The Classical Dances in Konjum Salangai (Tamil, 1962)

Friday, May 20, 2011
It’s no secret that the quality of the videos from Konjum Salangai (Tamil, 1962) on YouTube stink! I’ve always had to force myself through them because while the dancing is fantastic the quality is so yellow and blurry and icky.

I am happy to present much better quality versions for all my fellow Kamala fans to view! I made an attempt to correct and subdue the colors (Kamala looks green in parts of the print I have) and get the best VCD quality I could, though I was limited by the print which is in ghastly and obviously-degraded technicolor. And not all is perfect in the videos, but I've let it be!  Not only is the quality better from the existing YouTube videos, but also there are parts that were cut out, especially the entire Kathakali dance! So it’s truly been a treat seeing the full versions in all their glory. Enjoy!

"Konjum Salangai Oli" 

This court scene begins with a lovely yet subdued Kathakali performance by a female dancer while Kamala looks on from above (I don’t know the character’s names in the movie so I’ll use their real names!). Next, Kuchala Kumari gives quite a terrible Bharatanatyam attempt. Just when it seems like the king will make her the court dancer, a man in the audience says he’s found a talented dancer in the kingdom (a commoner!) and the king should watch her dance before making his decision. When Kuchala watches Kamala and realizes she has competition, she signals to the musicians to increase the thaalam speed and laughs like the evil witch she is! Kamala pleads to the King that it was the musicians fault, not hers. Gemini Ganesan, who is fond of Kamala, comes to her rescue, asking a woman (Savitri) to sing, and then Kamala’s second and awesome attempt, "Konjum Salangai Oli," commences! The king is clearly impressed when it’s over. Go Kamala!

"Brahman Thaalam Poda"

The final, rousing dance competition! Things start off with some wonderfully-catty, icy looks exchanged between the competing dancers and their friends. I love how Kamala’s sweet expression turns from niceties to an assured look of “bring it on!!” I must say that I do not enjoy watching Kuchalakumari dance—she's so lazy, so uninterested. Kamala is clearly given more difficult choreography, but even with her easy moves she is all smiles and glides around with effortless joy. You know she enjoys dancing with her whole heart, and it shows. Things get even more groovy when the powder comes out and the dancers make images with their feet. At first I thought the dancers just pushed off powder behind them to reveal an already-painted image underneath, but after watching it again it looks like they used some special effects to materialize the pictures! Richard at the Dances on the Footpath blog had a nice post about an interview of Kuchalakumari reflecting on this aspect of the dance.  When things speed up and the dancers go at it together, Kamala has the win in the bag until she gets dizzy from exhaustion and the effects of the cuts on her feet. And then begins the most magical moment of the dance: the camera slowly circling around Kamala as she hears the sweet sounds of Gemini’s nadaswaram melody. It’s enough to revitalize her and win the competition!

"Kaana Kankodi Vendum"

This is Kamala’s first dance in the film. As it’s more focused on the music/lyrics than the dance, it doesn't keep my interest for long. Perhaps some subtitles would help. I like her costumes at 2:20 and 4:30 - it’s a skirt-style costume but has the single stripe outlining the inner part of the leg (like the pyjama-style costumes do) creating a nice shape and aesthetic.

Last, I read that Konjum Salangai was made (or dubbed?) in Telugu as Muripinche Muvvalu, and I found this great film poster to share:

Source unknown/lost!


  1. Minai, thank you for putting up clear copies of these splendid dances! Especially the competition... If only Kamala had gone on to have competitions with Vyjayanthimala and Padmini... I am certain that Kamala would have emerged as the champion. :)

    By the way, as I mentioned in comments below the post that you referred to (thank you), there were at least a couple of other dance competitions in films made in the '60s where the dancers were required to paint animals on the floor with their feet.

    One was Vyjayanthimala vs. [??] in Amrapali:

    And the other was Padmini vs. MGR in Mannathi Mannan:


    A kuchalakumari(the lady that loses the dance competition in konjum salangai) interview about this "technique" which I understand is not a classical "bharathanatyam" trope but something performed mainly in the mysore palace , traditionally.

