Gurus Gopinath & Gopalakrishnan Dancing in Mayabazar (Telugu, 1957)

Monday, March 12, 2012
I just discovered the charming "Mohini Bhasmasur" dance drama sequence in the 1957 Telugu (and Tamil) film Mayabazar this weekend and can't believe I haven't seen it before!  The scene enacts the "Mohini Bhasmasur" legend in Hindu mythology which goes something like this: Shiva granted the demon Bhasmasur the ability to turn anyone whose head the demon touched to flame and ashes (bhasma).  When Bhasmasur tried to use the power on Shiva, Shiva ran from him and sought Vishnu's help; Vishnu turned himself into the beautiful dancer Mohini and appeared in front of Bhasamasur.  The demon was so smitten by Mohini that he asked her to marry him; she gave one condition that if he followed her every dance move, they would be wed.  As the two matched steps, Mohini tricked the demon into matching her final move of touching her head!

It's a clever little trick that makes for an entertaining drama.  But what makes the rendition in Mayabazar so fascinating is that it apparently features Guru Gopinath as the demon Bhasmasur and Guru Gopalakrishnan as Lord Shiva!  Gopinath's costume is striking and his physicality, especially when he imitates the mohini's dance, is very funny.


Guru Gopinath was originally a Kathakali dancer who created the dance form "Kerala Natanam," a simplified and more accessible style of Kathakali with many innovations.  He and American-born dancer Ragini Devi formed a touring duo that "was the first professional effort in India to popularize Kathakali outside its home state or setting."  Guru Gopalakrishnan was one of Guru Gopinath's students and the "torch bearer" for popularizing the form even to today.

Gopinath/Gopalakrishnan (Source)
Both Gurus choreographed for and danced in films (apparently Gopalakrishnan was "the most sought-after dancer of the studios for a long time"), but I haven't had much success in finding any of their performances outside of Mayabazar and Gopalakrishnan's apparent dance in Jeevithanouka (see this great post by the wonderful Ebenezer at the Old Malayalam Cinema blog).  The 1941 Malayalam film Prahlada, "the third sound film and first mythological film in Malayalam" is on the top of my list because it "introduced to cinema, the noted dancer Guru Gopinath [who] along with his wife Thankamani, performed some memorable dances in the film" (The Hindu).  But locating that film looks like a pipe-dream given that Ebenezer at OMC notes the "near-impossibility of finding a copy of the 13 films" made in Malayalam from 1930-1950.  This article on Gopalakrishnan lists a bunch of his dances I've had little luck in finding (Amma (Malayalam) with Padmini and Lalitha; Ezhai Uzhavu (Tamil) with Anjali Devi; Ontraikulam with Waheeda Rahman; and Sri Saila Mahatyam (Telugu) with Krishnakumari).  Also listed are apparent dances with Padmini in Mr. Sampat and NTR in Sitaramakalyanam, but I've gone through the songs in these films and haven't been able to ID him yet.  And I know there are more dances out there laying around unidentified and waiting to be discovered! :)

Apparently the "Mohini Bhasmasur" story is commonly enacted in dance dramas even today.  I couldn't help but end with this humorous version from the 1974 Hindi movie Har Har Mahadev:

7 comments:

  1. before padmini's mohini basmasura dance drama in film sabarimala sri ayyapan 1961 (malayalam),this is nothing

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    1. This must be Padmini162 again! :) I see that you uploaded that Padmini dance, and in the comments in that video you said you'll upload the full 12-minute version later - I look forward to seeing it. I'd like to see that guy copy Padmini's moves and see how the scene ends! :)

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  2. Hi Minai,
    Here is the link for mohini Bhasmasura dance of Padmini
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwEo5LX9pn4

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    1. padminifan - thanks! I really like the ending portion where she starts dancing the Bharatanatyam-inspired movements...in fact, she dances much more crisply than I'm used to seeing her! Very, very awesome upload, thank you! Is that channel another of yours? I see you/they also uploaded the Kannika snake dance and it looks like a white gymastics dancer! Amazing.

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  3. Sorry,Thats not my channel,The ending scene is not clear,Some portions are not there,
    I am trying hard to find a copy,as my dvd is scratched,

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  4. guru gopalakrishnan died last week in kerala

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  5. padminifan - I wish you luck in your search to find a good copy! The one up now almost gives me vertigo! ;)

    anon - Thank you for the news, that is very sad. I see that Ashish Mohan Khokar did a nice obit/tribute at narthaki.com.

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