Malavika's Dances and the film Ananda Bhairavi (1983, Telugu/Kannada)

Friday, January 6, 2012
Some of my top favorite classical dances in Indian films can be found in the relatively-obscure 1983 film Ananda Bhairavi (made in Telugu and Kannada). I've finally learned enough about the dancers in this film, and the film itself, to give the film some recognition and praise its main dancer, Malavika!

Film Background and Plot

From Cinegoer.com
Ananda Bhairavi is a very low-budget, village-based film about traditional practitioners of the Indian classical dance form Kuchipudi and their personal struggles with tradition in relationships.  It is apparently set in the actual Kuchipudi village in Andhra Pradesh where the dance form originated and got its name. 

Surprisingly, the film is said to have beat Saagara Sangamam (Salangai Oli in dubbed Tamil) for the coveted Golden Nandi Award in the 1983 Telugu state awards.  K. Vishwanath did not direct this film as one might assume; it was actually directed by Jandhyala who was best known for directing Telugu comedy films but had a connection to K. Vishwanath in writing dialogues for many of his dance and culture films (including, amusingly, Saagara Sangamam).  Unfortunately, it seems the film was not a big commercial success and has largely been forgotten, especially when compared to the similar film released that same year, Saagara Sangamam.  I think it was because Ananda Bhairavi just wasn't on the same magical level as its successful peer films about dance that followed in Shankarabharanam's footsteps; the film is also a bit rough around the edges and feels a little "claustrophobic" in that, outside of the songs, most scenes are just people talking and the viewer doesn't feel very engaged.

I've watched both the Telugu and Kannada versions of the film, and the dialogue and character-specific scenes were reshot for each language version while the dances seem to be edited slightly differently but not reshot (except for dialogue segments). Since neither version had English subtitles (despite the Kannada DVD by Moser Baer saying it has subs--liars!), I've resorted to gathering the unclear details about the plot from bits of chatter online.

The film tells the story of a Kuchipudi guru (Girish Karnad) whose young son Rajeev does not want to learn the family dance tradition and runs away.  The guru, impressed by the folk dance performance of a little girl named Bhairavi in his village, "adopts" Bhairavi to learn Kuchipudi dance in a traditional, guru-shishya relationship.  Since women learning Kuchipudi was not a traditionally accepted practice at the time, the guru is shunned by the traditional community in his village. The guru presses on teaching the girl who grows into a stunning Kuchipudi dancer (Malavika).  When Bhairavi runs into the guru's now-grown son Rajeev (Rajesh), the two fall in love much to the dismay of the guru. Why the guru is unhappy about the relationship is not clear; one person online said it was because the guru saw his son as an obstacle between the guru's protege and his pride, while another said it was because the girl was from a low caste and the guru's traditional values could not allow him to accept such a person as a daughter-in-law through marriage.  Whatever the reason, it appears that the guru, finally seeing the hypocrisy of his going against tradition to train a female Kuchipudi dancer but not letting Bhairavi go against tradition in marriage choice, approves of the marriage and the two are wed.  The film ends on an artsy note which I won't spoil but involves the guru performing a thrilling tandav dance.

Girish Karnad as the Kuchipudi guru

Malavika as Bhairavi, the guru's student

Rajesh as Rajeev, Bhairavi's love interest


The Dancers Behind the Dances

Finally! I have identified the two main dancers seen in this film!  They are:

Malavika.  The female dancer in the film, the adult Bhairavi character, has been credited online as Malavika (and occasionally Mallika).  I found a confirmation that her name is indeed Malavika over on the Idlebrain discussion boards where a commenter identified the actress as Malavika, said Malavika was an Odissi dancer, and claimed she had closely followed Malavika's dance programs on Doordarshan.  So who is this Malavika and what is her last name?  After going on a little Minai-research-journey I haven't had much success.  She is clearly not the famous dancer Malavika Sarukkai or the Hindi film and Doordarshan serial-starrer Malavika Tiwari. The one person I am stuck on is the dancer Malavika Venkatasubbaiah who has a striking resemblance (those almond-shaped eyes!) and  has studied Bharatanatyam, Odissi, and Kuchipudi.  The only problem is that she looks too young (the Ananda Bhairavi Malavika would have aged 30 years by now), and her bio says she trained under her main Bharatanatyam guru starting in 1990 and has been an "active performer for over 14 years."  But... just look at this resemblance:
Ananda Bhairavi Malavika (left), Malavika Venkatsubbaiah (right)

It seems that Malavika, whoever she is, never acted in any other films and was a "one hit dance wonder."  Such a shame, as she was incredibly gifted. If I do ever confirm her real identity, I will come back and edit this post; I'm just dying to see some of her other dances!  EDIT: The actress' identity seems to be Malavika Sarkar; see the excellent discussion in the comments!  EDIT: Please see my recent post with visual proof of Malavika Sarkar and her history!