  3. Richard - Oh I would pay money to see a Kamala/Vyjayanthimala competition! That would be epic! I do wonder if there is some obscure movie somewhere where they danced together. Wouldn't that be the greatest find?
    Yes, I remember seeing that foot painting technique in those two dances you mentioned. It's also done rather apathetically in this scene from Kadhalan (90s): and of course humorously in Tamizh Padam in my humorous dances post. :)

    rameshram - hi there! Yes, that's the article Richard discussed in his post that I referenced. I'm not surprised to hear that it isn't "classical." It seems more of a show piece for entertainment!

  4. I've never seen Vyjayanthimala and Kamala dance together in a film, but it's fun to compare them in Kath Putli (1957), where Kamala played Vyjayanthimala's temporary dancing replacement. I've spoken to a few people who agreed that Kamala actually way "out-danced" Vyjayanthimala there:

  5. Wonderful dances and Kamala is such an elegant, formidable dancer - thanks so much for sharing your passion with us, Minai!
    To me it looks like the image painting in Brahman Thaala Poda may be a very simple 'special effect': the dancers smudge an already fully painted image with their feet and the shot is shown in reverse in the movie.

    Concerning the scene where the camera is circling around Kamala: arond 08:30 in the video Kamala's body suddenly turns blue. I think this means she's being possessed by Shiva, the Lord of the dance, whose statue is in the background. This would also explain why she looks so blissfully happy afterwards - an effect which is after all rarely caused by cuts on one's feet or feeling dizzy. Mandatory warning: this is just a theory from a white chick from The Netherlands, so who knows whether I'm right or wrong?
    Anyway, I'm really happy to have found this great blog!

    1. Anon - Hello! A new fellow white chick who loves dances, awesome!! :) I think you are right about their smudging an already painted image. I watched it closely again and I think they are spreading "hidden" powder over the image with their feet moving forward, and then the image is played in reverse to look like a backwards "reveal". Brilliant! I never noticed her turning "blue" around 8:30, very interesting observation. I'm more inclined to think it was just the wacky technicolor changing to yet another color, since I had such trouble color-correcting the clips (sometimes Kamala would turn positively green for a few seconds!). I assumed her happiness was due to Gemini's nagaswaram melody, but I could be wrong. I'm just a white chick from the US, so I understand! ;) I do hope you watch many of Kamala's other dances, if you haven't already. Hope to see you around again.

    2. Well, as you can see I’ve decided to kick my nasty habit of falsely impersonating Anonymous and gave myself a name this time...

      Yes, I've noticed the occasional green/blue tinge which survived your colour-correcting, for example in 'Konjum Salangai Oli'. But actually, the very first time I watched ‘Brahman Thaalam Poda’ it wasn’t your colour-corrected video, but another version on YouTube, which simply looks too bad to ever have been colour-corrected. And even in this awful version I noticed Kamala’s suddenly turning blue. Take a look if you will at the same scene (07:53) in this other video:

      So my guess is this isn’t a case of wackily aging technicolor, but an intentional effect. I even think this is corroborated by other elements in this dance. For example, right after Kamala’s turns blue the other dancer, Kuchalakumari, looks with amazement at Kamala. Later on when Kamala haltingly walks around looking blissful, Kuchalakumari looks annoyed with possibly a hint of desperation (09:10 in your video). These reactions are quite logical if Kuchalakumari saw and understood that Kamala has been possessed by Shiva and has reached spiritual bliss as a dancer: the game is over, Kuchalakumari can’t top that and she knows it, even though she makes a last desperate attempt by walking over to the prince (or whoever he is). But her reactions – amazement, annoyance – don’t seem to make much sense if Kamala is not possessed by Shiva, and all Kuchalakumari sees is how her hated competitor Kamala seems exhausted (finally!), stops dancing (great!), walks around in circles feeling dizzy (serves her right!) and then stumbles around with a silly grin on her face, thereby reducing her chances of winning the competition (insert evil laugh from Kuchalakumari).

