Surely I’m not the only one who watched the male dancer matching steps with Shobana in “Oru Murai Vanthu” from Manichitrathazhu and wondered who he was and if he’d done any other film dances. The rare male classical dancer in film- always a treat! It wasn’t until I ran across a comment at Varnachitram that identified the dancer as the Kannada actor Sridhar that I finally had a name to search with! I was off to the races.
Turns out Shridhar was quite a popular actor back in the 80s and early 90s and apparently acted in over 60 films in five languages (majority Kannada). From what I’ve seen and read about, most of his films were either of the silly variety or mythologicals with a few award-winning films in the mix such as Santha Shishunala Shareefa in which he won the best actor award in Karnataka. He was apparently particularly beloved in his recurring roles as Lord Shiva and became a "household name" in Andhra Pradesh for his role in the Telugu serial Shivaleelalu. He had formal training in Bharatanatyam as a teen and went into films after college.
Khechara Institute of Bharathanatyam, and he and his wife were recently chosen to be faculty at the “prestigious Natya Sangraham camp at Tamilnadu" which “puts the Shridhars in league with classical dance giants such as Kalanidhi Narayanan – the prima donna of abhinaya, Vyjayanthimala Bali, Chitra Visweswaran, and the Dhananjayans.” The couples dance performances are well reviewed; here's a few of nice articles on them at The Hindu (and another) and the Deccan Herald.
On a more personal note, I found the following interchange from this article at The Hindu about classical dance couples very humorous. Sridhar and Anuradha, after explaining how they met and married, are asked how they work together: "Answers Sridhar, “I take care of choreography and choice of pieces, with inputs from Anu, while she takes care of costumes.” Adds Anu, “Well, I also spend more time with our daughter and take care of our home.” That’s how they achieve their balance." Balance? I would want to have more than "input" if I was performing dance as my profession and passion, but whatever floats their boat! :) In any case, I find these classical dance couples adorable- such a perfect union of souls.
So anyway, I knew that there had to be more film dances of his out there in DVD land even though none of the online articles I’d read mentioned any of them other than Manichitrathazhu. Luckily, I found a bunch of his films at Kannadastore.com (and had a great order experience by the way- review coming later) and two of them had him in dance poses on the cover! I've listed below all his dances that I've tracked down or found online.
After watching his dances, I think that he's simply fantastic and probably my favorite of all the male classical dancers in Indian cinema. He has a way of dancing with a grounded center and effortlessly executes his movements joyfully even when sped up for filmy purposes. Graceful and flexible, he dances so beautifully and expressively while maintaining his masculinity. Clearly his classical dance training (and work on abhinaya) allows him to the ability to go ridiculously overboard with facial expressions and mannerisms- a trait that works to a charming advantage in silly films like Manasa Veena that I've posted clips from below. I find this so endearing, which is probably why he gets placed above Vineeth in my favorite male dancers list since I find Vineeth's facial expressions lacking at times. Shridhar just seems like a nice guy. And how can you not love his mop of hair back in the day! It's unfortunate that he doesn't appear to have been given much scope for quality, extended dancing other than his cameo in Manichitrathazhu (and to a lesser extent his dance song in Manasa Veena below). And clearly he's up to the choreographical task given his claim that he and Shobana choreographed "Oru Murai Vanthu" song themselves!
Manasa Veena (Kannada, 1996) – Not only is Sridhar on the DVD cover in a dance pose, but also this entire film revolves around his character as a classical dancer! Superb find!
Song (Unknown) – This is my favorite film dance of Sridhar’s after Manichitrathazhu. He is incredibly crisp and fast in the way he dances and has such a presence. I thoroughly enjoy watching him, and he clearly enjoys dancing. It's wonderful! The song also has the added side bonus of having ample faux-Veena playing by the heroine!
Here is the first 12 minutes of the film, which I’ve posted in its entirety because it is completely delightful. First is the credit sequence which features images of Sridhar in dance pose along with some short dance clips; next is the introduction of Sridhar’s character who is oblivious to his surroundings on a public bus as he practices expressions (2:02); soon after is a short sequence of him dancing outside (4:08); then later is an adorable scene in which Sridhar imitates through dance the movements of a woman getting water from a well (8:55); and finally don’t miss the yoga scene where Sridhar gets himself into an embarrassing situation in front of his love interest (9:55). It’s all so silly, and Sridhar has the most goofy expressions throughout. I’ve been won over! Cutest film ever!
Here's an interesting scene where Sridhar appears to be performing the “navarasas” (nine emotions) of Bharatanatyam in front of a man who’s nearing his end. Aren’t some of his facial expressions completely over the top? If you actually watch much of his acting in the film, it’s clear that his expressive skills have allowed him to completely inhabit silly characters like these. I really wish I had subtitles on this one as I’m not sure what the monkey dance at the end is about.
Last, a fight scene with dance battle imagery mixed in! Sort of reminds me of dances from Kerala. Sridhar saves the day, yay! Well, until the end, that is...
Manadhil Urudhi Vendum (Tamil, 1987) – According to this article at The Hindu, Sridhar landed his dance role in Manichitrathazhu based on director Fazil seeing his work in Manathil Urudi Vendum and also Shobana giving a nudging recommendation. Not surprising given the two songs below in which he dances with Suhasini (she can dance?!).
Tandav Dance - Added March 2013 - I missed this awesome and fierce Tandav dance by Sridhar following a scene where Suhasini rejects his gift of flowers. Thanks Ragothaman for the suggestion!
Shabarimalai Swamy Ayyappa (Kannada, 1990) – An example of Sridhar’s famed roles as Shiva, here he performs a tandav dance as Shiva with Parvati (I think). He’s brimming with understated energy when he dances, and check out the knee spins at 1:28! Wish the female dancer could have been better...
Another song from the same film filled with lots of Sringara. He gets much more dance time in the second half of the clip. Again, a more skilled female counterpart would have made this all the more enjoyable.
And that brings the list to a close. Unfortunate since I was hoping to have a bajillion songs as usual to clutter my post with, but I haven't been able to find any more! He does have a character role in K. Vishwanath's Swarabhishekham, but the dance song he's in only has him performing some unidentifiable moves for such a short time that it's completely wasted. I also excitedly read that he played a Bharathanatyam dancer in the recently-released Kalgejje, but a classical dance song I watched from the film has him just walking around and singing, so clearly a missed opportunity there! But hopefully I've been successful in spreading the Sridhar love to those who may not know of him. :)
Last, in a really strange coincidence, the male actor who danced Bharatanatyam in the Manichitrathazhu remake Apthamitra is also named Sridhar! Well, Sridhar Jain to be exact, and he is also a Bharatanatyam exponent and also from Karnataka. So Sridhar's role in the Kannada remake was done by...Sridhar! Weird! More info on him (Jain) at The Hindu.