A while back, I had done some research to see if Sobha had ever danced in any films and did not find any evidence. In interviews and articles, Sobha makes it crystal clear that she purposefully stayed out of films completely (implying dance and choreography) to maintain her singleminded dedication to Kuchipudi dance. She says many offers from famous directors came her way, like Siri Siri Muvva, Sankarabaranam, Hamsageethe, but she refused them all, even returning a blank check offered by filmmaker Nagi Reddy who she says then declared his respect for her "dedication to classical dance." Sobha relates how Rukmini Devi Arundale attended her arangetram and was so pleased she made Sobha promise that she "would never succumb to the lure of cinema and would strive to stay a classical dancer" throughout her life (The Hindu). Sobha adds, "Actually, I had already made that decision as a young girl, but Rukminijee reinforced the resolve by insisting on a promise made by placing my hand in hers!" (Deccan Herald).
|Sobha in Abhimanavanthulu|
Abhimanavanthulu (Telugu, 1973) - "Eppativale Kaadura"
At first I wasn't sure if the dancer in this song was Sobha because her face looked much thinner and slightly different than in later pictures. But a quick check of the credits (thanks Gaddeswarup for the Telugu translation!) revealed three names listed for the dances: Kumari Shobha, Vempati Chinna Satyam, and Sundaram-tara! Since Kumari means "young woman" (similar to "Kumari" Kamala) and Shobha was Chinna Satyam's student at the time, I think there is no question that it is Sobha Naidu in this dance. What convinced me 100% was the shot of Sobha at 2:26 where her face tilts upward and looks so reminiscent of her later appearance. Sobha was supposedly born in 1956 and would have been around 17 in the dance. The music, overall choreography, and costume are definitely filmi-ized and have similarities with many other presentations of so-called "Kuchipudi" in Indian films, and the number seems more concerned with flitting about from one fast-paced statuesque movement or pose to the next with constant edits. There are definitely elements of Kuchipudi throughout, but I'm surprised that someone like Sobha wasn't given more authentic and difficult choreography. Still, the way she holds her torso and limbs show clear evidence of dance training and nimble flexibility. What stands out here is her bright, joyful face, which is something always captured in the pictures of her later in her career which find heavy rotation in books on Indian Classical Dance and Kuchipudi.
America Ammayi (Telugu, 1976) - "Ananda Tandavamade"
Last year I did a post on this film and the Kuchipudi-esque dance for the song "Ananda Tandavamade" by the Frenchwoman Devayani. In an interview for the website TeluguCinema.com, Devayani revealed that while Vempati Chinna Satyam was one of the choreographers for the film, the song "Ananda Tandavamade" was choreographed by "Sree Satyanarayana" (likely KV Satyanarayana, or maybe Devayani really meant Chinna Satyam?) and "his then-assistant Smt. Shoba Naidu." Sobha's participation is visually confirmed in this still from the set of the film (she is second from the right, next to Vempati Chinna Satyam).
Here is the dance by Devayani with co-choreography by Sobha. I can see some affinities with the dance above which is expected as Vempati Chinna Satyam and Sobha were associated with both film dances.
Denial and Kuchipudi in South Indian Cinema
It took finding a rare printed book and a little digging, but as shown above, we now know that Sobha Naidu most definitely participated in film dance! And look what her participation has made possible today--the availability of footage of her dancing from very early on in her career, all thanks to the way feature films are distributed and stored in multiple prints/copies (as opposed to privately-filmed video that often ends up wasting away in an attic somewhere). Even though the dance is not completely "authentic Kuchipudi," it shows us her style and energy and is an archived visual record.
Stay tuned for my post about Putcha's fabulous dissertation and Kuchipudi in South Indian cinema...hopefully the first official post for my much-delayed "Remembering Film Choreographers" series. :)