Anjana Banerjee’s Bharatanatyam in Chhandaneer (Bengali, 1989)

Sunday, August 26, 2012
I first learned of Anjana Banerjee whilst browsing YouTube for Bharatanatyam dance videos a while ago.  You might have seen her infamous video titled “Anjana Banerjee – Hilarious Bharatanatyam Dancer” where she gives a performance that is so incredibly bad it's deliciously hilarious!  Take a look at this priceless piece of Doordarshan TV history:


The uploader references a complimentary quote on Narthaki.com about Anjana's dance skills, and when I first saw the video a while back I thought “oh Narthaki must have mixed her up with a dancer of a similar name” because how could a dancer like that possibly be taken seriously in any way?  And how did she get on TV in the first place?

Luckily for us, that is not the only recent dancing video of Anjana online.  There seems to be a bunch of people who have taken it upon themselves to upload short preview videos ripped-off from DancingIndia.net (which itself is a rip-off site that rips-off other people's videos and DVDs and resells them as proprietary downloads).  The videos are recognized not only by the "DancingIndia.net" watermark but also by their randomly-numbered titles with misspelled words and, most humorously, inserts of the uploader's opinions in the titles.  So one may find titles with things like ru1bbish1 (rubbish), crappp, crappiest grp, idiotonscats (idiot on skates!), longjaaw (long jaw?), fatkid, or simply...supercow. :D

Among these lovely collections can be found a few more recent Anjana Banerjee performances.  In the two below, she gets the distinction of having "faat horrror" in the title. :) I love the second video, where the introduction speaks glowingly of her dance as an "exposition of rhythm and melody." There are a handful more that are slightly-less-atrocious, like this and especially this in which she looks a bit younger and has more energy.



 Anjana's Dances in Chandaneer

To my amazement, a visitor emailed me this week regarding a 1989 Bengali film called Chhandaneer (The Nest of Rhythm, directed by Utpalendu Chakrabarty), and after some research and finding the movie in full online (legally through Angel, who never cease to be awesome), I quickly discovered that the film was about a Bharatanatyam dancer!  Bengali films in my experience simply do not feature as many dances as Hindi or South Indian cinema does, and when they do it tends to be either mujras or Tagore dance (I have a post in the works about this...among so many others!) with a few exceptions like the Odissi dances in Yugant or the brief Bharatanatyam practice scene in Unishe April.  And that is why finding the film Chhandaneer, which revolves completely around an accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer who marries a blind musician in rigid pursuit of high art, is incredible!  (Thank you Elena!)

As I searched for more information on the film and who the the lead character/dancer "Seema" was enacted by, IMDB.com credited the role to Anjana Banerjee (as did the BFI).  I vaguely remembered her name but didn't know why.  A quick search on YouTube confronted me with the iconic, hilarious dance I'd seen a while ago.  "It couldn't be!" I thought at first.  But then I watched all the dances from the film closely and it was unmistakable that the dancer was the same Anjana Banerjee with a much younger appearance and energy filmed long before she clearly aged, gained weight, and suffered from a serious case of dance amnesia...or arthritis.

Just take a look at one of her best dances from the film:


Can you believe it! How could someone dance so decently here and fall so far later? Amazing.  In case you're still thinking "no way! that's not her!" just take a look at these two picture comparisons:

Same distinctive nose
Same mole near her right eye
I did a bit of web sleuthing and discovered a bit more about Ms. Banerjee.  She is Anjana Banerjee (aka Anjana Banerji, Anjana Banergi, Anjana Bandyopadhyay) of Calcutta/Kolkata in West Bengal. According to her website (no longer available now but archived through the Wayback Machine), she studied under a few Bharatanatyam gurus including K.N. Dakshinamoorthy (K.N. Dandayuthapani Pillai’s younger brother) and Kittappa Pillai, participated in dance events around India, and seems to have been noted for being not only a Bharatanatyam dancer from Bengal but also for her experimentation with dancing Bharatanatyam to Tagore songs which she discussed in this article over at Boloji.com.  It’s hard to judge if the praise from the media she quoted on her old website is really just conciliatory fluff, but I did notice a few mentions of performances by her over the past decade online, so she does seem to have at least kept active and had (and might still have) a dance school called Nritya Kutira.

What is very interesting about her role as a headstrong Bharatanatyam purist in Chhandaneer is that it seems to reference actual events from her dancing life, which implies she may have been fairly well-known in West Bengal at the time as a Bharatanatyam dancer and the film was featuring or perhaps capitalizing on her local fame.  In the scene below, she is interviewed about and then is shown demonstrating her blending of songs by Rabindranath Tagore with Bharatanatyam which as noted above she experimented with in real life.  I'm sure this inclusion also helped the dance be more relateable to Bengali audiences who are very familiar with Tagore (and of course the Bengali language) as opposed to Bharatanatyam's traditional music and languages.



Another surprise in the film is the famous dancer Yamini Krishnamurthy’s appearance at the end to introduce the stage performance of Seema.  It’s really her!  She is woven into the story as the childhood guru of Seema, though she is not seen until the end (I don’t believe the teacher in this scene is her, but another actor).  Here is Yamini’s small part (she's seen starting at 9:12) – no dancing, unfortunately:



The Remaining Film Dances

Credits Dance - Seema (Anjana Banerjee) is introduced with a fast-paced performance overlayed on the beginning credits.  After a short break, she resumes dancing again at 3:44 introduced by some beautiful South Indian temple imagery.


