|Photo by Ragesh Vasudevan/Flickr|
Outside of the promising start of Manju Warrier (who gave a nice performance as the second dancer in this song from Thooval Kottaram but let marriage end her budding career), I've not been impressed with a single recurring female dancer in recent films until I saw Lakshmi's dances.
What I love about Lakshmi is that she is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer that actually transfers that training well to film. It's refreshing to see someone with skill performing on screen. Unfortunately, the dance choreography she's been given hasn't fully lived up to her potential for the most part. More about her at the end of the post.
I now proudly present all of her film dances I could find in order from best to meh:
"Suma Saayaka" - Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal (Malayalam, 2000) - Lakshmi's exquisite audition dance here is yet another stunning example of the simple beauty of a woman in a sari practicing classical dance. She has perfect control over her body and quickly transitions from sharp moves to soft, graceful ones. The melodious and lilting music elevates the scene. How I wish the dance would continue much longer! This is one I can watch over...and over... and yes, that's Bhanupriya doing the judging!
"Omkara" - Aaptharakshaka (Kannada, 2010) - Even though real-life male Kathak enthusiast Anuj Mishra outshines Lakshmi a bit in this dance due to his striking presence and choreography, Lakshmi still gives a technically-excellent performance and showcases her crisp posture and lines. It's too bad that the music is so repetitive that it gets a bit annoying at times! As I mentioned in my post on classical dances in Kannada films, it's really a shame she didn't stick with Kannada cinema because it is really lacking in dancers...
"Shyama Varnanu" - Black Daliya (Malayalam, 2009) - This stage performance is an absolutely perfect illustration of a good and bad dancer side by side. I'm sure you can guess who the good dancer is! While I can't comment on the correctness of her adavus or such technical matters, in the choreographical moments that are taken from Bharatanatyam Lakshmi forms beautifully-straight and erect lines with her torso and arms. She doesn't exxagerate her movements or facial expressions and exhibits such precision. Her dance partner, on the other hand, lacks control and flails her arms about. It is the control of geometrical lines in Bharatanatyam that make it so beautiful, in my opinion. And without getting technical at all, I could simply say that I enjoy watching Lakshmi's performance so much more on a basic, gut level. It passes the "do I want to watch this again?" litmus test. It's too bad that the music and its technoey beat sort of ruin the whole thing, but just try to ignore it!
Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal (Small Happiness) is a dancer’s dream film! It tells the story of a housewife (Lakshmi Gopalaswami) who pursues her passion for classical dance but runs into conflict with her husband who feels she has ignored her family and her responsibilities. Through my perusal of the film it’s clear that this “ignored family” concept dominates the running time with lots of social theme scenes of dialogue, but the few times that she gets to dance are awesome! Beyond the audition scene above, here are the other two dance songs from the film:
"Shiva Karuda" - Why, oh why, did they have to add electric guitars and synth jazz elements to the haunting melody? Apart from the terrible music, I am enamored with the choreography here as it very skillfully takes inspiration from classical dances. One thing that strikes me is how Lakshmi's grounded control of her movements actually works to her detriment here because Bhanupriya's more filmified exuberance is more visually appealing with this kind of choreography.
"Ghana Shyama" - I thought the song above was uber tacky until I heard this one! It really takes the cake! The Kathak-based choreography here is pleasant enough but not a rewatch for me. I think the music is ruining the whole thing...
"Ninne Ratri" - Namyajamanru (Kannada, 2008) - This is perhaps as close to an item number as Lakshmi can get! ;) She gets to prance around in a Bharatanatyam costume in front of a veena-playing (late) Vishnuvardhan. While much of the choreography is silly, the parts where she gets to actually dance clearly show her training. She's one of those dancers that has committed her training to muscle memory so well that she really can't break out of the mould even when given silly material like this- which I think is quite awesome. Too bad another dancer has to come in mid-way and spoil the fun!
By now you've likely noticed that Lakshmi doesn't have the ultra-slim look of many current young actresses; she has a fuller figure and a realistic woman's body shape that fluctuates in weight from year to year. She also hit 40 last year and could pass for even older given her very mature look. So in a way it feels a bit odd to consider her part of the "current generation" when she is only a few years away from Shobana's age.
I find Lakshmi's background very charming and interesting. In dance, she is fully trained in Bharatanatyam and is quite active in the classical dance scene. She performed at the Soorya Festival along with such artists as Alarmel Valli, the Dhanajayans, and the dancers from Nrityagram, and last I read she was performing in the infamous Chennai music and dance season in 2011. Many of her performances have been reviewed at The Hindu. She seems to often perform with fellow actor Vineeth in fusion dance shows and tours which may be a part of her work with the supposed Indian Heritage Center. She's also been a judge on the TV dance show Thakadhimi!
In films, she debuted in 2000's Arayannangalude Veedu with Mammooty and won the Kerala state award for best supporting actress. Since then she's acted in a variety of films, mostly Malayalam with a few Kannada, Tamil, and Hindi works including another state-award-winning performance in Thaniye and a best supporting actress Filmfare award for Paradesi. In this interview, she sweetly relates how she started in Malayalam films because she didn't want to be recognized in her home state Karnataka and thought "Kerala was tucked away somewhere." It seems she's stuck with Malayalam films due to her luck in achieving such success and her looking especially Malayalee despite being "100% Kannadiga." I'm impressed with her approach to films and charmed by her conservative values.
I'm just SO delighted to have found a modern dancer on film that is so talented. Finally! Note to directors: give her some better dance material and music, please!
Last, here are some links to some recent non-film classical dance performances of Lakshmi's: a very standard Bharatanatyam performance from Swarasaagaram, and some lovely slow choreography at FOMAA 2010. Is it just me or does her araimandi seem kinda crappy?
For some more fun reading about Lakshmi:
Lakshmi Gopalaswamy- Goddess in the Hearts of Malayalees - Sulekha, 2009
Framed! - The Hindu, 2008
Lakshmi Plans to Devote More Time For Dance - The Hindu, 2010
Stepped Into a New Phase - The Hindu, 2007