Classical Dances in Recent Indian Films - Including Sattriya and Kootiyattam!

Sunday, August 17, 2014
While I've been mostly looking back in history as I've blogged about Indian film dances for the past few years, a number of films have released in recent years with songs or scenes featuring classical dance forms. Having collected enough for a robust post and also making some great discoveries this weekend, I'm excited to take a break from research and share what the classical movie dance world has produced recently. I'm sure I've missed some—do let me know of any others!

Vara: A Blessing (2013, Coproduction) - Screened at various film festivals since it's debut but apparently not commercially released in theaters or on DVD, Vara: A Blessing has been described as "a visually stunning exploration of the cross between spiritual devotion and bodily temptation that incorporates hypnotic use of tradition Indian dance and music" and as a work "Accented by mesmerizing bursts of classical Indian dance, haunting vocals, and vivid Hindu fantasyscapes..." With choreography by the accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran, music by Nitin Sawhney, and sumptuous visuals and effects by the crew, the dances as seen in the few clips available online make the film an absolute must watch. It's not an Indian film since it's directed by the Bhutanese lama filmmaker Khyentse Norbu with help from various countried folk, but it is set in India and was made with many Indian actors, so it is perhaps a Bhutanese/Indian/international coproduction.

This is the clip that took my breath away and has me aching to watch the film. In it, the main character Lila (Odissi dancer Shahana Goswami) dances Bharatanatyam under the nattuvangam of her mother Vinata (Geeta Chandran), the village's last devadasi. Based on Variety's review of the film which describes how the tribal leader tries to "pimp out Lila" while finding a match for a woman's son, the man staring at her as she dances is likely either the son or the tribal leader. Like him, I can't keep my eyes away from Shahana's face which registers constant emotion and danger that is enhanced by the lighting design and shadows. The entire clip has an ominous, creepy tension. Thanks to Ragothaman for pointing out this clip from Chandran's Facebook page.

Geeta Chandran is seen leading a Bharatanatyam group on stage in this clip which is filmed far opposite to the dark intensity of the clip above. According to an interview of Geeta's, the dancers are her students in Delhi.

Video no longer available online, but here's a screencap

This "Bollywood-style" dance number seems to be portraying Lila's love for Bollywood dance moves as mentioned in a plot description, and it gives us a glimpse of how the film traverses reality and fantasy in bursts of color and special effects. It's bizarre, and I love it! According to the director, "The sequence of Lila dancing to the Bollywood music was there only to enhance sacredness and subtilty [sic] of the classical music and dance" (source).

Video no longer available online

Last, check out the trailer for a few more dance segments not seen in the above clips. This film has shot to the top of my "must see" list. Can you believe that back in April, the Tribeca Film Festival offered free limited-time online screenings of it and other films for a "web-based audience competition." It was up for two days and no one in Indian dance circles seems to have known about it! Let's hope it gets offered through another online film festival or site soon!

Natyanubhava (2013) - While this film is really a documentary and not a "feature film," it is filled to the brim with classical dance footage, and the recent posting of the 6-minute excerpt clip below on India's Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT)'s YouTube channel is worthy of celebration and recognition in this post! PSBT has also uploaded some other interesting excerpts from dance-related documentaries like From Sadir to Bharatanatyam and Mrinalini Sarabhai - The Artist and Her Art. Natyanubhava is the third directorial effort by Sharada Ramanathan who debuted in 2007 with Sringaram, the period film about devadasis that I've previously blogged about and that I'm still waiting to find good clips online of beyond the 60 seconds of footage seen at NDTV. A great review by Sunil Kothari is at UPDATE: The entire film has been uploaded in two parts! Thanks to Ragothaman for the find!

Pole Pole Ure Mon (2011, Assamese) - A Sattriya dance in a film from Assam—a first on this blog! I found it by happening onto this profile of the Sattriya dance couple Dipjyoti-Dipankar which listed the film as presumably something they were involved with, and then when I watched the song "Proti Pole..." I knew that was it! Sattriya dance can be seen at the beginning, at 1:31, and at the end at 4:06. The costumes and dance appear to be an authentic inspiration when compared to Sattriya dance clips like this one by IndiaVideo. While Assamese film choreographer Ashim Baishya is credited as having worked in the film according to this article [no longer available online], I think that he only did the more pop/Bollywood-style dances in the film.

