Friday, June 28, 2013

Found: Kamala, Rhadha, and Vasanthi's Dance in Chenda (1973, Malayalam)

Another holy grail film dance FOUND!  This time it's 39-year-old Kamala AND her younger sisters Rhadha and Vasanthi dancing to Kamala's own choreography in the semiclassical song "Nrithyathi Nrithyathi Brahmapadam" from the 1973 Malayalam film Chenda! It's a 'triple whammy' in showing not only what Kamala and Rhadha danced like in 1973 but also dance footage of sister Vasanthi (whom I've only seen a few token photographs of in Sruti magazine).  Amazing!  The video quality is not very good (and YouTube's stabilization feature makes it a little dizzying), but the rarity of this film and its apparent lack of commercial release makes this a special video indeed!


It's a nice dance set to music that is melodic and rhythmically exciting in turns, although much of it seems to have been "dumbed down" quite a bit for the film and the editing is often more interested in quick punches of pretty movements and poses at the expense of coherent and sensitive choreography.  In Sruti, Kamala mentioned directing dances for the films Deiva Tirumanam, Varuvan Vadivelan, and Chenda and noted that while she had some freedom in choreographing the dances, if the filmmakers found a movement "too difficult, they would request me to modify it a bit."  I love the last 40 seconds when speed and form are showcased, but that's probably because it reminds me so much of the percussion and bells in the the second half of Kamala's top-knotch dance in Pavai Vilakku!

Enormous thanks are due to uploader Shibu Jacob who has also contributed extensive video to the MalayalaSangeetham.info (MSI) online encyclopedia.  The MSI credits the song to G Devarajan with lyrics by Vayalar and vocals by KJ Yesudas.  At first I thought the song was the Swathi Thirunal composition "Nrithyathi Nrithyathi Sambashivo" about Lord Shiva dancing to the syllable "dhrikttom" and said to be popular among dance musicians in Kerala, but the melody and structure are obviously different and the film song inserts some rousing percussion interludes.  The first part of the song appears to be cut off when comparing it to another audio-only version.

Rhadha, Kamala, Vasanthi
(source: Sruti)
Since Kamala divorced R.K. Lakshman in 1962 and married Major Lakshminarayanan in 1964, at the time of Chenda she would have been known as "Kamala Lakshminarayanan."  Rhadha started dancing with Kamala on stage and on international tours in the early 1950s and Vasanthi, the youngest sister, joined them to form a trio in the early 1960s.  Growing up, Rhadha and Vasanthi saw Kamala as a strict mother figure who would get them out of bed at five in the morning to practice vocal exercises and make them practice dance after returning from school, but she also spent much of her free time with them just having sisterly fun.  While Kamala became distant from her sisters after her remarriage and danced solo for a while, it appears by the time Chenda was made all was well again.  Vasanthi eventually stopped dancing after her marriage, but Rhadha blossomed into her prime starting in the 80s and still dances today (for more, see my post on Rhadha).

I had mentioned in my post on Kamala's sister Rhadha that a viewing of songs from Chenda (graciously sent to me with much effort by a kind visitor) had turned up empty, and I wondered if the dance I had read about was part of the film and not a proper song.  What bad luck that the one song missing from the disc I had was Kamala's number! I also see that I'm a bit late to the party seeing that the video was posted online almost a year ago and noted at the fantastic Old Malayalam Cinema blog!

To close, here are some lovely screencaps from the film dance:

Kamala:

Vasanthi:

 Vasanthi and Rhadha, Rhadha:

Note: Facts about Kamala and her sisters' lives taken from multiple articles in Sruti magazine about Kamala, issues 45/46 and 48, and about Rhadha, issues 279 and 280.

6 comments:

  1. My living idol Smt. Kamala. Most dancers today were inspired by her. She had immense stage presence, energy, stamina, expression, and fragility that she had developed due to constant and consistent practice. Thank you very much for this information and the video. It is still one of my most memorable songs, I have choreograhed too for the Dubai Malayalee Association in 1985. I did not know that it was her item but now I feel doubly humbled but greatly proud!

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    1. I absolutely agree! Kamala was in a class of her own. Do you mean that you utilized similar choreography for a 1985 performance not knowing that Kamala was responsible for it? How true do you think the Chenda version stay to the original choreography? As I noted in the post, I was a bit disappointed by the way the choreography was presented on film, but I attributed that to the editing and presumably the director's changes to some of Kamala's movements (I wish they would just let Kamala do her thing!). :)

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  2. Minai,
    Chenda (1973) was also arguably had the best dances of an actress who was foremost a trained classical dancer than anything else, but sadly never pursued it with the same spirit as she did for her onscreen roles - Srividya. Related reading for you for a lazy weekend :)
    http://oldmalayalamcinema.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/srividya-the-danseuse-onscreen/
    Thanks, cinematters

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    1. Hello cinematters! It's so funny that I only this week discovered the Kamala Chenda dance was online. I didn't realize you had posted about it in the Srividya post you linked to as well! I am reallllly late to the party. :) Had no idea that Srividya was MLV's daughter! Lovely to know that it is Srividya in the other beautiful dances from Chenda, especially Sundarimaar. I remember liking her unique dances when I got a hold of a disc of video songs from Chenda, but I was so frustrated at Kamala's dance not being there after all the work of getting the songs that I put the disc aside in a huff and never looked at it again, haha. :) Brilliant Srividya post--I will be by to comment at a later time!

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  3. Wonderful post!

    You do pains-taking research to dig out these gems!!!

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