      Another reason why I’m inclined to think my little theory about Shiva may be right, is the religious function of Bharatanatyam. As far as I understand it, a true devotional dancer is supposed to dance to reach a higher level of spiritual consciousness and unity with the Divine. Just before the dance of ‘Brahman Thaalam Poda’ starts the statue of Shiva is shown in the video. Kamala reverently greets Shiva with a namaste (00:25). And subsequently she starts the dance with references to the gods – among other things you can see her playing Krishna’s flute and striking the famous Shiva pose (01:20). But we don’t see Kuchalakumari doing this kind of honour-thy-gods thing (by the way, I’d be curious to know what she’s singing, perhaps more mundane things than Kamala).
      Kamala shows herself to be the kind of dancer whose first goal is to reach spiritual bliss and unity with the Divine through excellent dancing with a smile on her face. While Kuchalakumari clearly doesn’t dance to reach a higher spiritual goal. She’s just dancing to win the competition, and is a lousy dancer with a bad attitude.

      So what i'm thinking is: Around 08:10 Kamala slows down. Either she’s exhausted and then Shiva comes to her rescue. Or her dancing was so wonderful and spiritual that she’s being possessed by Shiva and reaches spiritual bliss (just watch the beatific look on Kamala’s blue face at 08:33). Invigorated by the Lord of the dance himself she starts to dance again with renewed energy. Until 10:19, when the effect apparently wears off and she starts to feel exhausted (again) and the pain of the cuts on her feet.
      Well, these are just my two cents on the subject as a Dutch white chick (albeit some very lengthy two cents; sorry about the long post!). I'd be curious to know what you think.

      Oh, and I did already enjoy a lot of Kamala's other dances you posted on this blog! But so far 'Brahman Thaalam Poda' is my favourite.

    3. Anouk - Hello again! Rewatching the song again, I think you're right about the blue color being intentional. I hadn't noticed it before (probably because I hate, HATE, the coloring of the Konjum Salangi songs even after the color corrections!). It surprises me that the filmmakers would use her skin color turning bluish as a way to communicate the idea the she had reached spiritual realization through her performance. I don't recall seeing that done elsewhere, but I certainly could have missed some examples. I seem to associate blue skin color much more strongly with Krishna than Shiva. I really wish subtitles were available for the clip! But I think you're right that Kamala is being presented as the spiritually superior dancer due to her motivations and intentions. It's interesting that she turns blue and then the nagaswaram melody follows- I had always thought it was Gemini's melody that invigorated her, but given your analysis it seems that she reached spiritual bliss and then received the blessings (Gemini's intervention) to reinvigorate her. I didn't think the religious references/actions Kamala performed were noteworthy because they are so common in Bharatanatyam performances; however, in this film these actions do seem to have the purpose of contrasting Kamala with her much lesser competitor! Seems to be a common theme of the time, similar to Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje where Gopi Krishna's character is shown to be a "serious" Kathak dancer contrasted initially with the female characters' commercial and unclassical dances (only problem is, Gopi Krishna doesn't even dance real Kathak, hehe!). It's nice to see someone analyzing aspects of Konjum Salangai so closely; it doesn't get much attention these days! And I'm always happy to see someone else enjoying Kamala's wonderful film dances.

  6. Oh Anouk is entitled to her personal mythology, but In my mind, Konjum salangai is one of the most "secu;ar" arts (music, dance) films to come out of south india, which usually inextricably links its arts with its religion. So I doubt if the film would have a color coded subalteran "loerd Shiva" message, although a woman turning blue mid performance would make a believer out of better people than I.

    I had somehow assumed that blue was the color of poison (she was given poison by the rival dancer) and that was taking effect.

    After all even shiva was called (quite hilariously) Neela kant because the poison he imbibed turned his neck blue....(different story we'll go there some other time :) ).

    1. rameshram - I don't think Anouk has seen the whole film - I certainly haven't, though I did browse through it but there were no English subtitles. So our theories about the dances are formed without knowing the context of the whole film, which you seem to know. I'm curious, why do you see Konjum Salangai as "secular"? The poison angle is interesting - there's probably some dialogue or scenes that I'm not aware that might reference that. And what does "Neela Kant" mean?