Swapaanam (2014, Malayalam) - Before having seen this film's dances, I knew it was a must watch. First, the film "explores the pain and pathos of a temple drummer, destined to die like the flame of an oil lamp. Unni, played by the popular Jayaram, is a victim of jealousy and ego. As his life and passion for percussion begins to ebb away, the spirited Mohiniattam dancer Nalini (Kadambari) discovers the artistic excellence in him and together they traverse life, defying society and its systems" (source article at hindustantimes not locatable now). Awesome. Second, it was directed by Shaji Karun's who was responsible for the sensitive masterpiece Vanaprastham (1999) centered around Kathakali dancers. And third, "Swapaanam" translates to "The Voiding Soul" which sounds like the perfect movie to watch on a dark and gloomy night. Now having seen some clips of the film's dances, the excitement for this film remains despite the dances lacking a bit in the subtlety and serious execution of those in Vanaprastham. The trailer is a good watch, and here is a playlist of the two available song promo clips that show the dancing of Kadambari who is a trained Odissi dancer in real life (and there is a group practice clip too, yay for practice dances!). Update: Only one video is now available.

Nottam (2005, Malayalam) - This is the first Kootiyattam film dance I've found for this blog! The woman dancing is Margi Sathi, "the leading female face of kootiyattam" who is also responsible for resuscitating Nangiarkoothu (and is featured in the Symphony Celestial Nangiarkoothu series). Like Vanaprastham and its focus on Kathakali dancers, Nottam revolves around hereditary dancers of Koodiyattam, a temple Sanskrit theatre dance drama form that is the oldest classical dramatic art form of Kerala. I am delighted to find that the entire film is posted on YouTube by AmritaTV! I've embedded it below, and it should begin with the first Kootiyattam performance in the film at 23:27 featuring Margi Sati and the veteran actor Nedumudi Venu. Just click on other parts of the timeline to also watch the Kootiyattam practice scene at 12:23 (yay!!), the hauntingly-beautiful, award-winning song "Melle" at 1:27:50, and the dramatic Kootiyattam performance at the end at 1:49:39 in which Nedumudi gets to shine.

Starts at 23:27

Other Film Classical Dances

Keeping up with all the latest films is hard! A big thanks to Ragothaman for his tips about the recent Tamil film dances which I never would have found otherwise. While I'm surely missing some, below is my playlist collection of classical dances in Indian films from the past few years in order from newest to oldest. I did sneak in some from 2004-6 which aren't really "recent," but I've never had the chance to feature them on the blog til now. Everything in this post is new to this blog, so I left out dances I've posted about previously (like Odissi dances in Odia and other films and the dances in Periyar, Sringaram, La Danse De L'EnchanteresseMizhikal Sakshi, Aaptharakshaka, Black DaliyaNamyajamanru, Uliyin Osai, Tamil Padam, Bhool BulaiyyaChandramukhi, and Banaras).  I also included three Mujras which is a rarity on this blog since I'm not a big Mujra fan. :) And I've tried my best to distinguish Kuchipudi from Bharatanatyam which I hope I'm getting better at. Following the playlist is the list of the films in the playlist with my comments; feel free to pop out the playlist in a new window and follow along, side-by-side.  Update: YouTube no longer allows specifying start time in playlists, so the videos may not start at the dance portion.  Use navigation menu icon when mousing over video to skip to other songs.

