Kalpana (Hindi, 1948) - EDIT: Found! See this post. Directed by and starring Uday Shankar, the “Father of Modern Indian Dance,” Kalpana (Imagination) is said to contain some fantastic dance performances. I’ve become quite fascinated by Uday Shankar and found this very interesting and thought-provoking set of articles about him. Uday took Indian classical and folk dance traditions and blended them with Western ballet and other world dances and his dance company was instrumental in shaping Western perception of Indian dance, though in India his dance was apparently viewed with skepticism by some when compared with traditional, ancient dance forms such as Bharatanatyam being revived surrounding the time of India‘s independence. I am mesmerized by the pictures from the film and can only imagine how visually stunning the choreography must be.
As Richard previously blogged about, the only known print of Kalpana is severely damaged and Martin Scorsese has taken up the effort of restoring it. This article claims that heat and humidity damaged the copy and that “partial prints of what is left of the original of Kalpana have been duplicated by the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) and are now stored in temperature-controlled vaults in a purpose-built facility near the city of Pune, but Scorsese's foundation hopes to reconstitute the film in its original version for general release. Digitalisation and restoration is required…" I find this curious though given that some commenters on Richard’s blog posts about the film and a cinematographer online claim to have seen the film (and one person notes that it gets screened yearly at the Uday Shankar Dance Festival). If there indeed is only one print of the film and it is terribly damaged, how could all these people have seen it in different locations? Me thinks there are more prints floating around...
Rangam (Malayalam, 1985) - EDIT: Found! If you thought Vanaprastham was the first time Mohanlal attempted the role of a Kathakali dancer, you would be mistaken! He appears to have done a similar role way back in 1985 in Rangam (Stage). I was so excited to find images from the film’s L.P at Jay’s World of Music blog. Just look at the stunning Kathakali costuming! To add to my excitement, Shobana is pictured wearing a dance practice sari, so I’m sure that this film contains some fantastic dances.
There is a short review of the film at IMDB that claims the film "tries to present sexual foibles as a crime in a society that holds on to high pegs of morality." Socially-unacceptable sexual behavior between Kathakali dancers and regular folk seems to be a theme in Malayalam films about Kathakali. It happened in both Vanaprastham and Parinayam, and I wonder if Mohanlal and Shobana's characters have a similar experience in Rangam. I wonder if this theme has any meaning or precedence.
I’m a bit puzzled that there is so little information available on the film given that its cast includes such huge stars as Mohanlal and Shobana and especially since Mohanlal reprised a similar role in Vanaprastham. You would think that a diehard Mohanlal fan somewhere would have a copy of this film in a collection!
Marattam (Malayalam, 1988) - A film shot for Doordarshan National TV containing actors from Kathakali and theater traditions, Marattam (Interchange), tells the story of a woman who feels deep love towards a character in the Kathakali play Keechaka Vadham (The Killing of Keechaka) and “is about the identification of an actor with his role, [and] also the relation between viewer and actor” as this article states. This interview of the director, the late G. Aravindan, outlines some details of the plot and makes the film sound fascinating. Folk music instead of Kathakali music is used in an interesting twist.
A rediff review of Vaanaprastham suggested that its director Shaji N Karun was “inspired, perhaps, by his mentor, the late Malayalam auteur Aravindan's 1988 opus, Marattam” in the film’s use of “Kathakali as a medium.” I can certainly see the similarities between the two films- the woman’s love for a character, the blurred line between an actor and his role, Images from the above articles at cinemaofmalayalam.net.
this post. Given the film artwork of a Chendra drum being played and a Kathakali dancer outline (courtesy malayalasangeetham), this film is clearly about Kathakali. But the main reason I’m eager to see it is that it contains a dance by Kamala Lakshman and her sisters Radha and Vasanthi, as I learned from one of the many articles posted on Kamala’s dance school website. I have a feeling there are oodles and oodles of amazing dances contained in this film. Will it ever be available?
Mayuri (Telugu, 1985) - EDIT: FOUND! Video
The retrospective article notes that only the core story about Sudha’s accident and subsequent pursuit of dance were taken from reality; the rest of the film’s happenings were fabricated for filmi purposes. Sudha is said to have been initially resistant to acting in the film, and by the time she agreed the filmmakers had to apologize to another girl who had already contracted to play the role!
However, the most interesting tidbit from the article was its mention that one of the actors in the film directed a film with Sudha and himself in the lead roles; apparently it didn’t get released until 2008 (25 years later) as Mayuri 2. I couldn’t find any information whatsoever on the film. Yet another Holy Grail film to add to the list!
Since there isn't any more information or pictures available online that I could find about the film, I've included a picture of Guru Mohapatra that looks like it might be from the time of the film. Guru Mohapatra's legacy continues today through his dance school, Srjan, directed now by his son Ratikant Mohapatra. I'm tempted to write to the school and ask if they know anything about the film...
trailer gives very brief glimpses of the fantastical dance numbers and the drama.
