I had read about this Rhadha person accompanying her famous sister Kamala (and other sister Vasanthi) in a film and on stage, but wasn’t able to find much other information. As I reread the excellent articles about Kamala from Sruti magazine, a look at some of the pictures of her sister Rhadha connected that distinctive nose to the girl in Bhakta Kuchela, but I couldn’t say for sure. When I tracked down the article about Rhadha, “The Dancing Heart,” written by Rhadha's close associate Sujatha Vijayaraghavan in issues 279 and 280 of Sruti magazine, the pictures it featured confirmed 100% that the Bhakta Kuchela dancer was indeed Rhadha! Just take a look- it’s unmistakable:
Left: Sruti Magazine Right: Bhaktakuchela
All About Rhadha
While it was thrilling enough just being able to find some of the film work of Kamala’s younger sister Rhadha, the discovery became even sweeter when I learned that Rhadha is an award-winning dancer in the Vazhuvoor style of Bharatanatyam who still dances, teaches, and choreographs to this day! So why does it seem she was so little known until recently? Perhaps The Hindu says it best, noting that until fairly recently Rhadha “languish[ed] in virtual anonymity in the shadow of sister Kamala who was the guaranteed applause getter.”
"The Dancing Heart" article is an excellent read for getting a broad picture of Rhadha's life (and can I just say how much I LOVE Sruti magazine? I might have to write a post of devotion soon). Rhadha, who has also been called R. Rhadha, Smt. Rhadha, and Guru Rhadha (that second "h" in her name came about when she consulted a numerologist at a low point in her career), seems to have been born on December 31, 1941, and started off as a child dancing a bit in some films and later on stage with older sister Kamala and younger sister Vasanthi. Curiously, other than “a few jatiswaram-s and padam-s” and some items while traveling on trains with Kamala's entourage, Rhadha was never systematically taught by Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai (Kamala’s famous guru) and instead learned most of her Bharatanatyam directly from her sister Kamala who was a “strict taskmaster” to Rhadha and other sister Vasanthi. Rhadha was, essentially, “Kamala’s first student.”
While I had read about Rhadha and Vasanthi performing with their sister Kamala in the Sruti articles about Kamala, I had the impression that their inclusions were fairly random and not a regular affair. But "The Dancing Heart" article revealed that the sisters, particularly Rhadha, were quite involved in Kamala's performances. "The sisters danced at many official receptions for dignitaries like Dwight Eisenhower, Queen Elizabeth II, Chou En Lai, Marshal Tito, Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan." Rhadha danced with Kamala on her tours to such countries as Japan, Malaysia, and the U.K. At one point Rhadha learned vocal music and even "gave vocal support to the lead singer for Kamala's performances." What I'm not clear on is if these tours were billed only as Kamala performances and the sisters just provided supporting dance roles or if the tours were billed as "Kamala and her sisters" and the sisters actually had solos. Other articles have given the former impression.
It was revealing to read about problems within the family; Kamala's divorce apparently left her "shattered," and when she remarried she moved away from her sisters and became isolated and alienated from them. Kamala performed solo (and Rhadha and Vasanthi as a duo) for some time until things were later apparently patched up with her sisters.
|From Sruti Cover, Issue 279|
But her greatest honors perhaps came in 2007 when she was awarded both the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and the Aacharya Choodamani (Sri Krishna Gana Sabha) award. Her dance performance at the Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards Festival earned praise. At the age of sixty-five, she danced with such energy and skill that she “put youngsters to shame.”
Everything I’ve read of Rhadha paints her as a tireless performer and humble artist who simply loves to dance with a passion. And what kudos go to Kamala for teaching and shaping such a wonderful artist!
Rhadha’s Film Work
From the Sruti article and videos I’ve seen, here is Rhadha’s known filmography, though I'm sure there are some more songs floating around out there:
• Vethala Ulakam (Tamil, 1948; aka Vedala Ulagam) – Her debut around the age of 6; dragged a chariot as a toddler in the Pavalakkodi sequence
• Penn (Tamil, 1954) – Danced as a beggar girl
• Vilayattu Bommai (Tamil, 1954) – Danced in the song Kalai Chelvame Vazhgave
• Sivangangai Cheemai (Tamil, 1959; aka Sivagangai Seemai) – Played one of Kamala’s friends; danced in the song "Kannangarutha Kili" and had a couple short speaking parts (Edit 11/12 - She also danced with Kamala in Kottu Melam Kottungadi)
• Bhakta Kuchela (Malayalam/Kannada, 1961) – Danced with Kamala in "Vikrama Rajendra" song
• Chenda (Malayalam, 1973) – Danced with sisters Kamala and Vasanthi in a number choreographed by Muthuswamy Pillai. Kamala has mentioned the film’s name as Chenda in an interview or two, but I have seen only the songs from that film and the sisters' dance was no where to be found. Perhaps they perform a dance as part of the film and not in the songs?
• A Doordarshan Play (Ananda Thandavam?) – She played the role of a dancer and danced a “Khamas tillana” in a 1980s “Doordarshan play produced by Krishnaswamy Associates.” In looking at their website, I’m guessing the TV serial she starred in was Ananda Thandavam. If only I knew where to buy the VCD outside of India!
Other than the Bhakta Kuchela video featured at the beginning, the only other videos from the list above I've been able to find are Rhadha's dance and speaking parts in Sivagangai Seemai! Here they are:
"Kannam Karutha Kili" - Rhadha is the dancer on the left singing to her sister Kamala on the right; it's a very sweet performance with humorous group choreography excellent, crisp print quality. And it's a Kamala dance never featured before on this blog? Yay!
Rhadha's Speaking Parts - Google Video has the whole film up, and Rhadha can be seen starting at 27:07 as the girl to the right of Kamala who speaks a few lines. Edit 11/12 - Apparently Google Video deleted all of its old hosted uploads! Cwy!
In 2010, Rhadha released a DVD titled Bharatanatyam The Vazhuvoor Tradition in which she demonstrates "the adavu-s (basic movements) and part of some of the well known items of the Vazhuvoor repertoire." I'm very interested to get a hold of this DVD and see the almost 70-year-old in action!
Not to Be Confused With...
Researching Rhadha and her sister Kamala has revealed some strange coincidences! Regarding Rhadha, there is another former dancer also named Radha (Viswanathan) who is easy to confuse with the Rhadha of this post! The other Radha (Viswanathan) was coincidentally apparently Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai's first disciple and danced with Kamala in the film Meera in the Bala Meera/Krishna dance before later switching to singing. Weird! But it's Kamala for whom strange coincidences abound. Her first marriage and second marriage surnames were really similar: she was first Lakshman, then Lakshminarayanan. To top that, her first husband R.K. Laxman married another woman named Kamala after his divorce with "our" Kamala! So now there is another "Kamala Lakshman!" (Wouldn't that be weird, to remarry someone with the same name...)
Sources and More Information
- Rhadha - The Dancing Heart (Sruti magazine, Issues 279 and 280 - Issues can be delivered outside of India for $5.00 each including shipping!)
- The Novelty that Always Was (The Hindu)
- With an Eye on Finer Details (The Hindu)
- Vintage Vazhuvoor (The Hindu)
- Victory of the Veterans (The Hindu)
- Review - Natya Kala Conference 2011 (Narthaki) - Has pictures of Rhadha and Kamala performing
- In the Sruti magazine articles about Kamala, pictures of Rhadha can be seen here (with Kamala and Nehru), here (giggling with Kamala), here, (with Kamala, Padmini, Vyjayanthimala etc), and here (with Kamala and Vasanthi).