Dreadful, Disastrous, and Dismaying!
Given that I usually focus on well-crafted classical-based dances in Indian films, I thought it would be delicious to revel in the dark side and present some pristine examples of dances that are, quite simply, terrible! It's often hard to pinpoint what makes them so bad... you just know it when you see it!
So Much Potential! - These dances below especially disappointed me by having all the ingredients for a beautiful classical dance number but completely failing on the execution:
Malaya Marutha. At first glance, the film appeared to be a gem inspired by the likes of Shankarabharanam or Salangai Oli. Classical dance imagery adorned the DVD cover and the reviews snippets sung its praises. My hopes were sky high! The feeling vanished once I actually watched the “dances” by prolific southern actress Madhavi which look like what would transpire if Minai in her ignorant white-girl exuberance decided to choreograph an impromptu classical number. It’s telling that all of the reviews of the film focus exclusively on the music and “visual beauty” but never mention the dancing. The choreography is terrible, and Madhavi looks like she is in pain. I was a bit surprised considering that this is the same Madhavi from Maro Charithra, Ek Duje Ke Liye, Tik Tik Tik whose dancing left something to be desired but wasn’t as godawful as in Malaya Marutha! But then I found even more atrocious dancing: her dance for Rajinikanth in Adhisaya Piravi and her shindig with Vishnuvardhan in “Mohini Nava Mohini” from Chanakya. So I think it's safe to say she quite a terrible dancer!
Dance Sequence - Painful, stiff... is she wearing an invisible back brace?
"Natanavisharadha Natashekara" - Ahhh, the horribleness!!
I had high hopes for the film Sanadi Appanna (1977) which is considered a “landmark” Kannada film with renowned music. The song "Karedaru Kelade" contains a GORGEOUS and much-beloved shehnai melody by Ustad Bismillah Khan enacted by Dr. Rajkumar who apparently "cancelled all his shooting schedules for a month...to master the shehnai-wielding technique." Though the way the instruments were played was clearly given careful thought, someone dropped the ball in choreographing Jayapradha's dance! Her moves are so sloppy. I think the top two worst movement are the jumps at 3:35 and the leg kicks at 4:22. What were they thinking! Can you imagine how awesome the frenetic rhythm at the end could have been if Kamala Lakshman had been dancing? Sigh.
Following in the same vein as Sanadi Appana, and worth mentioning, are “Aadidhanu Nataraja Kunidhadidhanu” from Shiva Mechidha Kannappa (1988) and "Sharanu Virupaksha Shashishekara" from Sri Krishnadevaraya (1969).
"Madanana Hoova Baana" from Kalyana Mantapa (1991) - I think this song is trying to go for the same kind of look as the wonderful Sridhar-Suhasini dance Sangatamizh Kaviyae from Manathil Urudhi Vendum, but pulling that off would require the male dancer to have talent and the choreography to be innovative and suitable! The song ends up evoking giggles instead of ooohs and aaaahs. I think the dude at :23 seconds feels my pain!
Just Bad - Nothing really going for them to start with, and it's all downhill from there!
Perhaps the most well-known example of classical dance in recent Kannada films would be from Apthamitra (2004), the (first) remake of the spectacular Malayalam film Manichitrathazhu. The late Soundarya bravely attempted to follow in Shobana’s footsteps in "Raa Raa" but just couldn't live up to such greatness, and the less said about the male dancer the better (who as I noted in my Sridhar post is also named Sridhar!). The song concept and editing simply cannot match the ingenious creativity of the original.
"Bhaava Raaga Thaalavu" from Premave Baalina Belaku (1984) - This song starts out promisingly with traditional-looking invocation gestures, but it immediately becomes apparently that the dancer is most concerned with flailing about as fast as possible. Guess I have to give her props for at least keeping up with the beat, bad as it is. Do check out the part starting at 2:26 where she enacts the navarasas (nine emotions): Sringara (love), Veera (courage), Karuna (compassion), Hasya (laughter), Roudra (anger), Bhibhatsa (disgust), Bhayanaka (terror), Adbhuta (wonder/surprise) and Shanta (peace).
"Naatya Gaana" from Bankar Margayya (1983) has its heart in the right place but ultimately fails due to the lazy execution of the choreography. I think this could have been a really good number had the dancer put some effort into completing her movements! Look how lazy the arm movements are at :58!
"Naada Lola Sri Krishna" from Krishna Rukmini (1988) - The 'classical' dancer here is Ramya Krishna; need I say further? Apparently it was one of her first roles and first Kannada film. The choreography veers off into pseudo-classical territory and spoils the whole experience.
"Baa Beega Manamohana" from Saaku Magalu (1963) - All the right ingredients for a lovely, black-and-white classical dance number: the Natraj statue, live seated musicians, an audience...but the director decided to forego a classical dance costume for Sowcar Janaki as well as classical choreography and turned it into a standard light dance number. Shame as it could have been a very nice song!
Both "Ninna Youhvanada Chaitradali Vikasisuve Sumavaagi" from Raaga Taala (1982) and "Naadave Nannida" from Krishna Rukmini (first mentioned above) appear to be going for the temple dance look in "Raagam Tanam Pallavi" from Shakarabharanam (Telugu, 1979), but they fail miserably. The Raaga Taala (left) song looks so cheap, and Krishna Rukmini's (right) number spices things up with some groovy synth instruments!
And then there are all the terrible pseduo-classical dances in mythological films, but I won't touch those with a ten-foot pole! :)
How could I not post this cute-as-sugar dance by a charming little girl in "Mella Mellane" from Mrugaalaya? It really doesn't fit anywhere, but I had to share it!
Two films belong on this list, I presume, but are difficult to find much info on.
review noting one of the dancers, Prema, "has to improve a lot on her dancing abilities." With such a stylish, rocking Vishnuvardhan on the cover, I'm drawn to this film like bees to honey! ;)
I wasn't expecting much from Meera's dance skills, but I was excited when I read that the film contained a dance by the troupe Nritarutya and saw the teaser.
But after watching the song posted on their website I realized the dances are modern with some Indian influences- no where near classical – which makes sense since Nritarutya is a contemporary Indian dance company. Too bad the film appears to be undistributed at this time...
Overall, while Kannada films do have some excellent classical dance sequences mixed in with the not-so-great, there just aren't nearly enough of either kind! I've been very disappointed by the seeming absence of classical dances in pre-1975 films. There have certainly been many chances, but most of the semi-classical-music-based Kannada films have songs with characters lip-synching while playing an instrument or walking about; Sandhya Raaga (1966) is a perfect example. The hit devotional movie Swarna Gowri (1962) keeps its dances in the realm of courtly pseudo-classical style, and Santha Thukaram (1963) spices its courtly dance with eroticism. Of more recent films that didn't offer dance content, these seemed especially suitable: Upasane, Santa Shishunala Sharifa, Matthe Haditu Kogile, Ganayogi Panchakshari... I'm hoping there are some gems out there that I've missed!