Given that Swarna Kamalam had some of her best dance performances and holds a special place in my heart, I'll start discussing it (and its fabulous songs) first here in Part 1. A few times I will refer to a wonderful three-part post on the film done by Navya at the Marapuraani Chitralu blog (which is dedicated to the "Golden Era of Telugu Cinema"). I've never seen such an indepth discussion of the film before and am so thankful to read some select translations for the lyrics! I highly recommend you check it out if you haven't seen the film.
Telugu1 had the whole film up on their massive YouTube channel a few days ago but it had the most terrible interlacing lines whenever anyone in the video moved quickly; the video is now private, so I'm hoping that they saw my comment complaining about the terrible quality and will reupload. Check their site in a couple weeks and you may be able to see the whole film legally! They also have the songs from the film individually uploaded but all of them have periodic skipping and clicking noises which ruins the experience. So...the videos you see below are uploaded by me because I can't stand the quality of what they have put online!
You know, I've wanted to write a review of Swarna Kamalam for a while but just haven't ever gotten the courage! I suppose it's because while I adore every scene with Bhanupriya (especially all her endearing brattiness at the beginning which I mourned as she "matured" at the end), there are many parts of the film surrounding secondary characters that are rough around the edges and as a whole the film doesn't pack the same punch that other dance films like Sagara Sangamam or Shankarabharanam do. I also found myself irritated with the way Chandrasekhar pushes Meena to dance (culminating in the 'slap heard around the world'). Perhaps the film's lack of "punch" compared to other dance films is because it's much more lighthearted (with its comedy tracks and happy ending) and holds its power mostly in the phenomenal songs and picturisations... and of course, the sheer presence of Bhanupriya and her adorable character. So I will take the easy way out and fully-utilize this opportunity to discuss only the songs. :D
I can't express enough how much I enjoy the dancing and music in this film. The dancing is definitely semi-classical but unlike most film dances in that category it has an x-factor that I can't quite put my finger on that elevates it. Perhaps it's in how the songs are clearly shot with the goal of Bhanupriya being a vessel for "higher-level" appreciation. We are invited to gaze upon her beautiful form but it is never sexualized and the choreography never has the goal of titillating the viewer. I suspect that Bhanupriya's talent is a big part of the dances' success but I think even bigger credit should go to the dance director. For a long time I wondered who composed the choreography in this film, and then I found this article at Narthaki.com that identified him as K V Satyanarayana who also directed the dances for the films Sruthilayalu, Sutradharulu, and Swathikiranam! And of course I cannot forget the melodious musical compositions by Illayaraja with lyrics by Sirivenella. Onto the songs...
"Shiva Poojaku" - This is the first of two "dream" songs in the film where Chandrasekhar (Venkatesh) fantasizes about Meenakshi (Bhanupriya) and his hopes that she will embrace classical dance. The dancing changes from classical-oriented to endearingly-cute at different points. During the classical-inspired parts, Bhanupriya dances short clips of moves inspired by (and in the costume of) Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam, Manipuri, and Odissi which is so rare to see in film! The way the choreography matches the music and lyrics is wonderfully done- my favorite part is the segment beginning at 1:24 and the way the graceful movements swell with the accompaniment. But then there's the adorable dancing she does as the "modern young woman" in her little vested salwar kameez that rivals everything else with its sheer cuteness. What's even more interesting, the whole song was apparently shot in Orissa. As the song begins, Bhanupriya dances next to the Bindu Sagar tank at the Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar; you can see the exact place in the second and fourth pics at this link (though the pink structures have apparently been painted orange now!). Later in the song starting around 2:55, Bhanupriya dances on the steps of the Shanti Stupa (seen here) on the Dhauli Giri hills near Bhubaneswar. I'm surprised the choreography didn't borrow more heavily from Odissi given these lovely shooting locations. While I wish I could find a full English translation of the song, Navya at the Marapuraani Chitralu blog provided this translation of the first three lines: "A divine sounding bell which bloomed for the puja of Shiva! O boat of thoughts, never stop the run you are in, if you bend for the waves the way will not be clear!" So that's what 'siri siri muvva' means!
