Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Remembering the Film Bharatanatyam of the Late Adyar K. Lakshman

When I learned the sad news yesterday that the Bharatanatyam Guru Adyar K. Lakshman has passed away, my mind immediately went to his excellent choreography in Indian cinema. Since it still seems that not enough people are aware of it, I thought I would show his two film choreographies again here and honor his work which has been preserved in film for us to cherish all these years later.

I had first learned of Guru Lakshman's choreographies in cinema when I read the Sruti magazine profile on him in Issue 320 (excerpt here) that noted he "directed and choreographed dance sequences from three art films - Subba Sastri, Hamsageethe and Ananda Tandavam."  While I have not been able to locate Ananda Tandavam, I was thrilled to learn this week that its dance starred Savithra Sastry in the lead and the film was supposedly in Tamil and released in 1987! If anyone has seen this dance or knows where to find a copy, please let me know!

Guru Lakshman's choreographies in Subba Sastri and Hamsageethe are, I would argue, among the absolute best (perhaps the best!) serious Bharatanatyam captured in Indian cinema. The treatment of the dances is very different from most other film classical dances with the minimal editing, equal focus given to expressive and pure dance, crisp and authentic lines and movements, and the extended length--all signs of intentional respect and care for the dance segments by the director and editor, and I'm sure Guru Lakshman was the core reason the dances turned out so well.

Subba Sastri (1966, Kannada, aka Subba Shastry) - I first blogged about this dance back in 2011 in my post about Kannada film dances, and it still remains among my top five classical dances ever filmed in Indian cinema. Lakshman's choreography is lit up on screen by the lead dancer whom I can't keep my eyes off of. I have long wondered who the dancers are--does anyone know? This dance conforms to a few conventions of standard film popular classical dance, but somehow it feels quite different. Unfortunately the print has some jumbled editing and portions that appear to have been lost or cut out. The entire movie was posted online in the spring.

Hamsa Geethe (1975, Kannada) - I was surprised to learn that VP and Shanta Dhananjayan were originally asked to choreograph the dances for this film, but when the shooting became delayed and the Dhananjayan's had to turn the offer down due to schedule conflicts, Adyar Lakshman was brought to Chitradurga to choreograph for the film. While I'm curious what the Dhananjayan's work would have looked like (perhaps a taste can be seen in VP's dance in Kann Sivandhal Mann Sivakkum), Lakshman's work was fantastic. Filmed at the Chitradurga Fort, the dance is a competition between a Tanjore Bharatantayam dancer (played by Jayalakshmi Eswar), who makes the challenge that the kingdom has no dancers equal to her, and a local Kuchipudi dancer Chandrasaani (unknown dancer). The credits also name Radhakrishna as a dance director, and I presume she choreographed for the Kuchipudi segment. The English subtitles, provided by my late dear friend Ramesh, really enhance the viewing of the Abhinaya for those of us who do not understand the lyrics. For more information on this dance and the film, please see my original post.

I am saddened that Guru Lakshman is no longer with us. I had hoped someday to find out more about his film choreographies and his experiences making them (and just why his film choreographies are so amazing), but it looks like those memories will now only live on in those he shared them with.

I will close with an homage video to Adyar put together by one of his students, Anandini Dasi, featuring many pictures of him that seem quite rare. The audio is of Adyar performing the nattuvangam for a Pushpanjali, and the crisp quality enhances its soul-stirring ambiance.


  1. Very apt tribute to a legendary personality. In case you didn't know, a documentary on his life has been produced. Not sure if the full length is only for 13mins.

  2. Very informative post. enjoyed the video clips.

  3. Thanks ragothaman for the link to the documentary--wish it had English subtitles! :D And thank you Gardener for letting me know you enjoy my posts.

  4. Beautiful tribute to the master, if I may ! Though seen 'hamsageethe' back in '75, if it were not for this write up, would certainly have missed the matchless 'subba shastry' - what a piece !! You're right, can't recall anything that matches this in Tamil films I've seen, it's as if watching a performance on stage, not diluted for film as is the case all the time - Thank you !!

    If only I had seen this before I met and had a brief chat with him when he came to see my niece's performance a few years ago, I would have asked on this master piece, yes the dancer too is a pure delight !!!!!

    1. Hello Anantha! You are so lucky to have met him. I actually had considered writing an email to him or one of his students, but never did and now it is too late. But I'm happy we can continue to enjoy this work of his, preserved in film, for years to come. :)

  5. Replies
    1. Unfortunately yes! I usually try to do no less than one post a month, but this month has been too busy. Perhaps this or next weekend. Any requests? :)

    2. sure, how about your profound, trademark research into MLV's singing for dance in films, as I'm fresh from attending a book release on MLV (M.L. Vasanthakumari) couple of evenings ago. Of course just a thought and not have to if it doesn't fit your page :)


      p.s. I'm still to figure how to subscribe to your blog - help please ! as it's not that straight-forward as in WP or other blogs

    3. Thanks for the compliment Anantha. Music is not my specialty at fact you've probably noticed that I tend to completely ignore music on my blog. I don't have any expertise in the area and definitely can't recognize singers, let alone MLV. So I'll let someone more knowledgeable tackle that sounds interesting! To subscribe, see the section of the right-hand part of my blog where it says "Subscribe on Feedly, RSS, or Facebook!". Each of those icons leads to each of those things. If you mean subscribing in a way specific to wordpress, I think that only works with other wordpress blogs. Hope that works for you--let me know if you have any trouble. Toodles, ~Minai

    4. Yes, aware of the 'suggestion' and as well the blog content. Yet, I've always felt MLV was so integrated to dance in vintage films, as echoed by the popular dancer Priyadarshni Govind at the book release the other evening, hence it crossed my mind when I paid a casual visit to your blog and saw your posing. Do understand and no issues.

      FB subscription done on my first visit here a while ago and guess that's enough to get notified on new posts - thanks !

      BTW, I always make it a point to share this blog with my dancer friends. Best - anantha !


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