  7. Not one but two reactions to my post – great, at the very least I brought some new life into his discussion!

    Rameshram: O ye Unbelievers... :-) You do raise an interesting point, though. I never saw the entire movie, just the clips on the internet (always a risky thing, trying to draw valid conclusions from fragments). Therefore I didn’t know the rival dancer poisoned our protagonist, Kamala.
    So I tried looking at this scene with an open mind and to see what you see: a woman turning blue as a cinematic side-effect of being poisoned. Alas: I didn’t succeed (just call me stubborn). I do think the poison explains why Kamala starts wincing (around 08:06), slowing down and feeling dizzy (and perhaps it may explain why Shiva is coming to her aid; the way he saved mankind before by neutralizing a dangerous poison in his throat? Oh, never mind going down that dangerous mythology-strewn road...). But if the blue colour signals the poison’s taking effect, then why isn’t Kamala’s face in great pain and agony at that moment? At the contrary, when she’s turning blue and right after that she looks extraordinarily quiet, blissful and happy. A divine intervention would IMHO explain much better why the poison suddenly seems neutralized at the very moment she turns blue and why she looks like she’s reached a blissful state.
    And then there are Kuchalakumari’s reactions – amazement, annoyance – which don’t seem to make much sense if all she sees is her poison taking effect on Kamala and turning her blue. In that case I’d expect her to look satisfied or with secret glee at how her nasty little plan works out, instead of like “What’s happening here? Blast, my evil plot has been foiled...”

    To me another clue is in the music. It’s very dramatic and frenetic when Kamala is turning around feeling dizzy. It then climaxes into an expectant tremolo around the moment she turns blue, and switches to a peaceful melody played by a single instrument when she slowly starts looking up and we, the audience, see the ethereal look on her blue face. If what we see is a divine intervention the music fits this scene perfectly, I think. But if what we see at that moment is her face being turned blue by poison, wouldn’t that be a dramatic, agitated moment which in turn calls for dramatic, agitated music?

    Minai: Funny seeing you having some of the same thought processes as I did. I also associate blue skin colour much more with Krishna. But after all Shiva is also often depicted with a blue or blueish grey skin. And like you I didn’t give the religious actions Kamala performs much thought at first, because they looked rather ‘standard’ to me as well.

    My wild guess is: The director of this movie used this blue effect to point out to his audience Shiva‘s stepping in at a crucial moment. It may very well be an unorthodox effect, produced in a period when colour movies weren’t yet as abundant and routinely made as they are now. But just imagine how, in a time long before VHS and YouTube, this scene would have looked to its audience projected on a big cinema screen... quite spectacular, I think.

  8. Anouk points for enthusiastic rebuttal but even you must admit Shiva is a stretch though. There is NO reference to the blue shiva in the film except in passing. most references are to nataraja, if at all, and he not be blue. more like bronze black. (seriously, the south indian shiva is black, the north indian Kailash living siva is blue...or green.. thats because the stones in south india are granite, and thus the lingms(god's naughty parts) were black, but the lingams in the himalayas, being stalactites of ice or crystal (ref: indiana jones) were blue or green , respectively.

    It's not that you can't have your blue shiva theory, but pause a moment to consider the facts...will ya? ;)

    1. Awww, spoilsport...! Why consider the facts if I can have a stretched-out but fun discussion with a worthy opponent, rameshram ji? But on the whole you’re quite right in the comment above and furthermore my workload is impatiently clamouring for my full attention (and as we'll both agree I better not give up my dayjob for a professional career as a South Indian cinema analyst). So let’s disagreeably agree to agree - or something like that... :-)

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. i have seen the movie and kuchala kumari poisons one of the colour powder used by kamala. when her feet touches the poisoned powder she winces. thats why she turns blue.

  10. Thanks, Anonymous, that’s really useful information! Now I finally understand why the orange powder at 04:54 in the video suddenly turns blue. And Kamala’s face turning blue from the poison actually makes sense that way. Mystery solved!

    I’m still inclined to think though, given the look on Kamala’s face during the ‘blue scene’ and afterwards, that something transcendental is happening as well (a divine intervention or a trance state or something like that), which helps her overcome the poison at that moment. Anyone any ideas? And I was wondering, does anyone know what the meaning is of the pandit – the same one who looks surprised by Kamala’s feet at the beginning of the video - suddenly touching the ankle of the relief sculpture at 07:32?