Academy Dance - Her abhinaya-focused dance at the “Madras Music Academy” (that’s a real shot of the outside of the famed Academy at the beginning).  Wouldn't it be great if the stage at the Academy really looked like a '90s Doordarshan TV classical dance set! :)  The lyrics in this film, penned by Satarupa Sanyal, won the National Film Award for "Best Lyrics of 1989" "for the rare poetic heights reached."


Practice Scene #1 - I just love classical dance practice scenes! She doesn't get to practice long before she is rudely interrupted.


Practice Scene #2 - Interrupted again!


Seema teaching a group of students, and interrupted yet again!


Another abhinaya-focused dance bathed in a soft, warm light.  Doesn't she look completely different from her other dances in the film?  And might this be a Tagore song?


Seema's dramatic ending dance in a filmy costume (and Yamini Krishnamurthy in the audience).


How intriguing this discovery of Chhandaneer has been! I had no idea that the iconic "hilarious" YouTube dancer had such a history. I've not given any attention to the actual story of Chhandaneer because I thought it was simply awful - unrealistic, little character development, strange acting, and unlikable characters!  To be fair, the English subtitles disappeared on and off so I didn't fully understand the whole story.  I wonder if the film was a dud in its day, especially since there is very little information online about it. But even if the film really is as bad as I perceive it is, its value lies in its novel dance content and its giving us a peek at what the infamous Anjana Banerjee looked and danced like in her younger days. 

11 comments:

  1. Wow...You made her more famous now! :P Jokes apart. I still think her dancing in her prime days, left me more to be desired. Her abhinaya seems better in her prime days, though.
    The choreography is by saraswati sundaresan! Dr. Balamuralikrishna and Yamini Krishnamurthy appear in the movie, I think while making the film they went a long way to make these happen. Wondering if the movie was a real success or not, considering it got a national award.
    :)

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  2. There seems to be another Bharatanatyam dancer from Bengal 'Anjana Banarjee Thakurta'
    http://www.hindu.com/mag/2003/07/20/stories/2003072000560500.htm
    There are couple of her dances on YouTube, where the last name is spelled Thakurata.

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    Replies
    1. Anjana (Banerjee) Thakurata is a different person..she is a talented Bharatanatyam dancer

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    2. Thank you anon - Yes, I had made a joke below that she probably made sure to emphasize her full name to make sure no one mixed her up with the other, more...infamous, Anjana Banerjee. ;)

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  3. Ragothaman - I agree that her dancing in the film wasn't top notch. But it's the contrast between then and now that stuns me... I think dance teachers should play Anjana's "hilarious" video to students who just completed their arangetram to warn them what might happen if they don't keep up their practice! hehe ;) I've not been able to find much info on Saraswati Sundaresan - was she a prominent BN dancer? I'm guessing Anjana had lots of connections, back then and now, which explains the prominent people involved with the movie and might explain her recent Doordarshan performances! :D

    gaddeswarup - I noticed her as well when I was searching for info on the Anjana of this post. I bet when Thakurta took one look at what results top Google search for "Anjaana Banerjee" she made sure to add Thakurata at the end to distinguish herself. :D

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  4. Amen to your statement "I think dance teachers should play Anjana's "hilarious" video to students who just completed their arangetram to warn them what might happen if they don't keep up their practice!"
    :P
    Saraswati Sundaresan was the disciple of late Kittappa Pillai of Tanjore style. So, I guessed that getting her to choreograph in a movie was a big thing. Since by 80's the trend of dance teachers to choreograph in movies was reduced.

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  5. wow :D , and i wonder why she hasn't come out in protest of her supercow type titled videos on youtube. and it is nice to know that she could once dance. what happened, we shall never know!

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  6. Ragothaman - Thanks for the info. Anjana claims she learned from Kittappa Pillai too, so perhaps that's where the Saraswati connection to the film came from.

    RanjanaGood to see you around! :) Yes, one would think she knows about the videos of her on YouTube... but then maybe she's not very internet savvy, and kind friends have not brought them to her attention. Who knows! We shall never know what happened, indeed! :) I do hope that in addition to the "supercow" video you were able to watch the "idiotonskates" one - it's quite a feat to dance on rollerskates! Very entertaining :)

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  7. Minai, oh lol, i had missed this one. I remember it was in the papers, because this dancer performed in Bombay at some point. But quite a few people do this, including an Odissi dancer I know, who had some sort of record in it too. She does a mangalacharan here - www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXFUAlLjw7s&feature=relmfu

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  8. http://www.hindu.com/fr/2006/02/03/stories/2006020301420200.htm
    http://www.thehindu.com/arts/dance/article3870385.ece
    http://www.timescrest.com/coverstory/bharatnatyam-on-roller-skates-3963
    http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2009-08-06/mysore/28162949_1_roller-skates-new-dance-form-bharathanatyam
    http://www.narthaki.com/info/rev10/rev959.html
    http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?235515

    Minai, all the links above has info on BN on skates. Although a great feat and a challenging task. Personally, I dont see a point being made other than in the Guinness Record.
    :)

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  9. Ranjana - I love the Odissi-on-rollerskates video you linked! Odissi seems to lend itself better to the floating effect of rollerskates... still a bit strange, but certainly novel. :)

    Ragothaman - Wow, so this dancing-on-rollerskates thing is quite popular then! Thanks for all the links. I like the last one where the dad of the rollerskating-bharatanatyam kid wants to up the ante by adding "pots on the head." And I really don't understand why some of them cover up their rollerskates with matching fabric- hideously ugly! :D

    ReplyDelete

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