  • Thirumanam Enum Nikkah (2014, Tamil) - Features playful group practice dancing inspired mostly by Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi. Love the peeking hands at 2:09 and the layered music! Hat tip: Ragothaman.
  • Saivam (2014, Tamil) - Cute home dancing inspired by Bharatanatyam. Hat tip: Ragothaman.
  • Dedh Ishqiya (2014, Hindi) - Features Kathak dancers and then Madhuri Dixit in a Mujra choreographed by Pandit Birju Maharaj. Not a fan of the electric guitar!
  • Ithu Kathirvelan Kadhal (2014, Tamil) - Group Bharatanatyam practice in practice saris. Hat tip: Ragothaman.
  • Rama Madhav (2014, Marathi) - Pair Saroj Khan and Aditi Rao Hydari for some Bharatanatyam in Sringaram and get magic, but pair the same team for a Mujra in Rama Madhav and you get a nightmare (ugh, that open mouth!).
  • Pullipulikalum Aattinkuttiyum (2013, Malayalam) - Namitha Pramod performs three classical dances in a tourist boat in this film, and she had, unbelievably, never trained in dance before the film! She performs beautiful Mohiniattam abhinaya in the first clip, and then in the second clip, she performs Bharatanatyam and then at 3:43 dances Kuchipudi.
  • Vishwaroopam (2013, Hindi) - Kamal Hassan returns to dance on the silver screen with choreography by Pandit Birju Maharaj. I find myself wanting to watch his students much more than him. :)
  • Raanjhanaa (2013, Hindi) - Kathak by Sonam Kapoor who has trained in the dance form for years under Uma Dogra.
  • Chennai Express (2013, Hindi) - Deepika Padukone dancing what looks like Kuchipudi-inspirations with some backup dancers.
  • Kanna Laddu Thinna Asaiya (2013, Tamil) - A humorous practice scene!
  • Iddarammayilatho (2013, Telugu) - White girls + comedy actor Brahmanandam + "classical dance" = giggles. Hat tip: Cinema Chaat.
  • Rajjo (2013, Hindi) - A Mujra with Kangana Ranaut exuding absolutely zero charisma. She says she had "rigorous training" for the dance, ha!
  • Lakshmi (2013, Kannada) - Terrible stage "Kuchipudi" obviously performed by a nondancer.
  • Makaramanju (2011, Malayalam) - This film about the artist Raja Ravi Varma has Kathak-inspired dancing that is greatly improved when the male dancer briefly appears. At first I thought he was the fabulous Anuj Mishra, but I think he may be one of the film's choreographers, Madhu Gopinath or Vakkom Sajeev, who had previously choreographed for the film Rathrimazha. There are more dances in the film, but I am unable to find clips online.
  • Mr. Perfect (2011, Telugu) - Kajal in a classical-inspired practice number that turns jazzy!
  • Jeevana Jokali (2011, Tamil) - Solo "I'm trying to evoke classicism but have no idea what I'm doing" practice number.
  • Subhapradam (2010, Telugu) - K. Vishwanath, the director of a slew of classical arts films in the 70s and 80s like Sankarabharanam and Saagara Sangamam/Salangai Oli, attempted a similar formula for Swarabhishekam in 2004 and Subhapradam in 2010, but the magic seems to be long gone. Subhapradam begins with a nice, authentic-leaning stage Kuchipudi dance in the first clip with a male dancer performing in the second half. In the second clip of the song "Thappatlo Thalalo," Mohiniattam, Kuchipudi, Bharatantayam, and Odissi dancers all filter in and out dancing movements inspired from their respective styles. In the third clip, the heroine performs frenetic dance loosely inspired from Mohiniattam. All the dances are said to be choreographed by hereditary Kuchipudi dancer Vedantam Venkatachalapathy who has the same lineage as Vedantam Sathyanarayana Sarma, Vempati Chinna Sathyam and film-director Vedantam Raghavaiah.
  • Punyam Aham (2010, Malayalam) - Veteran actor Nedumudi Venu plays a Kathakali artist in this film. In the first clip he performs in closeup for a group a white tourists, and in the second clip a proper Kathakali performance can be seen. Hat tip: Liz.
  • Nagavalli (2010, Telugu) - In the first clip is Bharatanatyam/Kuchipudi-inspired stage dancing that can't hold a candle to Lakshmi Gopalaswami and Anuj Mishra in the Kannada version Aptharakshaka which I previously blogged about. The less said about Anoushka's dance in the second clip, the better. The film is the sequel to the remake of the incomparable Manichitrathazhu.
  • Enthiran (2010, Tamil) - A bit of robot classical dance choreographed by Prabhu Deva's assistant Vishnu master. :) I removed it from the playlist because it isn't playable outside of YouTube.
  • Ama Bhitare Kichi Achi (2010, Odia) - Looks like I missed this Odissi stage dance in my post on Odissi dance in Odia films.
  • Preesthe Preesthe (2009, Kannada) - A stage "Kuchipudi" dance by Prajana who has learned Bharatanatyam in real life.
  • Sri Ramadasu (2006, Telugu) - Some pretty Kuchipudi-inspired dancing.
  • Kalabham - (2006, Malayalam) - More pretty, energetic Kuchipudi-inspired dancing.
  • Swarabhishekam (2004, Telugu) - A bit too old and dated for this list because it's at the 10-year mark, but it's worth a quick look since Subhapradam is in the list above. The first song has what looks like some decent Kuchipudi posing at the beginning and end (oh and the guy in the grey kurta? That's Sridhar!), but the second song has the dancers prancing about in costumes that do not match the vaguely-classical movements. The dances are choreographed by V. Seshu Parupalli (aka P.V. Seshu, Dance Master Seshu) who choreographed at least one dance each for Sankarabharanam, Saptapadi, Subhalekha, Salangai Oli, Ananda Bhairavi, Sruti Layalu, Swarnakamalam, Devasuram, and Mayuri (according to Rumya Sree Putcha's dissertation).
  • M Kumaran S/O Mahalakshmi (2004, Tamil) - "Chennai Senthamizh" is dated, but it's a classic!


  1. Oh, great! What a treasure-house with so much information and so many links!!!

    Minai, you are simply great!!!

  2. And links to so many other great viewings!

    I can't praise you enough!!!

    1. Thank you as always for your encouraging comments. :)

  3. How I wish there was the like button of wordpress!

    Excellent post as always.

    1. Thank you Anu! You are like the energizer bunny with your consistent posting--I have such admiration! :)


Due to spam, new comments have been disabled.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top