My Favorite (Black and White) Spectacle Film Dances

Sunday, August 14, 2011
Throughout my classical dances series there have been a few black-and-white dance songs that I've just been dying to include but haven't really fit in my categorizations so far.  Listed below are my favorite dances that can't be considered "classical" but have ornamented costumes, beautiful set design, and wonderful choreography.  In other words they are spectacles!  (Well, I didn't know what else to call them :)).  Some are visually scintillating, others are dramatic dance dramas, and yet others are inspired from classical dances.  Roll the dances!

Vanjikottai Vaaliban (Tamil, 1958) - Kannum Kannum Kalandhu - I've already expounded in detail about this song and its comparison to its Hindi remake, but its never been granted a spot on my lists so far and undoubtedly gets the #1 spot here!  Here's some goodies from Randor Guy in The Hindu: "...The dances [were] composed by the well-known choreographer of the day Hiralal. A song-dance contest sequence between the two heroines (Padmini and Vyjayanthimala) was brilliantly choreographed, picturised and edited. [...] Both Padmini and Vyjayanthimala, trained classical dancers, vied with each other. They were at the height of their careers and there was professional rivalry between them! Interestingly, the real-life envy did creep into the reel-life dance drama which added its own sugar and spice to the impact of the sequence."  I tried to find a bit more about Hiralal and this article at The Hindu lists some of his other works as Guide, Ganga Jamuna, and Tere Mere Sapne.  A talented choreographer!

Chandralekha (Tamil, 1948) - Drum Dance - An epic classic featuring T.R. Rajakumari (introduced at 3:33), the "first dream girl of Tamil cinema"! Apparently there has been some controversy over who actually choreographed the dance, but this Narthaki article confirms that "...Guru Gopalakrishnan has documentary proof of his participation."  The article also notes, "the Drum Dance sequence took 6 months to shoot and the film itself cost 30 lakhs then!" I was fascinated to read Gopalakrishnan was responsible for this massive endeavor (6 months?!) because of his interesting connections with the "Kathakali lite" dance form of Kerala Natanam.  Here's a nice article on him from the Dance History Column by Ashish Mohan Khokar (which is completely fascinating column I've yet to fully digest and all Indian dance lovers should check out!).

Devta (Tamil, 1956) - Instrumental Dance Piece - I realized recently this song had never made its way into any of my posts thus far!  It certainly fits this list perfectly and is a pristine example of the dance skills of Kumari Kamala Lakshman.  The music is very playful and mysterious, and the choreography matches it well and throws in some snake dance elements and showcases Kamala's floor backbend abilities.

Kath Putli (Hindi, 1957) - "Bol Ri Kath Putli" -Vyjayanthimala gives a passionate performance inspired by Kathakali in the first minute of this song that is full of fire and passion she so excels at. She reprises the dancing throughout and also briefly dances as though she is a puppet on strings. I can now see where the inspiration for her "Kathakali" dance in "Muqabala Humse Naa Karo" from the later film Prince (Hindi, 1969) came from!

Sansaar (Hindi, 1951) - Humhin Ne Mohabbat Ki Duniya Basaayi - This nearly 8.5-minute dance drama song fascinates!  The dancer first introduced on the right is mesmerizing! I love everything about her- her facial features, dance style, and sheer presence- she's got such swagga!  She's the same dancer in the Mr. Sampat "twin" dance with Padmini (and is apparently named Vanaja).  The song appears to enact some different episodes from films--the only ones named are "Shakuntala" and "Anarkali."  One of my favorite parts of the song is the group dance that starts at 2:57 with some kind of flamenco influence in the fun group choreography and hand movements; the Mujra at 4:28 by Vanaja is also a favorite. 

Bipasha (Bengali, 1962) - Upanayan - That this dance drama song was in an old Bengali film makes it quite special!  This feeling is based on my impression that classic Bengali films don't have near the dance content the classic South Indian films do.  The song is uploaded into two parts; Part 1 begins with a mysterious atmosphere and then appears some light dancing and chanting over the music.  My favorite part of the song begins about 3 minutes in; I love the costume and energy of the male dancer.  This style of dancing continues on and off into Part 2 with lots of group choreography.  I wish I knew what the dancers are enacting! As I watch the song I can't help thinking that this is perhaps a bit what Uday Shankar's dances in the obscure film Kalpana must be like, though I'm sure it pales in comparison!  (Update: Embedded new video version with both parts in one.)

