Sunday, January 12, 2014

Film Dances of L. Vijayalakshmi

L. Vijayalakshmi—the cute-as-a-button, dimple-faced dancer who danced and acted most prolifically in 1960s Telugu cinema—is a dancer that I've not featured much on this blog to date. For a long time I didn't like her classical film dances. They were too filmy faux-classical and she had a habit of lunging her upper body forward in jumps. But as more films and songs have become available online, I've watched a wider range of her dancing (including her Western-style dances) and have come to admire a few. I've even found a new, early dance of hers. In my usual style, I will feature my favorite dances of hers, a playlist of all of her known dances, and note some information about her life—including surprising details about her current work today!

L. Vijayalakshmi's Film Dances

Neethipathi (1955, Tamil) - "Ananthame Anantham" - This is L. Vijayalakshmi's earliest film dance that I'm aware of, and for that it gets listed first on the list. She is on the right paired with a young and adorable E.V. Saroja in the twin-dance format that became wildly popular after Sayee-Subbulakshmi popularized it in Rathakaneer and Malaikkalan the year previous.


Renukadevi Mahatyam (1960, Telugu) - This is the dance I'm most excited to feature! Filmed a few years after Neethipathi above, Vijayalakshmi still looks very young here. The choreography aims for sharp form and geometrical lines in the pure dance movements—characteristics that softened into a more filmy hybrid style in later years. Notice her ankle bells (gajjalu in Telugu) at 12:16 and the way the elongated bells hang downward. It's unfortunate the print jump cuts through material at times, but at least the visual quality is quite crisp!

Start 10:49

Kuravanji (1960, Tamil) - "Senghkaiyil Vandu Kalin" - After a "faux-classical" beginning, Vijayalakshmi and another unknown dancer (perhaps Priyadarshini, who danced with Gopi Krishna in Sampoorna Ramayanan?) perform choreography in such energetic sync that it nearly rivals the level of Sayee-Subbulakshmi. Watch the rhythmic segment starting at 1:30! Half-way through the song switches to feature Savitri and at 3:43 brings the dancing duo back for a folk dance.



Narthanasala (1963, Telugu) - "Jaya Gananayaka" - Choreographed by Vempati Pedda Satyam (relative of the late Kuchipudi legend Vempati Chinna Satyam), this dance is filled with clear markers of Kuchipudi dance albeit in their film version. Scholar Rumya Sree Putcha, whose work I will cover in a future post, argues that "Until Nartanasala, Kuchipudi movements rarely appeared on a woman's body, and certainly not on a courtesan body" because Kuchipudi gurus generally utilized Bharatanatyam vocabulary when depicting courtesan and shringara-oriented dance in films. Putcha notes that in "Jaya Gananayaka," we see "Pedda Satyam's aesthetic and what is identifiable today as the Kuchipudi style appear for the first time [in Telugu films] on a solo, female dancer's body" in a setting that is "carefully-framed" as a purely pedagogical interaction between a student and her guru framed by a large Nataraja statue in the background.


The above dances are my favorites, but there are some other goodies in L. Vijayalaxmi's filmography in the playlist below: the Vanjikottai Valiban-inspired dance off in Paramanandayya Sishyula Katha (1966, Telugu), the casual home dance in Bommai (1963, Tamil), the javali in Pooja Phalam (1964, Telugu) which Vijayalakshmi called her "true favorite" dance, and the puppet dance with Nagesh (whom she called "the best dancer the industry has produced") in Kaakkum Karangal. Vijayalakshmi also did a lot of Western-style dances which can be seen throughout the second half of the playlist. I know there are more dances of hers out there like those in Sri Krishna Avatharam and Satya Harishchandra (1965). Send any suggestions my way!


About L. Vijayalakshmi

The most informative article in English about "Viji" (as she was apparently lovingly called in her film days) that I've found is T.A. Narasimhan's at The Hindu which notes that Kumari Kamala "presided over her arangetram" in Bharathanatyam in Chennai. I've not been able to determine if she formally learned Kuchipudi (and from whom) or if it was something she was trained in by the Kuchipudi dance directors in her many Telugu films. There is a long article about her with lots of photos at this blog, but it is all in Telugu; anyone want to translate any interesting snippets?

After doing some searching based on the available information about her life, I learned that she is known today by her married name Vijayalakshmi De Datta (as evidenced in this interview of her husband) and that after marrying and leaving films in the late 1960s she earned a B.S. from Maderae University in 1985, a M.S. from the University of the Philippines in 1990, and another M.S. from Virginia Tech in the United States in 1994. I have been delighted to learn that Vijayalakshmi has worked as an accountant in higher education (I also work in higher ed!) in the United States ever since she moved here in 1991. It seems her last position at Virginia Tech was as the director of finance for Facilities Services, and her husband also worked at Virginia Tech as the associate vice president for international affairs and director of the Office of International Research, Education, and Development until 2011 when he retired. This means that Vijayalakshmi and her husband worked at Virginia Tech when it experienced the terrible mass shooting in 2007.

In the last few years, Vijayalakshmi and her family moved to California where her son Raj De Datta owns the company BloomReach. Vijayalakshmi currently works as a financial analyst in the Business Services department at UC Davis. Here she is on the UC Davis administration webpage:


What a lovely find, and quite amazing too given that she is probably in her 70s now! It's refreshing to be able to find some recent information about a dancer from classic South Indian films, especially since so many of them have passed on or are difficult to find information on. I'm happy to see that L. Vijayalakshmi seems to be on the minds of Telugu film lovers recently as evidenced by TV specials on her like the one by TV5 and recent interviews on YouTube. She certainly brightened Indian cinema with her charm and dance finesse.

8 comments:

  1. Awesome post! It is indeed heartening to read about her recent job.

    The anklets in Renukadevi Mahatyam are one of the two models one can buy in the market. See here at time stamp 7:54 to hear how they sound.
    http://youtu.be/bxteOLN01pI?t=7m54s
    Unlike in this video, the anklets are quite loud in reality.

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  2. I got to know about her through my grand-daughter Ava in 2011 and soon liked some of her dances. In this post there is a link to an interview some of which is in English
    http://gaddeswarup.blogspot.com.au/2011/11/interview-with-lvijayalakshmi.html
    In a YouTube video she tells the interviewer that of hyer dances, her favorite is
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-g1nj9VrYYI
    Some of the links in my post may not be working but I think the links in the Melbourne blog 'cinema chat' are still working and link to some dances enjoyed. I am still fascinated by her statement 'classical but beautiful' in the interview..

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  3. Oops, you already mentioned her favorite dance. Anyway looking at it again led me to Lalita Mukherjea' s post about the lyrics and translation.

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  4. Enjoyed the post and the video clips.

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  5. Ragothaman - Interesting about the ankle bells! Do dancers still wear them today a couple decades or so after that doc was filmed? For some reason I was under the impression they were only seen decades back, especially the really long kind like in Renukadevi Mahatyam.

    Gaddeswarup - Thank you for the link to that interview. Ah, so she learned Bharatanatyam from Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai. Yes I too was amused by her "classical but beautiful". Did she say her first movie was "Sipayi Kuthru"?

    The Gardener - Thank you!

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  6. "Did she say her first movie was "Sipayi Kuthru"?" Yes, she did. She also thought that she was in about 70 films. One Hindu article estimates over 100 films.

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  7. it is God's gift to have such a talent, beauty, and dedication to the art and only Madam LV can only do it. Good to read about her and praying the almighty to give her excellent health, and long enjoying life.
    I salute for the dance of LG. thank you madam.
    SRINIVAS.

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  8. Yes, there are some dancers who still wear that type of ankle bells.

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