I’ve blogged before about her exquisite Kathak in Indian cinema, but I’ve never done a dedicated post and thought it was high time. For a nice overview of Roshan Kumari’s background, I recommend a visit to an informational page about her created by one of her students, Mukta Joshi. I also recommend visiting Richard's post about her at his Dances on the Footpath blog, where I'm quite sure I first learned about Roshan.
I want to get straight to talking about her exquisite Kathak. What I love most about her style, and what is featured in most of her film dances, is her explosive nritta (pure, non-interpretive dance). Most of the Kathak found in Indian films tends toward the courtesan/Mujra style of Kathak with a focus on abhinaya (expressive interpretation), lyrical poetry, and a slower pace to show off the dancer's feminine charms. In cases where the pace quickens to feature footwork and spins, the dances still aren't up to par and the dancer's lack of lengthy Kathak training usually shows (or in the case of Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, the dancer (Gopi Krishna) is clearly trained but "spices up" the dance for film so much that it strays from classical Kathak). Film Kathak often features close-up shots of the dancer's footwork, but it's almost always a shadow of the real thing. There are a few film dances, however, that are gleaming exceptions to the rule in their presentation of rhythmic, technical Kathak, and the star of this style is undoubtedly Roshan Kumari. She is responsible for the best technical Kathak in Indian cinema, I say!
Singh, Kothari). While many critics were impressed by her energy and skill, some saw her style as more “austere” with “understatement more than overstatement even in the abhinaya sequences” (Thought), and one reviewer went as far as to call her "inexpressive."
Given how I seem to prefer the geometrical flourishes and rhythmical wizardry of "pure dance" in many styles of Indian classical dance, I absolutely love Roshan Kumari’s style and find her film dances simply enthralling. Such precision in Kathak is rarely seen on screen! I will now present all of her film dances that I am aware of, including the two new ones that I am excited to present: Basanta Bahara, and the Films Division documentary Kathak.
Roshan Kumari's Film Dances
Mirza Ghalib (Hindi, 1954) - This historical film is set in the time of the “magnificance of the court of the last Mughal” and follows the romance of the Indian poet Mirza Ghalib and a dancer (Worldcat). Roshan Kumari’s dance seems part of the display of riches and artistry in that period of the court and is quite similar to her dance in Jalsaghar though much shorter.
Basanta Bahar (Bengali, 1957) - In many descriptions of Roshan Kumari, she is said to have danced in a few Bengali and Hindi films, one of which is Basant Bahar. It turns out it is not the 1956 Hindi film Basant Bahar but the Bengali film of the similar name, Basanta Bahar, directed by Bikash Roy. The “a” makes all the difference. :) At first I thought it might be a remake, but a commenter over at Richard's blog noted it has a different plotline. Roshan's performance appears to be part of a montage with architectural images from various regions of India and faces overlayed on the screen. Her style here is much more loose and freeform but with the same speed one expects of Ms. Kumari. The number is filled with lots of delightful touches, like the sharp way she throws her dupatta off her shoulders or the beautiful extensions she makes. With her loose hair and less "textbook" costume, she looks so much younger than her other film dances even though they were filmed around the same time. We finally get to see some nice closeups of her sans the shadows of Jalsaghar! I sense that some of her spins are sped up with editing since they look much too fast to be real. Her performance ends with a shot of her controlled, blazing footwork.
Kathak (1970) – Films Division Documentary - This is the other new dance of hers I found! Roshan appears at 12:04 following an explanation of how the coming of the Mughals transformed Kathak by emphasizing abstract dance and adding things like the pleated skirt and the “salami” gesture at the start of the performance (where the hand raises towards the forehead). Technical, abstract dance was her forte so this placement is not a surprise. The documentary also features the performances of Damayanti Joshi, Uma Sharma, Sudarshan Dheer, and Shambhu Maharaj. The quality is not great, but it's out there for public view with keywords!
Parineeta (Hindi, 1953) - Here we have a double-whammy with Roshan Kumari and Kathak dancer Gopi Krishna as peformers! Gopi Krishna wows with his effortless turbo-spins (as I call them!) and Roshan has delightful form in the way she holds herself. At first it seems like the song will stay in a simple, folk realm, but at 2:15 it shifts into a beautiful display of technique. I love the way Roshan's voluminous skirt folds open as she spins, and the head-to-toe pan shot of each dancer as they perform their footwork is a nice touch. A surprisingly wonderful number!
Two other films Roshan is said to have danced in are Waris and Jhansi Ki Rani, though I’ve watched both and could not see her (though for a time I thought she might be in Jhansi Ki Rani but decided against it; see my pictoral comparison in this post). Perhaps there were Bengali versions of these? I've also read a few comments online claiming she was in a couple more songs but none have actually been of her. She also supposedly choreographed from some films like Lekin, Sardari Begum, and Gopi, but I'll be confirming that in my upcoming choreographer series which...is still in progress. :)
Chakravorty, Pallabi. Bells of Change: Kathak Dance, Women, and Modernity in India. 2008.
Hossain, Razeeb. "The Music Room." South Asia Journal.
Kothari, Sunil. Kathak: Indian Classical Dance Art. 1989.
Rajadhyaksha, Ashish and Paul Willemen. Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema: New Revised Edition. 1999.
Singh, Shanta Serbjeet. Indian Dance: The Ultimate Metaphor. 2000.
Thought. Volume 25. "Roshan Kumari and Kathak".
Worldcat. "Mirza Ghalib."