Starts 16:29

Raj Nartaki (1941, "The Court Dancer") - A perfect example of why I'm so happy that my fellow bloggers upload old, rare dances to share with the world, this dance was uploaded by Nivedita Ramakrishnan of The Cinema Corridor blog from a personal taping made off of a Doordarshan broadcast in the 80s (Update 2019: Embedded better-quality version on TommyDan's YouTube channel).  There are three good posts about the film at The Cinema Corridor, MemsaabStory, and Dances on the Footpath.  From these I've gathered that the dancer is Sadhona Bose and the film is set in Manipur; this would explain why the dancing appears to be inspired from Manipuri! I love Sadhona's graceful hands and the instruments used in the music.  Though I'm a bit underwhelmed with the dancing overall (I totally thought Sadhona was a white chick attempting Indian dance at first), it is the rarity of the film and the dance form that put it on my list!

Ummini Thanka (Malayalam, 1961) - Costumes, costumes, costumes! Ragini and Ambika (as identified by the uploader cram; Update 2019: embedded different version) look fabulous here as they fiercely inhabit their costumes that appear to be taken from traditional dance forms of Kerala; the Kerala percussion punctuates their movements splendidly. It looks like Ragini plays a male character; I wish I knew what story they are enacting.

Starts 55:14

Kalpana (Hindi, 1960) - Tu Hai Mera Prem Devta - The longest dance of the list (almost 10 minutes!), this dance of Padmini and her sister Raagini feels quite epic not only in its length but the set design and choreography. Though the dance style at times is taken from classical movements, I feel the song as a whole fits best on this list.

And that's a wrap! Though I feel as if I'm missing a dance or too...hmmm...


  1. Hi, I think the Ummini Thanka clips shows Ambika as Lord Krishna and Padmini as Arjuna and it is the reenactment of beginning of Kurukshetra War in the Mahabharata epic. Arjuna and Krishna(the charioteer) ride into the war, Arjuna gets goose bumps seeing his relations ready to fight him and he loses hope, and Lord Krishna persuades him and gives him advice (which is also known as Bhagavad Gita). The dialogue is in Sanskrit.

  2. stumbled upon this. you may have watched it. starring l vijayalakshmi.

    Rara Priya Sundara.

  3. anon- thank you for the explanation!
    cram - Thank you for sharing, I have seen that one - what I find most interesting about it is how similar it seems to Vyjayanthimala's costume and dance in Muqabala Humse Naa Karo from Prince! I had assumed LV copied Vyj but just learned Prince came out two years after Bhakta Prahlada! If there's one thing L Vijayalaxmi succeeded at it was dancing most energetically! :)

  4. Another great bunch of dances! :)

    Re. Anon's comment... Thank you, that's very informative. But I think the one you're referring to as "Padmini" is Ragini.

    By the way, I remember that scene from the Mahabharat film that came out of Bollywood in 1965. I bought that film mainly because Padmini was one of the stars. :)

  5. Padmini was in that big Mahabharat production? I think I vaguely remember reading this somewhere... oh, it was probably your blog! :) It was, of course. :)

  6. talking of padmini, have you seen this one?


  7. here's the link:

  8. hi cram - I love that song! Guess who posted it? Why, yours truly! :) It's one of my many YT accounts. I'm curious why the first link that you posted garbles up the URL by combining it with my blog URL- I'm wondering if it's a problem with blogger. Are you using the HTML code or something else? Just thinking it might be something I can fix on the blog (Blogger does not support comments well!)- let me know if you have a minute. Toodles!

  9. Minai,

    Hi there! let poor Cram catch a break please! :)

    cram, Im still waiting eagerly for you to upload the G Aravindan films after you find them!

  10. aha/....i should have guessed! [i tried the HTML thingie but blogger's messing it up].


    am still hunting for them aravindan's films! you'll be the first to know.

  11. hi again

    cram here. don't know if you've seen this. a lovely song by manna dey from dil hi to hai.

  12. Stumbled upon some old favorites on Youtube, from Gunga Jumna featuring Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala. Fabulous songs and some nice folksy dance routines. You should check them out [if you haven't already].

  13. Aaj ki raat Vyjayanthimala ke saath!

  14. ramesh - hey! I've asked cram to see if he can find Rangam anywheres, so you best get in line! ;)

    cram - That Dil Ti Ho Hai song is nice, I love how the singer gets so into it rather than sitting still. Gunga Jumna does have some nice dances - I should watch them again, cuz it's been a while (and entirely possible I've forgotten much about them!). Isn't it great how YouTube makes it so easy to "stumble upon" all sorts of wonderful things. That last Vyjayantimala one you listed is one of my absolute favorites! As always, thanks for the suggestions. :)


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