It's a controversial film for Swapna to have involved herself in. A scathing satirical and symbolic work spoofing the Indira Gandhi government, Kissaa Kursee Kaa (Tale of a Throne, aka Kissa Kursi Ka) was made during the turbulent period known as “the Emergency” when India's government declared a state of emergency ushering in a dark period in India’s modern history which saw basic freedoms and rights suspended. The print we see on YouTube is actually a remake of the original that was banned and never released and had all its prints destroyed by the government. After the Emergency was lifted, director Amrit Nahata reshot and released the film in 1977 (while The Hindu article and YouTube video list 1978, I've listed 1977 which is the date the Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema and many other articles list). The film has been in the news recently again after Nahata's son has demanded the original prints be returned or compensation be made. I would love to hear what Swapna's experience was in taking part in this film, but I've not been able to find any other mentions of it.
The film kicks off with a group dance starting at 1:15 led by Swapna and Raghavan, and so much about the nritta/pure dance screams "Kuchipudi" to me. The hand movements at 2:30 are unquestionably Kuchipudi, and the first leg movements by Swapna at 1:44 as well as the duo's series of movements starting at 2:50 looks very much taken from or inspired by Kuchipudi's movement vocabulary. Three other dance forms make a brief appearance in the film: at 4:32 we are treated to a unthrilling Kathak dance, at 39:31 we see a more traditional nattuvanar-dancer setup (with Hindi filmi music) featuring Swapna's bouncy Kuchipudi movements and Raghavan's declarations intercut with scenes of rats, at 1:08:22 we have another example of Manipuri dance misrepresentation in cinema intercut with scenes of Shabana Azmi's suffering, and the final dance seen at 1:27:58 is a folk number. Not having English subtitles, the way these dances "anchor the narrative" is lost on me. The film's editing is really abrupt and the technical quality quite poor, though in a couple scenes like 1:20:40 I was reminded of the far superior and somewhat similar 1977 film Shatranj Ke Khilari.
The Dravidian-style temple prominent in the background of the first dance in the film follows the same signaling of other Hindi film songs featuring a South Indian dance, like Abhinetri and New Delhi. The scene is clearly shouting "I am South Indian!" I'm sure that the fact that specifically Kuchipudi movements are being portrayed here and there was lost on most audiences.
|Abhinetri, New Delhi|
A few other screenshots from the film:
Swapna Sundari (also spelled Swapnasundari) learned Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi in her youth and debuted on the dance scene when she was 15 as a last-minute replacement for Yamini Krishnamurthy, and by the mid-70s she had formed her own dance troupe and was performing solo as well. Her inclusion in Kissaa Kursee Kaa suggests that by the late-1970s she was a well-known dance entity in New Delhi. It's lovely to see her so young dancing on film—Swapna reminds me of the actress Bhanupriya with her enormous eyes and beauty. These film dances while likely a one-off experience for Swapna had a bit of family precedent—her mother had been an assistant music director for Gemini Studios in the 1940s.
|Swapna in 2012 (credit: IANS)|
This discovery of Swapna Sundari's film dance is timed perfectly since I have a post on Kuchipudi dance in cinema in the works. It has been for some time, so I'm glad to have this post to be able to let my readers know I am still around after a long hiatus! :) Kuchipudi and Telugu dance history has proved to be very complex, contested, and fascinating...