Bhagavathula Venkata Rama Sarma.  I received a lovely comment on the Telugu-version song "Koluvaithiva Ranga Sai" I posted on YouTube; it was the male dancer's son identifying the dancer as his dad, Bhagavathula Venkata Rama Sarma, a leading Kuchipudi dance master in Andhra Pradesh who currently runs the dance institute Sri Nrutya KalaSala and is director of the Sri Nrutya Art Academy.  See!  This is exactly why I love blogging and posting videos as it brings together people and information in unprecedented ways.  How nice to see that the dancer is still active in dance nearly 30 years later.

The Dances!

And now, my favorite part of the film: all the wonderful dances!  Since the Telugu version's print is really terrible and damaged (the DVD makers even formally apologize before the film plays), all the videos below are from the Kannada version.

"Guru Brahma" (Telugu version) - This is the first of two "practice" songs in the film, but unlike most it shows the actual guru-shishya relationship and teachings of the mudras (hand gestures).  The little girl who plays the young Bhairavi is completely adorable, and quite a good dancer. 



"Chaitrada Kusumaanjali" (Chaithramu Kusumanjali in Telugu) - Continuing from the video above, here we see young-Bhairavi turn into young-woman-Bhairavi played by the amazing Malavika! This is the first glimpse we have of her beautiful, geometric lines. Despite the lower production values, there are clear attempts at creating beautiful visuals. 


"Malagiruveya Ranganatha" (Koluvaithiva Rangasayi in Telugu) - This is the first dance competition where Bhairavi (Malavika) is pitted against a male Kuchipudi dancer (Bhagavathula Venkata Rama Sarma) and gets to prove her mettle!  Unfortunately, due to the drama seen in the song, Bhairavi is distracted (understandably!) and loses much to the dismay of her guru who felt this was his opportunity to show that traditional community that teaching a girl Kuchipudi was a fruitful and worthy decision (I think). Though the editors favor lots of short, choppy cuts, what's left is the exquisite visuals of Malavika's sharp posture and lines.  She elevates her choreography to something that I can watch repeatedly.  I don't even know quite how to put it into words... she's just brilliant.


"Shiva Tandava" - This is the second dance competition between Bhairavi and the male Kuchipudi dancer, and this time it's a fiery and passionate Tandav!  As I noted on my post about Tandav dances, I love the energy these kinds of dances create.  It's electrifying, and this song does a great job in ramping up the excitement (aided through tons of quick editing cuts) more and more until the climax.  Luckily Bhairavi wins this round which garners she and her guru the support of the traditional crowd who had not been pleased thus far.


"Thillana" - A four-stage dance number featuring Kuchipudi (by Malavika), Kathak, Manipuri, and Kathakali dancers! What a rare treat to see all four attempted in a film song in what appears to be decently authentic costumes and inspired choreography.  The best part is the rousing finale as each drum enters in succession and all four dancers are visible on screen.


"Haaduva Muraliya" (Pilichina Muraliki in Telugu) - The romantic song in the bunch, here Rajeev and Bhairavi prance about and admire each other's post-puberty status (Bhairavi really digs Rajeev's chest hair!). Bhairavi has some cute little mini dance moves throughout.  Note that the beginning does a skip a little bit. 


Practice Scenes - I remember when I first watched this scene long ago I was new to South Indian films and completely captivated by Malavika's half sari! Recognize the song they are singing?  It's the same one, Raghuvamsha Sudha, that Kamal Hassan danced to in Sanam Teri Kasam, and apparently it's a popular Carnatic music piece.



"Baa Baa Raagavaagi" (Raa Raa Ragamai in Telugu) - Rajeev, Bhairavi's thwarted love interest, crashes her wedding and inspires Bhairavi to perform a tandav dance and reunite!  There's a little too much of Rajeev getting beaten up and kicked out (they even try to smash his dear flute!) but once Bhairavi starts her dance it's pretty awesome. 


Ending Tandav Dance - Girish Karnad gives one last performance with a powerful tandav dance performed in an altered state.  The choreography is simple but effective in transmitting the power of the dance and moment to us, the viewer.  There's a spoiler right after this scene, so I'll leave it at that!


Coming soon... two more posts about underappreciated dancers in underappreciated 80s films!

