About the Film
Saptapadi essentially tells the story of a Kuchipudi dancer Hema (Sabitha Bhamidipathi) who is the granddaughter of the feared and orthodox Brahmin priest Yajulu (JV Somayajulu) of the local Hindu temple. Impressed by Hema’s dancing, the priest fixes her marriage with a man named Gowrinath (Ravikanth). But Hema is in love with another man, Hari (Girish), who is the flute player accompanying her performances and whom she soon is astonished to learn is a “Harijan” low-caste untouchable! Since intercaste marriage is unacceptable, she dutifully enters into marriage with Gowrinath. On the wedding night her husband envisions (hallucinates?) that she is a Hindu goddess and he worships her instead of consummating the marriage. This continues for some time, much to the disappointment of Hema. She often fondly recalls her romance with Hari, and her pent up frustrations find expression in a thrilling tandav dance! Yajulu comes to know of Gowrinath's visions and Hema's true love (a plot point which I'm not clear on due to, once again, the lack of English subtitles). It appears the visions are seen as an "act of God" that spurs Yajulu to reconsider his orthodox positions. Near the end of the film, the priest and Hema’s husband have a change of heart and actually bring Hema and her true love Hari together to be wed--of course not until after Yajulu gives some long speeches (presumably scriptural/spiritual discussions about caste) to the shocked local community Some commenters over at Idlebrain and Telugufilms have said that the film essentially examines the orthodoxy and true purpose of the caste system and shows through Yajulu’s character the transformation of a person transitioning from judging someone based on caste to learning to see the true nature of the person’s heart.
Sabita Bhamidipati as Hema - Such "girl next door" charm and beauty!
Girish as Hari - Isn't he an adorable cutie?! Perfect casting for a
gentle man with a good heart and character.
Ravikanth as Gowrinath, and his "vision" of his wife Hema as a goddess
The late J.V. Somayajulu as Yajulu - This man played this kind of a role in many films,
most notably (and famously) in Shankarabharanam
The Dancer: Sabita Bhamidipati
I was so excited to come across this excellent retrospective article about Saptapadi over at Telugucinema.com because it features remembrances of a whole bunch of folks associated with the film: Sabitha, the little boy who mediates between Hema and Hari, the associate director, the producer, and K Vishwanath. Some of their stories and factoids are really entertaining and interesting (and snarky, like the tales of cameraman Kastoori and his demand for special treatment)!
According to a Narthaki article, Sabitha trained under Uma Rama Rao, a well-known Kuchipudi dancer. She clearly had a good dance foundation which aided her performance in the film. How sad that she did not dance or perform in any other films! But she did what made her happy, so good for her!
Tandav Dance (29:50) - This is my absolute favorite dance from the film. Right after a disappointing dialogue with her husband, Hema sees the object hanging from the tree that she and Hari had tied together long before. Overcome with frustration and torn by tradition vs. her heart, she performs a night-time tandav dance that powerfully expresses her frustrations and is ingeniously choreographed. The varied rhythms are perfectly echoed in her beautiful movements which get progressively more awesome as the song nears the end. When her dance causes nature to fill the sky with lightning, her love Hari's flute playing reaches Hema as she beautifully slowly ends her performance. A choreographic gem and an exciting musical composition! Wonderful!
"Om Jaatavedhase" (32:58) - I love this dance in the temple because it's setting and chanting is rare to see on film! The song begins with Yajulu blessing Hema's ghungroos and then motioning for her to put them on her ankles. After she does, he starts chanting and she immediately begins dancing and mimicing each line. It almost seems to be a "test" of sorts by Yajulu for Hema to prove her abilities. It's a mesmerizing and powerful song. Apparently the producer had a difficult time finding a veda pandit who would agree to perform the vedic chants in this song!
"Akhilaandeswari Chamundeswari" (18:36) - This is Sabita's first dance performance in the film and not a great opener because she dances with such a lack of energy. Lovely costumes (with three changes) but not much else to recommend, in my opinion. If I was Yajulu I wouldn't be so impressed! (Or maybe the iffy performance is why he beckoned her to dance in the temple above?)
"Nemaliki Nerpina Nadakalive" (39:38) - In this very cute song about peacocks, Sabita performs a charming dance with some beautiful movements that is, unfortunately, quite boring! Sabita does looks gorgeous though, doesn't she!
"Vrepalliya Eda Jhalluna Pongina Ravali" (54:26) - Finally we get some nice groovy 80s electronica touches in this romantic song depicting Hema and Hari's love for each other. Hema dances a little bit throughout in her lovely cotton/silk sarees. I have a feeling given the way this song is shot and the beautiful melody that those of us who don't know Telugu are greatly missing out...
"Bhaamane Satyabhaamane" (19:48) - Sabita's ugly fugly costume (so 80s!) and awkward dancing make this my least favorite dance in the film. Sabita really struggles with some of the footwork! I think this was the first dance song I saw from this film and I immediately wrote the film off as having tacky, pseudo-classical dancing in it. Good thing I eventually saw the other dances and gave it a second chance!