One of my favorite forms of dance in Indian films is the Tandav dance. When I first saw the dance form, I was amazed by the passion and energy displayed despite the choreography appearing simplistic at first glance.
The dance's origin comes from Hindu mythology, a subject which I am so pitifully unknowledgeable about that I'm going to borrow a few sentences from Wikipedia to help me out: "Tandava or Tandava Nrtya, the divine art form, is a dance performed by the Hindu god Shiva. According to Hindu mythology, Shiva’s Tandava is a vigorous dance that is the source of the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution. While the Rudra Tandava depicts his violent nature, first as the creator and later as the destroyer of the universe, even of death itself; the Ananda Tandava depicts him as the enjoyer of his creation - the universe. Shiva as Nataraja (lit. "Lord of dance") is considered the supreme lord of dance. [...] No doubt the root idea behind all of these dances is more or less one and the same, the manifestation of primal rhythmic energy."
It is this "primal rhythmic energy" that seems to supply these dances with their electricity and verve. In commercial films, the scenario that often plays out is that of a character being overwhelmed by extreme grief, rage, or frustration, which is expressed in a frenzied and passionate Tandav dance. There are, of course, an entire genre of mythological/devotional films that contain lots of these kinds of dances in their more "pure" form. Since the dance form is more commonly referred on the internets as "Tandav" rather than "Tandava," I'm going to stick with that usage.
The following is a list of Tandav dances in Indian films that I am particularly fond of grouped into three categories (because Minai is a compulsive list organizer!): The Stunning (top notch favorites), The Enjoyable and Entertaining, and The "So Bad It's Good". For the most part, I've chosen songs from commercial films rather than mythological. Enjoy!
Sivangangai Seemai (Tamil, 1959) - Climax Scene - Since Halloween is drawing near, I'm posting this very 'apt for the season' song first. Kamala Lakshman gives a stunning Tandav performance of grief and hysteria starting at :47. The entire thing is brilliantly directed; the off-kilter music and dance is eerily matched by the lighting and set details. I'm particularly creeped out by the way Kamala rises from the ground at 1:43 and rolls in turns at 2:32- it looks like something out of an antique horror film. Her various dances are intercut with scenes of a man being hung, and I presume he is someone important in Kamala's character's life or a famous historical character. A very sad, passionate performance. Update: This dance was the subject of its own post here.
Damini (Hindi, 1993) - Perhaps the best-known Tandav dance, this song features Meenakshi Seshadri giving a powerhouse performance with lightning-fast moves. She is a trained dancer, and it shows!
Ananda Bhairavi (Kannada, 1983) - "Shiva Thandava"- This Tandav dance competition features the same male and female dancers from the stunning Kuchipudi dance in my color dances post, and I am completely mesmerized by it. The varied rhythm gives it a driving energy and force, and so does the editing (although I wish there were even longer shots of them dancing!). Edit 12/11: Better quality version embedded; corrected title and release date.
Pavai Villaku (Tamil, 1960) - "Nan Unnai" - Starting at 2:00 minutes in, this awesome Bharatanatyam performance by Kamala Lakshman turns into a beautiful Tandav dance complete with "twin" (and "quadruplet!") special effects. Can a Kamala dance be anything but awesome?
Saptapadhi (Telugu, 1981) - This is another fantastic but slower Tandav dance from a fantastic movie. It's a kind of Tandav dance where we're shown scenes of what is going on in the dancer's mind before she is driven to dance so powerfully that the sky fills with lightning and the imagery of flowing water flashes on the screen (creation/destruction imagery?). I think this was one of the first Tandav dances I saw, and I was simply blown away.
Ananda Bhairavi (Kannada, 1983) - Ending Tandav Dance - At the end of this film, the Brahmin dance instructor (Girish Karnad) performs a Tandav dance in his mind that is brimming with understated masculine energy and fierce expressions. It's incredibly poignant as well, but I won't spoil the end of the film. It's too bad the print of the film is constantly changing colors and contrast and the sound is muffled. Immediately prior to this clip is the first part of the song where the bride interrupts her own wedding with a passionate short tandav dance. Have I mentioned enough how awesome the songs in this movie are? Edit 12/11: Embedded the Kannada version of the film which is better in quality and changed release date to 1983.
Ek Duje Ke Liye (Hindi, 1981) - Starting at 1:18, Kamal Hassan gives a desperate, passionate performance in front of his love to express his frustration. The choreography is very creative; my favorite move is what I've named the "flails of woe" at 1:55. Kamal is obviously an excellent dancer and really shows off his timing and quick moves here (which makes me wonder how that girl could just stare emotionlessly at him like that!). The film is a remake of the Telugu film Maro Charitra, so of course it has awesome Kamal dances! I think its non-tandav song equivalent would be Kamal's passionate dance in front of a similarly-unimpressed woman from Punnagai Mannan.
