Part 3 I realized that I had not included the gorgeous Padmini dances from Pardesi, a crime for sure! I wasn't sure where they would fit in this series since the film was a coproduction between India and the Soviet Union...thus, Part 4 was born. Coproductions with India get to "cheat" in the sense that they have lots of Indian assistance and input which results in more authentic dances. Unfortunately outside of Pardesi I've only been able to find one other coproduction with classical-inspired dances in it, so I've split this post into two sections: Soviet-Indian coproductions and the film Jhansi Ki Rani.
|Raj Kapoor in Shree 420|
Even more fascinating than the popularity of Indian films in the Soviet Union were the intentional coproductions created jointly by the two countries. Salazkina points out that most of these coproductions sought to have equal representation from each county in all functions, even up to the point of having two directors, one from each country. These coproductions were "meant to create films that would hybridize each culture's favored motifs and narrative structures, in the hopes of creating truly popular films." Here are all the Soviet-Indian coproductions she lists: Pardesi (Khozhdenie Za Tri Moray, 1957); Black Mountain (Chernaya Gora, 1971); Rikki Tikki Tavi (1975); Eastward, Beyond the Ganges (Voshod Nad Gangom, 1975); Alibaba and the 40 Thieves (1980); Sohni Mahiwal (Legenda O Lyubvi, 1984); Shikari (Po Zakonu Dzhunglei, 1991); and Ajooba (Chernyj Prints Adzhuba, 1991). Mere Naam Joker (1970) and Mother India (1957) are not listed because they were not full coproductions like the above films and only had some Russian assistance.
I've browsed through all of the coproductions that are available to view online and with the exception of Pardesi, most look like native Indian films and seem modeled after the masala commercial style of Sholay. They starred well-known Hindi film stars (Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Zeenat Aman, Dimple Kapadia, etc.), and the Russian presence seemed to only be visible in the inclusion of a blond-haired character or two. Pardesi really stands alone in its obvious goal of having clear visual markers of its joint origins; it also is unique in having an artsy bent and featuring some beautiful semi-classical dances.
Pardesi (Khozhdenie Za Tri Moray in Russian, 1957) - The first Soviet-Indian coproduction ever, this film (also known as Journey Beyond Three Seas or Travels Beyond the Three Seas) was based on the travelogues of a Russian merchant (Afanasy Nikitin) who visited India in the fifteenth-century. The Dusted Off blog has an excellent, detailed review of the film with lots of screencaps. The film used to be available with English subtitles online but is now viewable (without subtitles) at Russian film studio Mosfilm's YouTube Channel here. Mosfilm's channel is quite awesome- they've uploaded a ton of classic Russian films that seem otherwise hard to find; the only detractor is most of the channel is in the Cyrillic Russian script, and Google translate only gets you so far.
Dances on the Footpath blog, it seems the Hindi film world at the time of Pardesi's making would have only known of Padmini from her dances in the Hindi films Mr. Sampat (1952) and Shiv Bhakta (1955). Maybe Raj Kapoor, the likeliest person to have brought Padmini to the Pardesi production, was a fan of her more prolific South Indian film work at that time. That might also explain why she later was featured in some of his films. :)
Temple Dance - The entire scene leading up to this dance is worth a watch for the striking cinematography and use of the color medium. Oleg Strizhenov, who plays the Russian merchant, is led through the Indian temple as he gazes around with utter amazement. Doesn't Oleg have the most striking looks? Piercing eyes and an almost luminescent face! But none more luminous than the stunning Padmini who dances here with what I can only describe as the 'Padmini X-factor.' With Padmini it's all about the little things- the facial expressions, the side-bobs of the head... the way she puts everything together into a graceful, effortless whole. Her performance here is simply mesmerizing.
Embedding disabled; click image to link. Dance should begin at 10:16.
"Nadir Dheem Tana Dere Na" - The appearance of the South Indian veena instrument in this song was a nice find; doesn't Padmini look gorgeous and regal draped along it! Her dance performance is just as lovely, and I love how far her backbends extend. If only the choreographer of this film was known (anybody who knows Russian want to translate the credits for me? pretty please?)! Certainly Padmini must have had a great influence on her movements.
Embedding disabled; click image to link. Dance should begin at 31:20.
Jhansi Ki Rani (Hindi, 1953)
As I watched the credits I was excited to find part of the dances were choreographed by Madame Simkie! 'Simkie' was a long-time dance partner of Uday Shankar in his company! Shankar's dance style stamp is clearly evident in the two lovely dances from the film below. The choreography has many influences from the dances of Kerala (like Mohiniattam and Kathakali) that give it a lilting, spiraling touch with no sharp or geometric lines. Simple, but very lovely, and a great example of what Uday Shankar's dances must have been like! I'm quite positive that Vinod Chopra must have choreographed the British ballroom dance seen in the film.
Court Dance - What a strange yet beautiful dance this is! I hated it when I first saw the film a few years ago, but it's grown on me more and makes more sense now given the Uday Shankar connection. It's a stage/court dance done for the king and queen and while it features some eccentrically dressed male dancers (looks like the costume designer was going for a Kathakali/Kerala folk influence, but what's with the big, fluffy wig?), the group of female dancers are my favorite with their graceful, soft movements choreographed into nice patterns. The female soloist is introduced with rising flames at 36:22 and has a truly ugly costume! Last, don't forget to note the most bored drum player ever at 34:33.
Climax Dance - Placed right before the climax of the film, this dance is annoyingly interspersed with military action clips. Like the first dance above, it looks just like something Simkie would have choreographed. The movements are simple but beautiful, and I spy some slight Mohiniattam and Kathak influences throughout.
So who is the main female dancer in both of these numbers? I've speculated for some time that it is Kathak exponent Roshan Kumari given that she is credited as having danced in this film. However, now having given some screencaps a closer look I'm not so sure! Take a look:
|Roshan Kumari in Jalsaghar|
|Unknown dancer in climax dance, Jhansi Ki Rani|
|Unknown dancer in court dance, Jhansi Ki Rani|
Now I'm all confused! Neither of the dancers really look like Roshan Kumari. The climax dancer bears the closest resemblance, but the more I look at the screencaps the more I see the differences; while she has the same high cheekbones, her nose is very wide and bulbous at the end and her face shape longer and thinner than Roshan's. I had the thought that perhaps there was a big time gap between the two films and maybe Roshan was much younger in Jhansi Ki Rani, but there is only a five year difference. I know! Maybe Roshan had a nosejob! ;)
On that note, the series has come to a close! Happy New Year!