Film Background and Plot
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.
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!