Sivagangai Seemai ("Land of Sivagangai") is set in Sivagangai in Tamil Nadu around the turn of the 18th century "when the East India Company was struggling to establish supremacy over South India" (Guy). It tells the story of the Marudhu brothers who ruled Sivagangai at that time and "took on the British" by issuing a proclamation in 1801 urging "the people of every community to throw out the British" from India (Kolappan). Given that this was decades before the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, some have questioned the claim that the Sepoy Mutiny was "the first war of independence" in India. After the battle in Kalayarkovil near Sivaganga, "the East India Company ultimately destroyed the brothers" by hanging them in late 1801.
called it a "suicide dance." It's essentially a film-style tandava dance in the spirit of Lord Shiva's rudra tandava, a dance of absolute grief and anger and symbolic of the "the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, as well as the daily rhythm of birth and death."
doesn't even mention Kamala's dance! :)
Kamala does not only perform an amazing dance in the film; she also has a prominent acting role making Sivagangai Seemai one of the few films that she acted in (along with Konjum Salangai (1962), Jwala (1971), Paavai Vilakku (1960), Lavanya (1951), and some smaller roles in her early films).
New Sayee-Subbulakshmi and Rhadha Dances!
I recently learned that the Sayee-Subbulakshmi sisters perform a dance in the song "Muthu Pugazh Padaithu"! The most exciting portion of the dance is the last third beginning with the fast-paced rhythmic interlude at 3:27. Look at those fantastic walking backbends (how do they not fall over!). Randor Guy says the nattuvanar K.N. Dhandayuthapani Pillai choreographed their dance and it "attracted a lot of attention." How wonderful to get to see it in such a clear print as well:
And as I blogged about previously, Kamala's younger sister Rhadha performs with her in the folksy song "Kannankaruthaa Kili Kattazhagan Thotta Kili." But in watching these new uploads from the film, I discovered Kamala and Rhadha also dance in another folksy song "Kottu Melam Kottungadi" (below). Kamala also "sings" in a few songs like Sivagangai Seemai, Kanavu Kandaen (happy), and Kanavu Kandaen (sad). There is also a cute group dance (that doesn't have Kamala/Rhadha/Sayee-Subblakshmi in it), Saanthu Pottu Thalalanga.
The film was apparently a commercial failure but is well-remembered as "among the best historical films made in Tamil" and beloved for its beautiful and patriotic songs with lyrics written by the eminent Tamil poet Kannadasan. Many online sources say the film was released in 1959, but The Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema and Randor Guy both say it was 1957, so I'm sticking with that date.
Guy, Randor. Blast From the Past - Sivagangai Seemai (1957). The Hindu.
Kolappan, B. Rare Insights into Lives of Marudhu Brothers. The Hindu.
Documentary on Maruthu Brothers. The Hindu.