on this one, I committed typos! (What's a daner?) Please excuse. :)

  4. ramesh - Is "atana" the raaga? I'm so amused that those lyrics are really what the song is about! I might have to collaborate with you to do a full translation soon! :) Thanks as always for the insiders tips on these lovely songs. Keep it coming!!

    Richard - I'm glad that you liked the post- I knew that you would! You know, I made an effort to find "twin dances" of two or more of the Travancore sisters, but I just couldn't find any! I've seen a few songs of them dancing together, but not in the distinct "twin" way. If you know of some, feel free to suggest them to me (especially the camera trick ones you mentioned). I'm thinking this would be an awesome post topic for you too maybe! (hint hint!) hehe :)

    Yes, those comments about the sisters on your blog were amazing- so stunning to hear more about their lives, and that from a family member. I wonder too if Subbulakshmi is alive.

    And thank you for the dancer IDs! It's just too much fun "sleuthing" around the internet trying to find more information about these classic songs and people. :)

  5. minai, yes and certainly :D

  6. Minai, per your requests, here's a nice Padmini-Ragini "twin" dance from Amar Deep (1958):

    The ones that used the trick of including two Padminis, two Raginis, or two Vyjayanthimalas in one frame weren't done as twin dances. In fact, they were done as dancers of different genders (or at least dancers obviously dressed up as different genders :) ).

    Here is the one from Kalpana that has two Raginis:

    Here, in Payal, two Padminis:

    From Sangham (Telugu version of Penn/Ladki), two Vyjayanthimalas:

    Two Vyjayanthimalas again:

    And I'm sure there's more of this sort of thing out there. :)

  7. I came through dustedoff and was bowled over by what I saw. You say you are a white American and do not know any Indian language but I am amazed at your knowledge, I learned a lot from this post particularly about the sisters Sai and Subbalaxmi, Aplam Chaplam happens to be one of my favourites.

  8. I was tempted to write a comment myself right away in response to the second sentence of Shilpi Bose's comment above. But I have decided to wait for Minai to respond first. (Of course, I will say right now that Minai certainly deserves to be complimented on the knowledge she has shown here. However, with regard to that second sentence... :) )

  9. Richard - A big thank you for the videos! I will go through them all this evening when I can enjoy them at a leisurely pace. I still think you should write a blog post about these kind of songs! :)

    Shilpi - Thank you for your comment. I've learned a lot about Indian films and dance through internet searching, reading books, reading other similar blogs (like, for example, Richard's!), and talking to my friends who are Indian. But of course there's so much more to be learned (and some things that are beyond my ability as an "outsider" to understand). I'm so happy to find another fan of the Sai-Subbulaxmi sisters! We all need to band together and create an extensive fansite or something. :)

  10. Thank you once again for the mention, Minai!

    To Shilpi, I think you will find that there are quite a few of us blogging about these old Indian films (or posting about them on YouTube) who might be called "white American" and have, for the most part, no Indian language and no Indian background (either ethnic or national). Speaking for myself, though I have had friendships and relationships with some people from India and Pakistan, if they influenced my taste for Indian culture at all, it was more with regard to music and food, not movies. I learned about the films via my adventures on the Internet and through having the advantage of residing for a few years in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY, where you can find many DVDs of Indian movies (especially Bollywood ones) even from the period that I've come to love, i.e., the '40s and '50s. (They are more available there than in many parts of India, so I am told.)

    And with so many films subtitled in English (though not nearly enough as far as I'm concerned), it makes it somewhat easier for us Americans to understand these movies. :) But more importantly, you don't need to know the language to understand and love lots of elements in these films. In fact, I think I started to watch them and do research on them obsessively, even though I never even had had all that much interest in films before, exactly because they have all these elements that you can't find in the cinema that I grew up with!

    Minai, I'm wondering if you might have similar feelings from your own experience. :) But I hope I haven't gone overboard in cluttering your blog with my long comments – especially when I keep talking about myself! :) I’m sure you can understand why I couldn't resist personally responding here...