"Andela Ravamidhi" - The climax of the film is illustrated through this soulful song (aka "Guru Brahma") in which Meenakshi finally connects with power and divine bliss of classical dance. She dances with such wild abandon and speed and the music is dramatic and powerful and spellbinding (if not a bit ear-piercing at times). I remember watching this song, not knowing what the Telugu lyrics meant, and completely 'getting it' which speaks to its ingeniously-composed ability to impart its meaning cross-culturally. Recently I was able to find some translation attempts of this song at this link; the last one seems to be done well. It translates the first two lines of the song as "The sound of the ankle bells--is it from the feet or from the heart which soared towards the sky? Is this nectar like singing from the lips or from the heart experiencing divine happiness?" The rest of the translation brings the song fully to life; it talks of dance as yoga and metaphor and the meanings of the syllables in "om namah sivaya namah sivaya." Brilliant. This is the power of Indian Classical Dance. Last, don't miss American-born Sharon Lowen's expert Indian head bob attempt at the very end!
"Ghallu Ghallu Mantu" - This is the other "dream" song in which Chandrasekhar pines for Meenakshi set to a beautiful melody. The classical-inspired sequences are particularly beautiful because Bhanupriya is fully decked-out in classical jewelry and makeup. There are so many small moments of choreography that I love; all of the songs are this way! Venkie's little scarf throw at 1:50 makes me laugh everytime as does his run down the hill to the beat at 3:15. I still don't quite get the whole "markers on the glass" thing; seems more like a gimmick to show off a fancy camera focusing trick.
"Kothaga Rekkalu Vachena" - Finally we get to see Venkatesh do some dance moves! Although Bhanupriya jumps in and shows him how it's really done. The song starts out with Meenakshi trying on her anklets but feeling irritated when she sees Chandrasekhar; during their dialogue scene, she asks him why he is singing about "nests and birds and developing new wings." He says her trying on the anklets is like a bird develping wings, and then he says he'll show her how to dance as if she's the sandalwood and he's the rock to make sandalwood paste. I really love the coy eye movements at 4:10 and the tree-reaching ooops at 2:09 (and how she just keeps on going, hehe).
"Koluvaiunnaade" - This is the "practice" dance in the film and I nostalgically recall how much I was enamored by it upon first viewing. Bhanupriya just effortlessly glides along and has such presence, and her obvious annoyance at her father making her dance is humorous. Her practice sari was a particular fascination for me when I first saw the song. I remember at that time I had mostly only seen women in fancy sarees from Hindi films, and here was a very thin, simple cotton sari that was tied a little bit higher with pyjama pants underneath to allow for easy dancing. I thought this was the most clever thing ever! Those were the days. :) Someone once told me that they were learning the same exact choreography from this song in a Kuchipudi dance class, so either their teacher was a fan of this song or Bhanupriya is dancing moves taken straight from Kuchipudi jathis. I'm gonna guess some combination of the two.
"Cheri Yashodaku" - Here, Meenakshi gives a dance performance at a hotel and real-life American-born Odissi exponent Sharon Lowen looks on. When Meena starts to pander to the cameraman, Sharon is so offended that she abruptly gets up and leaves! The scene then quickly ends and cuts to a dialogue between Sharon and Chandrasekhar about how Meena should be dancing with her whole heart and soul. Here's the kicker my friends- after reading the review at the Marapuraani Chitralu blog, I learned that there was supposed to be a segment in the film after this point of Sharon Lowen dancing Odissi! I've never seen it on my DVD, and it wasn't on Telugu1's upload, so I think the DVD makers cut it out which explains the abrupt scene change. Rest assured Minai has put this on the top of her "hunt down" list. :)
"Aakasamlo Aasala" - Adorableness personified, this song serves as the introduction to Bhanupriya's character in the film and paints her as a vibrant, confident young woman brimming with energy and attitude. It's completely charming with its joyous melody and simple outdoor setting. The choreography is definitely not classical, but I love the little "forward jig" move and the part when she threatens the tree limb. :) Bhanupriya lives and breathes her character and pulls off all the mannerisms perfectly. Had I been a young girl in Andhra Pradesh watching this in 1988 I would have wanted to emulate everything about her in this song. Completely joyous.
Coming up in Part 2... all the rest of her classical-oriented film dances!