25 comments:

  1. Minai,
    Even though I was born about twenty miles from Kuchipudi, I have been away from Andhra Pradesh since the mid fifties and much of what you write is new to me. I remember only Jayabheri on similar themes. One person who seems very knowledgeable about Telugu films (he too lives outside now) is Paruchuri Sreenivas. If you are interested, I can send you his e-mail address.

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  2. How interesting that you were born so close to Kuchipudi! Do you speak Telugu? If you do, I've been trying to find someone to take a look at the credit images for Ananda Bhairavi and see if it says Malavika's family name there (the credits are mostly in Telugu). This Paruchuri Sreenivas person, what is his specialty? I would be interested in receiving his email address. Thank you for the information!

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  3. Minai,
    I did not get to see the videos yet, but checking the net
    http://www.chimatamusic.com/telugu_songs/weekSongs_2008.php
    She seems to be a Bengali actress Malavika Sarkar.
    Check number 71 in the list.
    The site is generally reliable. I think Ramesh Naidu had cosmopolitan background and married a Bengali lady.
    Yes, I speak Telugu and walked through Kuchudi a few times while visiting a relative,s village nearby. I will send Paruchri sreenivas. Email address separately. He is a plastics engineer working in Germany and is very well informed on Indology topics and Telugu films. But he might not have seen many films after 70 s. He organized a site oldtelugusons and the associated discussion site has many informative comments from him.

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  4. WOW! This is wonderful information! So that site is generally reliable then? That's very interesting about the music composer's Bengali connection and would explain the connection to Ms. Sarkar who was apparently Bengali. I used all of my Googlefu powers that I possess and couldn't find much on Malavika Sarkar other than seeing her name listed in some books about Kathak. So I know that she is a real Kathak dancer, but the big question remaining is: is she the Malavika in Ananda Bhairavi! It's hard for me to imagine a talented Kathak dancer being able to pull off the sharp Kuchipudi in this movie, but perhaps she was a fast learner (given that the site you linked says she learned Kuchipudi for the film). The Malavika in AB struck me as someone who had learned Kuchipudi since she could walk! :) Thank you for sending me Mr. Sreenivas' information. And thank you for this information! I would have never found this without your help. If you run across anymore information about Ms. Sarkar do let me know! :) Cheers!

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  5. Minai,
    Actually I am not sure which sites are reliable. It is only a few years back that I started remembering some of the tunes that I heard in childhood and started looking up the web. I found most of them in the oldtelugusongs site which Paruchuri Sreenivas and others organized and then Sreenivas kindly added some more after my queries.
    One way to find out about the identity of Malavika may be to ask the male dancer' s son. He left his email address in your video post, I think. I checked the credits in the Telugu version. It just says Malavika. I would like to add that I enjoyed the songs and videos and thank you for these wonderful posts.

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  6. Some more information
    http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/oldtelugusongs/message/2684
    I think Ragasudha herself is an Indian dance practitioner living in UK

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  7. Have you seen Shankara Barnanam? It is a story revolving around a dancer - Manju Bhargavi. It was a super hit movie in all the Southern states when it was released ages ago.

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  8. gaddeswarup - My goodness, thank you so much for taking the time to champion my cause for finding out the identity of the dancer in this film. I think given the Idlebrain comment, the first site you linked, and now this wonderful information from this poster Raghasudha on that yahoo groups link you gave, that we can feel confident the dancer is indeed Malavika Sarkar! Yay, we have solved a mystery! Since both the Idlebrain person and Raghasudha mentioned Odissi, I'm guessing Malavika trained in that tradition. It seems more believable that she was trained in Odissi, not Kathak, given her beautiful movements in the AB film. Now with all the excitement of confirming her identity I'm so disappointed that there seems to be no information on her online. I wonder if she still dances, or if she has retired from dancing? Hopefully someday we'll be able to find more video of her work- I bet she was an excellent Odissi dancer. Thank you so very much again for this information; this is exactly why I love blogging and exactly what I hope to have happen when I throw out these little inquiries on some of my posts. Most of the time I don't expect anyone will respond-- thanks again for your response! :) And that's a brilliant suggestion about contacting the male dancer's son- had not even considered that. Cheers!!

    Filmbuff - Hello! I have seen the dances and parts of Sankarabaranam but not the whole film; its dances are very nice and pathbreaking. I especially like the "practice" number that I featured on my practice scenes post. :)

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  9. Minai,
    I am still not sure about Karnak-odissi part. I have seen a few references of her as a Kathak dancer of the Lucknow gharana. There is also reference to a Rumanian artist Sapnaa meeting a Kathak dancer Malavika Sarkar and a a singer from Lucknow. Perhaps she did practice Odissi too but I did not see her name in one long list of Odissi dancers. Perhaps one of those talented ladies (like the dancer L.Vijayalakshmi) who settled down to other things in life. In due course, we may find more about her.
    I am glad to be of some use since I have been learning
    From and enjoying your posts.