  11. Fabulosity is what this post is there were some wonderful twin dances in Jhanak Jhanak paayal baaje as you love classic Hindi film dance, perhaps its one you should watch

    Some of my favourite dance sets usually tend to be MUJRA style with little or some emphasis on classical dancing

    here are some

    Main Qayamat from Suhaag raat

    Khuda huzoor ko

    And here's a classic hindi dance from Ek hi raata i think you'll love i know one of teh dancers is Kum kum but i can't identify the other one

  12. Richard - That must be so nice living in an area with so many old DVD's available! I'm really in the wrong part of the country, I think. :)

    I like how you worded it as your "adventures on the Internet," as it really is amazing how much knowledge the net has made available. Can you imagine us trying to pursue our interest in Indian films before it existed? Though I think the advent of video streaming sites has made the biggest difference hands down. And yes, I do agree that one doesn't need to know the language to appreciate these films. It's amazing what can be communicated through body language and inferred from happenings on screen.

    Regarding your videos you posted above, I LOVE LOVE LOVE that Sangham one. I had forgotten how beautifully Vyjayantimala looks (and they do the "two" effect in the same frame!). Plus she does a Manipuri-ish dance as a bonus! I think I need to get a hold of this film... :)

    bollywooddeewana - Thanks for your comment! These are some wonderful twin dances you've shared! My knowledge of dances from that period is definitely lacking. I'm not a huge fan of Mujras, but I love how quickly the dancers move in sync with one another when they do the pure dance parts. And that last one, you do indeed know which kind of dances I like :) It is fabulous!! I need to learn more about this Kum Kum I keep finding more and more about! :)

  13. Minai,
    Just got hold of a "re-mastered" and "subtitled" DVD of Sivaji Ganesan's classic, Parasakthi, and it opens up with this fabulous "twin dances" Vazhga Vazhga, though am at wits end identifying the dancer. Will post it soon up on Daily Motion and send it across to you. Found the fact a little unsettling as none seems to have given the film its due, let alone the fabulous dances, there is even a mujra.. :)

    Also Malaikkallan has an intersting history. It was remade as Azad in Hindi, Thaskaraveeran in Malayalam,Aggiramundu in Telugu, Bettada Kalla in Kannada and Soorasena in Sinhala !!!! :)All are frame to frame copies, dialogues near translations from the Tamil original. Cheers.

  14. Hi! This is such a coincidence; I just discovered this song too on a compilation VCD I tracked down. I too was bothered by who the dancer was- it seems like I recognize that face from somewhere, but I can't place it! Here's a quick screencap of her if anyone can help us identify:

    Thanks for the info on Malaikkallan! Interesting that is was remade in Sinhala; I bet that explains why I read somewhere that Kamala Lakshman had been in Sinhalese films. It makes me more interested in seeing what wonders Sri Lankan films hold...

    1. Dear Minai, the classical dancer in Parasakthi is Kuchalakumari. There is a profile of hers in Tamil here:

      Of course, by now you know that the mujra item was by Kamala. What I am however intrigued by is the fact that Heeralal is the credited choreographer for both. Usually all his choreographies have some Kathak signature but the Bharatanatyam performance here (although lacks perfection) strangely doesn't look like his at all! Any idea if a different choreographer was roped in for this item?

  15. I just discovered this amazing blog! Beautiful!
    could you post the classical dances of more recent movies starring say for example sridevi, jayaprada, rekha, meenakshi sheshadri, madhuri dikshit also?

    I love that Padmini, Kamala and Vyjayantimala have a common home here.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Anon - Hello and thank you! It's true that the more recent dancers whose names you posted don't get much coverage on my blog, mostly because their film dances tend to stray too far from a classical base, even for films, but that's not to say I don't enjoy watching many of their dances. Just a different niche. :) I suppose once one discovers the beautiful, classical-based dances from older/classic films, the newer ones just don't hold the same kind of charm. I once tried to find some nice dances of Meenkashi Sheshadri in films, especially knowing that she was classicaly trained in real life, but I wasn't able to find much of quality. I do have a post in the works (one of many :)) that covers classical-inspired dances in films from 2005 onward...:D


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