THE ENJOYABLE AND ENTERTAINING
Jhanak Jhanak Paayal Baaje (Hindi, 1955) - At the very end of this film, Gopi Krishna and Sandhya perform a thrilling Tandav dance as Shiva and Parvati. I think this is Gopi Krishna's most passionate, frenzied, flail-about dance I've seen. Note that Sandhya's character isn't feeling well at this point in the film (she stands in for another dancer who couldn't perform the part), hence her dazed look and dance.
Kathavarayan (Tamil, 1958)- "Sambhoo" - This "Shiva and Parvati" dance by Kamala Lakshman and Gopi Krishna was directed by Gopi Krishna himself. It seems to be what the Wikipedia text up above called an "Ananda Tandavam" given the imagery at the beginning of Shiva (I presume) enjoying his creations (waterfall, snowstorm).
Rajasilpi (Malayalam, 1992) - At the climax of this film, Mohanlal performs a fiery Tandav dance accompanied by lightning bolts and glowing silhouettes and other groovy special effects! And can I say how fabulous I think he looks with long hair?
Sarangathara (Tamil, 1958) - "Ethukkithanai Modi" - In the middle of this nice Bharatanatyam performance by Kamala Laskhman, she switches into a Tandav dance at 1:18 dressed in the likeness of Shiva. It was a nice surprise to find such a dance tucked in the middle!
Apathbandhavudu (Telugu, 1992)- "Parama Sivudu" - Chiranjeevi looks spectacular in the costuming and styling he's been given in this song. I particularly love his super-fierce expression throughout, and the sets and all-over design are deliciously gaudy. I almost put it in the "So Bad It's Good" category, but I'm so charmed by it that it belongs here! 6/16 Update: Updated name to "Parama Sivudu," fixed broken link. 2/28/12 Update: Reuploaded.
Sagara Sangamam (Telugu, 1983) - Kamal Hassan performs a short Tandav-like dance in front of a Ganesh statue during the first third of the film. He is so wrapped up in the dance that he has to be forcefully "awakened" by the person trying to get his attention.
Chaalbaaz (Hindi, 1989) - Sridevi does a Tandav-like dance here that's very fun. I love how the beat of the music seems to course through her and energize her performance, and she looks simply gorgeous. The choreography is downright humorous at times, but the whole thing just works.
Jaag Utha Insaan (Hindi, 1984) - This is the Hindi remake of Saptapadhi and Sridevi's take on the awesome Tandav dance I posted above. The original had a magical sense of passion and un-selfconsciousness that seems lessened here, but it's still quite wonderful.
Guruvayoorappan (Malayalam, 1964) - This song starts off slow but picks up in the last third- I'm assuming it is supposed to be Shiva and Parvati dancing. It was nice to find an example from an old Malayalam film!
Others that didn't quite make the list: the mythological Tandav dances in the black and white films Seeta Rama Kalyanam and Annai Abhirami; Sridevi's short Tandav with requisite 90s hair in Chandramukhi. Kamal Hassan's semi-Tandavish moves in "Nada Vinodhangal" from Sagara Sangamam; Ones I can't find: Gopi Krishna's Tandav in Bhookailas and Ramya Krishna's in Padayappa. I suppose Madhuri's lovely dance in Koyla would qualify in theory although the dance style isn't quite Tandavish.
THE "SO BAD IT'S GOOD"
Dakshayagnam (Telugu, 1962) - NTR's dance here is so ridiculously fun, and instead of looking overcome by emotion he just looks dazed and confused! Though the treatment is silly, the song appears to be enacting the story (Wikipedia to the rescue!) of "when Sati [...] jumped into the Agni Kunda (sacrificial fire) in Daksha's Yagna and gave up her life, Shiva is said to have performed the Rudra Tandava to express his grief and anger."
Thiruvilaiyadal (Tamil, 1965) - Shivaji's physical presence (and costume) in this song are very entertaining. I think I'll sum it up by categorizing it as a "cracktastic technicolor Tandav."
Waqt: The Race Against Time (Hindi, 2005) - When I first saw the title of this video, I just HAD to check it out. Yes, Akshay Kumar does a Tandav dance. As if that weren't entertaining enough, he does it while donning a see-through mesh shirt, in front of a panel of judges, and set to some groovy techno-fusion music! Go Akshay! Better quality version here.
Narasimha Naidu (Telugu, 2001) - This dance performance by Balakrishna is on here for giggles. I mean, it's Balakrishna! Cheesy editing makes for the icing on the cake. Not sure why it's so squished vertically...
Ekalavya (Telugu, 1992) - "Mrogindi Damarukim" - I think this is the most painfully-bad Tandav dance on the list. Who is this guy, anyway? Enjoy!
Number 5 Ekka (Kannada) - Apparently the old dude dancing here is named Musuri; I gleaned this from the humorous description on the video: "Musuri can really roll his eyes from side to side, up and down like no one can!" Indeed, and with sound effects!
Video no longer available.
Ones that didn't make the list: Jayapradha's attempt in Maharadhi, and the Tandav dance in Pranali which is surprisingly bad considering it was apparently choreographed by Kathak-master Birju Maharaj.
That concludes the list! I'm sure there are many more enjoyable filmi Tandav dances out there- please suggest others if you know of any!