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  10. Yes, exactly what dance tradition she trained in is still unclear. It does seem curious that there is no information on an odissi dancer of that name but there *is* info for a kathak dancer. Would be quite a coincidence to have two classical dances with that name, but not an impossibility. :) I still find it hard to imagine her as a Kathak dancer, but maybe that's indicative of her talents. Hopefully some day we'll find out the truth once and for all. :) I didn't realize L. Vijayalakshmi "retired" from dancing at one point- interesting. Thank you again for all the information.

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  11. The lead actor hints at discontinuing the dance after the marriage , which is candidly seen by the guru. Don't connect any negatives to the guru character. Main reason for it not to reach audience, from my perspective is , the movie is questioning the system. In the case of Sagara Sangamam its one man's pain and its very easy to get connected to. I like your insights of south cinema.

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  12. Sunset SriKrishna - Thank you for the plot information. I see, so her 'boyfriend' was the type that wanted her to quit dance after she got married then? What was it that resolved this issue by the film's end? Did Rajeev change his mind on the issue? That adds another dimension to the plot!

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  13. About theprevious point. I watched three parts of the movie (1,3,4) that I could download, but the sound and visuals were not synchronized. From what I could gather, I did not get the above impression. After the last 'state of the consciousness' tandava dance, he expires at which point his wife, son and now daughter-un-law arrive and see his last letter. He explains in that letter, his ojection to the marriage was not because of his perciebed brother-sister relationship of the pair, or caste but that he was afraid of his son's hatred of dance and that he would stop Bhairavi from dancing (during an earlier marriage proposal, the son said that he did not want his wife to dance after marriage)and that would mean the end of his life work. We then see the son and his mother watching Bhairavi training her son in dance. It was not explicitly statedwhether Bhairavi continuedher dance performances but the legacy continued. Apologies for my English. I studied in Telugu medium and my English does not always come off.

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  14. gaddeswarup - Thank you for the information! Both your and Sunset's responses are very helpful and help the movie make more sense. Your English is perfectly fine! I guess my last question about this film is when it is supposed to have taken place. Women dancing Kuchipudi today is completely accepted (and I thought in the 80s it was as well), but I'm not sure exactly when the transition to women performing the art took place; perhaps much further back in the 40s/50s perhaps when these forms were really taking their modern shape? If anyone wishes to comment, I'm all ears! :)

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  15. An aside: too many comments from me may be because Kuchipudi is too close to home. From google search, I find that three Kuchipudi teachers started teaching women and people of other castes in the thirties. According to one book Vedantam Lakshminarayana Sastri(y) was the first. There are also interesting anecdotes about him in the biography of Balasaraswati by Knight. He seems to have taught Balasaraswati abhinaya from 1948 for a few years after she was already famous for abhinaya ( around page 139) .

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  16. Thanks for the info Gaddeswarup. Looks like I have some more research to do! :)

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  17. This is Sri of telugucinema.com ... she is malavika sarkar.. i am searching long time to get her contact too to complete the article on ananda bhairavi...
    there were no buyers for the film until it got the nandi award. the movie is based on chiru muvvala maru savvadi by kondamudi sri rama murthy... the novel got the best novel in the compitition of andhraprabha weekly... the novel was discuess in detail about the dance issues at that times... can i get the mailing address of the male dance pls if possibe ... u can reach me at sriatluri@gmail.com thanks in advance ...

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  18. Sri - Hello, how lovely to meet someone from TeluguCinema.com (I assume you are one of the writers?)! I love that site's retrospect articles- I excitedly referenced a few on my Saptapadi and Obscure Films (see Mayuri and America Ammayi parts) posts which I'm not sure if you've seen. I'm most excited to have yet another person confirm that the Malavika is Malavika Sarkar- I finally made an edit to my post about this ID as I realized today I had not yet done that. I will email you the contact information for the male dancer. I'm looking forward to your Ananda Bhairavi article and eagerly await to hear more about Ms. Sarkar; stop by again sometime! :)

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  19. Minai,
    I was in Vijayawada yesterday visiting relatives and spoke on the phone to Sri Bhavavatula Venkata Rama sarma (the male dancer in the film). He seemed to be a very busy man but kindly responded to my questions. He confirmed that Malavika Sarkar is a Kathak dancer from the Lucknow gharana. He sais that she was a court dancer but did not say which court. Apparently thr director Jandhyala saw her in TV performance and felt that she would be suitable for the role. When he approached her she agreed and was trained in Kuchipudi by different teachers. He mentioned two different teachers for two dances in the film but I did not note down the names. He does not know what she did after the film or where she is know. If he gets to know something, he promised to send us the information. He is very pleased to know about the interest in the film and Kuchipudi dances. I am planning to send him the links to his articles. IHis e-mail address at one stage was
    natyachudamani.sarma@gmail.com
    It might have changed but it wo'nt be difficult to find the correct one; I have his phone number. He seemed a very nice and dedicated man and sounded very pleased with the interest in these dances.