    By the way, I agree with you, Minai, subtitles for this clip would be very welcome (any volunteers...? ;-). And though you hate the colouring of your Konjum Salangai clips even after your correction, I for one think you achieved a fine result, especially compared to what it was and compared to the quality of other clips from this movie on YouTube. So keep up the good work.

    1. maybe shiva drank up the poison and made her smile. Any woman would smile like in a trance...when shiva drinks the....poisons out of her system...

    2. anon - thanks for the confirmation about the poison! With your and rameshram's comments I think that's clearly what happened.

      Anouk - It looks like the blue effect was clearly from the poison, given anon and rameshram's comments, and her recovery was due to the nageswaram melody. I think that's the most likely explanation. I'm happy you've enjoyed the color-corrected Konjum Salangai clips- I was excited to get some good quality copies out there on YT for folks to watch and enjoy Kamala's lovely dancing.

      rameshram - I deleted one of your comments per our discussion. And you never responded to my question about your view of KS as secular; feel free to clarify if you wish.

  11. as discussed. as long as everyone read it before you deleted it.

    As regards Konjum Salangai being a "secular" film, Tamil...telegu...malayalam films of the period were often based on Stageplays (sometimes they were just a camera stuck in a corner in a complete stage play). Often these plays were mythological (even the historical plays would have a "poet" going from palace to palace performing miracles.

    The films of elias duggan were notable exceptions(meera, manthiri kumari) but Indian directors seemed to only make these miraculous hisroricals. the miracles used to be the secret sauce in the 1940-50's to give the film that "something extra" for box office survival.

    This changed as "rationalist" films started getting made where themes got social in nature, and often were atheist, the change in popular taste left the historical/ mythological films languishing with no financing, so the large productuin infrastructure (costumes, artists, bling) morphed into producing either "sword and sandal" type historical epics (MGR was a notable result of this kind of film) or ,as experiments, films like konjum salangai and vanjikkottai valiban, where even though the setting was historical / mythological fiction, there were no fantastical deeds performed or miracles occurring in the film(or not too many, anyway).

    Konjum salangai was entirely remarkable, and somewhat unique(because I can't remember any other such films) where the film was set in temples and the performance of temple rituals was filmed without any sort of religious identification with hindu deities.

    When it was released, although the film was a critical success(people loved the music in it) it did not , somehow catch with the popular audiences , probably because it was too secular for their taste. After all, if people wanted to watch secular films, they did have Plenty of avenue in the dravidian films of Karunanidhi and MGR, they didn't have to watch a confusingly secular film set in temples.

  12. Minai,

    Contrary to the claims by "Rameshram", Konjum Salangai is not a 'secular' film. I won't go into the absurdity of his statement "the film was set in temples and the performance of temple rituals was filmed without any sort of religious identification with hindu deities", since authentic rituals are very much religious.

    I'm a Tamil Hindu and this film is very familiar to myself and my family since decades. We have it on VHS and VCD. We have a large collection of Tamil, Telugu and Kannada Hindu films from the great but bygone age of Hindu cinema.

    Konjum Salangai is indeed a Hindu film. This is even noticeable in one of the early songs in the film, Singara Velane Deva", which is a song to Murugan, Shiva's son, also known as Kartikeya. The character of a main actress and her mother are singing it in a temple to the very Deity. The fact that all the characters in the film are bearing Hindu facial and body marks, like the triple ash lines, as people did of old to indicate their devotion (and initiation) to their Gods is another indicator. The film merely depicts a view of a fictionalised version of the historical _Hindu_ life in Tamil Nadu. Hindu films need not spend every second on something Hindu to be Hindu. However, the themes and settings and characters and their life is. And the film was made before the social engineering of the modern era.

    While the character of the main dancer was indeed poisoned and becoming drowsy with bleeding feet because of it, there is no denying the association of the Hindu Gods, in particular Shiva and his wife. Shiva in the form of Nataraja originated all forms of Hindu dance, and initiated Hindus into this. It is also true as another commenter here indicated, that our ancient Hindu dances, in particular bharatanatyam, are a means of uniting the dancer and the viewer of the dance with our ancestral Gods, as our dances are derived from our yoga and serve the same purpose. The same is true of carnatic music. Far from being secular, the carnatic music of the Hindus, with or without lyrics, is for uniting the singer and rasikas with our ancestral Gods. It is the culmination of the Hindu experience of devotion, and this is well-explained in the lyrics of our songs themselves. Dancing and singing are some of the divine pastimes of our Gods, whose actions we emulate for oneness with them. It is also a form of worship of our Gods and is not transferrable between religions and is not in any way 'secular', despite non-Hindu persons trying wishing it so.