America Ammayi (Telugu, 1976) - Edit: FOUND (the dance)! See this post. I’ve seen the original Tamil film Melnaattu Maramagal, but I am dying to see its Telugu remake America Ammayi (American Girl). Both films contain the basic plot of a white, western woman who comes to India and learns classical dance. However, in my browsing of Melnaattu Marumagal, drama, drama, and more drama seems to occupy 95% of the running time until the very end where the white girl dances a Bharatanatyam number with an Indian girl. In contrast, this retrospective article on the film America Ammaayi makes me think the Telugu remake has much more dance content.
The Telugu version stars Devayani, a French woman originally named Anne Chaymotty who in real life came to India on an Indo-French Cultural Exchange Programme scholarship to learn Bharatanatyam and became an accomplished dancer who was awarded a Padma Shri award in 2009 for her contributions. In the film, the song Aanandataan Davamaa De is said to be a Kuchipudi dance by Devayani shot in the famous Nataraja Swami Temple of Chidambaram. The only song from the film I’ve seen is "Paadanaa Telugu Paata" in which Devayani lipsynchs to a Telugu song on stage.
Devayani claims that after the film released and was a hit she was offered many roles in films with actors such as Kamal Hassan and Girish Karnad. She also claims on her website that she is the “foremost exponent of Bharata Natyam in India and internationally.” I’m thinking “foremost” is quite debatable…
With the cheesy title and the overly-produced stills, it’s hard to say if the film will be any good or not, but Odissi dance is so rare to see on screen it will be a treat. The dancing should be fairly authentic given the choreography credits of Sumeet Vinod and Ratikant Mahapatra (late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s son) and the fact that Shilpa and Jayaprada both learned Odissi basics from Ratikant for the film and have prior classical training. It seems impossible to find any information on when this film will release. The film’s official website lists some email contacts for production- maybe if we pester them enough we’ll get some info! Images from the official website/Facebook.
Films With One or More Dance Sequences
this post. This film contains dances by Baby Kamala as the young Valli and Kumari Rukmini as the teenage Valli. Randor Guy notes, “Kamala interestingly played two roles — that of "Bala' Valli and "Bala" Murugan. She performed two classical Bharathanatyam dances. One was set to the song, "Yaar unnaipol aatharipavar... Arumughatharssey... " and the other was “Sinthai arinthuvaadi... Selvakumaran... "
Some kind soul uploaded a very old copy of Rukmini’s thillana dance, and it is simply delightful. According to this Hub post, “after trying to win the heart of Valli by singing the amazing kAyAtha kAnagaththE and many other methods that fail, Murugan takes the form of an old man and befriends Valli. The old man comes to Valli's house and entertains her and her family and friends by singing this thillana. Rukmini dances while T.R.Mahalingam sings.” I can only imagine what Baby Kamala’s dance must look like. I find it interesting that apparently Rukmini started out as the child actress “Baby Rukmini” and then was introduced as “Kumari Rukmini” in Sri Valli, which is similar to “Baby Kamala” and “Kumari Kamala.”
website of the Bharata Kalanjali dance academy founded by the famous Bharatanatyam duo, the Dhananjayans. The film supposedly featured a woman (Diana Baker) who traveled to India and fell in love with Hindi actor Shammi Kapoor and contained a 10-minute dance sequence by the Dhananjayans and students from their school. Alas, “the film unfortunately did not see the light of day because of differences in opinion between the Tourism Dept. and the concerned production company. It is now in the Hollywood archives.” Since no pictures from the film seem to exist, I’ve included a picture of the Dhananjayans.
this post. Another discovery from the Dhananjayan’s dance school website, this film was apparently a story about an American NRI girl who “comes to India to do research on the therukoothu tradition [Tamil Nadu street play], goes to Thanjavur and gets involved in local politics.” It contains a three-minute dance by V.P. Dhananjayan with music composed by Illayaraja.
Krishna Sudama (Oriya, 1976) - Said to contain choreography by famous Odissi Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, the film is based on the famous “Krishna Sudama” story that was the inspiration for the Malayalam film Kadha Parayumbol and 2008 Tamil film Kuselan. At first I thought that Mohapatra actually composed something for the film in a dance director role, but many websites have referenced that “Krishna Sudama” was a famous choreographed set piece by Mohapatra, so perhaps the film simply presented the choreography without his involvement. It appears to be a black and white film given the only song available online with no dancing, Chhota Mora Ghara.
Films With Precious Little Information Available
Bhavantarana (Oriya, 1991) - EDIT: FOUND. See this post! A documentary by Kumar Sahani about the famed, late Odissi Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.
Ananda Tandavam - Said to contain dances choreographed by Adyar K. Lakshman, a noted Bharatanatyam dancer and guru.
Purandaradasa (Tamil) - An award-winning movie with dances choreographed by Kalaimamani Krishnakumari Narendran.
Ontraikulam - Contains a dance-drama with Waheeda Rahman and Guru Gopalakrishnan, the man who choreographed the famous Chandralekha drum dance.
Neelakkuyil - EDIT: FOUND! Video. Contains dances choreographed by Guru Gopalakrishnan.