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  20. Gaddeswarup - You spoke to the male dancer himself?! I'm almost speechless! What did I do to deserve such wonderful commenters! :) So I think we can feel 100% sure now that the female dance is Malavika Sarkar who was a Kathak dancer, and now we know which gharana she was trained in! I'm stunned that she really came from Kathak, learned Kuchipudi for the film, and then danced the Kuchipudi so well. With what I would imagine was a fairly shot-term Kuchipudi training session, I'm amazed that she was able to dance with such form and line precision. She just must have had innate talent for switching between dance styles. I'm working on a set of posts about choreographers for Indian films, and the AB credits note V. Seshu and Krishnamurthi Raju as the choreographers, so perhaps those are the two folks she learned from. How sad that even Mr. Venkata Rama Sarma didn't know what Malavika did after the film. Does anyone know I wonder! Thank you for the contact information - it seems to match the information I linked to in the post; I wasn't sure how accurate it would be but compared with your successful phone call with the man I think it must be! I will pass all this along to the Sri person above who is looking for similar information to write an article on the film, Malavika, etc. Thank you again Gaddeswarup, you've been more than helpful!!

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  21. Minai,
    During the trip, I probably may not have much access to internet and so my comments will be infrequent.
    I used the same source for e-mail address that you gave and sent a couple of links to your posts: the above and one on devadasis.
    One of the dance teachers names mentioned was Seshu and I do not remember the other.
    Sri Sarma (Sri is similar to Shri which north Indians use) mentioned that one Atluri from USA, possibly in Philadelphia contacted him some time ago about the film. I think that it may be the same person whose article that you liked in the post on Saptapadi. If that is the case we may have a write up about the film at some stage. I think that Atluri and Sreenivas Paruchuri wrote some articles about Telugu and also about films.
    I think that Sri Sarma runs a dance school and organizes several more in Andhra Pradesh. He seems to be a busy person but very approachable. The person who contacted on my behalf told me that he would be available between 5:30 PM and 6 PM on that day. So, it won't be too difficult to contact him.
    I was also told by a friend's daughter in Hyderabad that Malavika Sarkar acted in another Telugu film later but it bombed. She does not remember the name of the film.
    I am pleased that we have been able to get some information and that I am learning new things from a period that I have been away from Andhra Pradesh. Please let me know if I can be of help. I will be off to Kolkata in a couple of days but will focus on mathematics during the stay there.

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  22. testing.
    Sri Sarma'a e-mail address works.

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  23. gaddeswarup - it looks like my spam filter caught your last long comment so that's why it disappeared. You've been more than enough help so no more worries there! :) How interesting that your friend's daughter recalls Malavika acting in another film! I'm a bit confused on exactly whose names your referring to, but the Sri who commented above mentioned he will be writing an article on the film so we can look forward to that! Enjoy your trip!

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  24. Hi Minai
    your blog made a very interesting read. for some reason I woke up this morning with the tune "koluvaitiva ranga sai" ( the one from this movie, not the original thillana )playing over and over in my head. so decided to make an investigation and eventually ended up watching the entire movie.
    I can still remember listening to the music from this movie played on radio when I was a child ( Iam a 1977 baby, so I must have been about 6 years old when this movie was released but this particular song was such a classic, they used to play it on radio and on tv all the time )
    it left me with a feeling that I should have pursued my ambition of learning Carnatic vocal and kuchipudi dance instead of medicine, but hey ho, where would this world be without doctors eih!!!

    unbelievably, I cant understand how malavika Sarkar was a one hit wonder ( as they call it in Bollywood)
    her movements are very graceful and you can "see" that she was classically trained rather than just dancing to the steps of the dance director of the movie.
    good luck with your work

    Ash

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    Replies
    1. Hi Ash, Thanks for your comment. Malavika was indeed amazing. I still can't believe that she trained in Kuchipudi just for the film and did so well. I wish I could find video of her Kathak dance to compare--would be very interesting! Apologies for the delay in responding. :)

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