    It is important for all traditional so-called "pagans" to object to the secularising of their religions and religious expressions into mere "art" forms. They may seem artistic and "cultural" to others, something to be entertained by, but to us whose ancestral religion this is, it is our life, a reality. Native Americans have already objected to the cheapening and de-sanctification of their religion. Hindus are doing so too before it is too late for us.

  13. There is a tendency in modern India and without, demonstrated to some extent by 'Rameshram' here but there are more vituperative examples elsewhere, to de-Hinduise the history of Hindus and to rewrite it as something else. Certain missionary religions are heavily investing in not just divesting Hindu religious expressive forms (like Hindu music and dance) of their Hindu-ness, but to rewrite their them as equally and even originally belonging to the missionary religion instead. This serious matter is discussed by concerned Hindus in sites like This is no different from how the pagan traditions of the Greeks and Romans were heavily inculturated upon before their religion too was dealt the death blow.

    Hindus don't identify with the "South Asian" label. It was coined by Henry Kissinger, who infamously stated that he despised Indians so he wanted to "piss on them". Next to that, South Asian brackets Hindus with people who wish to destroy us and our culture. For Hindus and our religious traditions (like our Hindu dances, musical forms and instruments, and artistry) to be bracketed with Pakistanis or the missionary religions in the subcontinent, is like bracketing Armenians with the Turks or Jews with the nazis.

    Further, it is our Hindu religion, the creativity derived and inspired by our Gods in specific, that gave rise to our Hindu dances, music and arts. Dancing and singing to music is forbidden in actual Islam (though the kidnapped infidel women in their harems were allowed to amuse the slavemasters by 'dancing'). Dancing and even some native forms of singing and music were disallowed by Christianity in several island nations of the world, when the populations were first converted, just like in Goa under the Portuguese Catholics. All so-called "South Asian" music and arts are actually from the native religions of the Indian subcontinent, pre-dominantly Hinduism.

    In any case, there is nothing generically "Indian" about our ancient established Hindu religious classical forms. They definitely have nothing to do with the proselytizing religions.

  14. As an aside, 'Rameshram' betrays further ignorance of Hindu religion when he claims that "the south indian shiva is black". Almost every Tamil Hindu literature on Shiva speaks of Shiva as red, which echoes the Vedas to the letter. In fact, Shiva exhibits a spectrum of colours in His five faces, and from memory it is Shiva as Aghora who is black or bluish black, though still covered by white ash, which supports the authenticity of traditional blue depictions of Shiva by Hindus.

    Shiva's various colours are quite the usual "primary" colours that are filled with meaning in Hinduism, being yellow/gold, white (actually: transparent crystal in Shiva's case, but covered in white ash), black, red. Like Shiva is described as red or else transparent by default, his wife is greenish or bluish black by default, and red or gold in Her other forms. The colours denote great significance in our ancestral religion, but are specifically not human colours. The Gods are literally green, yellow, red, blue, black, white, orange, and the rest. My descriptions of Shiva and his wife are from ancient primary Hindu sources in Tamil, Kannada and Sanskrit, and are thus authentic. The black stone in which the Gods are imaged do not indicate their individual colours. Incidentally, the same range of colours of Gods is seen in the somewhat similar yet unrelated native religions of far-east Asia and Polynesia. Perhaps this is a larger truth about several pantheons of Gods.

    The many traditional Hindu hymns to Shiva in his Nataraja form clearly and consistently describe Nataraja's colour. To be clear, it is not at all "bronze black", again contrary to the assertions by 'Rameshram'. Only the statue is, because of the material it is made from. The live form of Nataraja is not that colour.

    People on the net who want to have an authentic glimpse into Hindu traditions, even as glimpsed through Hindu cinema, should take care not to confuse legitimate views with inauthentic ones and opinions, or to give the two equal weight.


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