New Kamala Dance Finds in the Tamil Films Mahatma Udhangar (1947) and Illarame Nallaram (1958), and Better Versions of Two Kamala Classics!

Sunday, October 27, 2019
I'm back to immersing myself in searching and research, and what do I find this month but two film dances of Kamala that I've never seen before in the 1947 Tamil film Mahatma Udhangar and the 1958 Tamil film Illarame Nallaram!  Then I also discovered that the Films Division Bharata Natyam documentary she was in is now viewable in a higher resolution, and her Bharatanatyam dance in the 1956 Hindi film Chori Chori has been colorised!  Let's take a look at all these finds, one by one.

The path to discovering the two new film dances started with a new-to-me photo of Kamala that popped up in a Google Images search, which led me to her updated Wikipedia entry that I noticed now has a longer "Partial Filmography" section, which reminded me of the film dances of hers I'm still looking for, which then led to some searching that revealed these new finds!  There's also a great dance of Guru Gopinath in Mahatma Udhangar, but I'll save that for a separate upcoming post.



Mahatma Udhangar (1947, Tamil)

According to the ever reliable font of Indian film history and dance Randor Guy, Mahatma Udhangar (also transliterated Mahathma, Udangar, Udankar) was an unsuccessful release directed by G. Pattu Iyer that "sank without a trace and is barely remembered today" ("Remembering D.K. Pattammal,"  Galatta Cinema, September 2009), which must explain why there's so little information readily available on the film.

The YouTube account "UK Golden Movies 2009" posted a first version of the film in December 2018 with a letter outline watermark visible in the bottom quarter of the video, and then in July of this year they posted a second version that seems to be slightly less pixelated and with better contrast but offsets those positives with an ugly logo and subscription overlay icon intruding onto the footage.  The second version is more complete and has this delightful note you see to the left acknowledging the rough shape of the film due to its being the "only copy of this movie in existence."  In existence!  Youtuber uksharma3 extracted some songs and dances from the first version and reuploaded them with the dancer's name in the titles, and that's the version I've embedded below.

The film's intro credits are a mix of Tamil and English, and "Dance Direction" is credited in English to Vedantham Raghaviah and Kaminikumar Sinha while in Tamil the "Nagaloka dance" ("realm of snakes dance") is credited to Baby Kamala as she was known in her early films (thanks to Ragothaman for the translation!).  While it looks pretty clear that Kamala and Guru Gopinath created their own dances, I think Raghaviah and Sinha were responsible for two other dances in the film featuring Anjali Devi and an unknown actress, which are interesting choreographies to be saved for another post (I am still working on my post on Kuchipudi dances in films, and Raghaviah is an important part of that history!).

Onto Kamala's dance, which I was thrilled to see is another example to add to the collection of her famous snake dances!  A cobra statue forms an imposing backdrop and also confirms Mahatma Udhangar as the source of the mystery snake dance photo seen in V.A.K. Ranga Rao's article on Kamala's film dances in Sruti magazine (Page 1, Page 2).   The camera focuses only on Kamala at first as she rises like a snake and forms statuesque poses.  Soon she's framed by a group of dancers as she descends the stairs and then performs those classic undulating arm and hand waves.  I love those hand movements at 4:15 that look like the snake version of Kathak hand circles.  So delighted to see another film dance of Kamala's from her younger years!


Comparing Mahatma Udhangar to Kamala's other extant film snake dances I've posted about in the past, it is by far the least technical and has very few Bharatanatyam-inspired movements and aligns more closely to the general graceful film dance style of that time period.  Kamala's most astounding film snake dance must be her early performance in the 1944 Tamil film Jagathala Pratapan in which she shows off such complex dance movements for being so young.  A few years later, she performed another technical and Bharatanatyam-oriented dance as an adolescent to the "Maadar Mudimel" song in the 1950 Tamil film Digambara Samiyar which is described in the Sruti magazine article "Kamala: On the Silver Screen" (pages onetwo, and three) as having "hardly any difference" between what she performed on stage at that time.  A few more years after that, she vaguely evoked a snake as a young woman in the delightful instrumental dance number in the 1956 Tamil film Devta.  Here are all three dances embedded in a YouTube playlist:



Illarame Nallaram (1958, Tamil)

The video quality here is quite bad so it was hard to tell it was Kamala at first, but her closeups and then some of her signature way of moving confirmed that it was her!  A lot of her dance here is the classic film style of that time, but there are plenty of Kamala flourishes and difficult choreography thrown in here and there, particularly in the Kerala-inspired bits, like those arm movements at 1:25:36 and kicks at 1:26:14.  Kamala's dance is so joyous, and the finishing on-beat movements that recur are interesting touches.  The entire song in the film is presented as a stage dance before an audience, and Kamala appears only mid-way through the song, brought in as a guest dancer like the true star she is.  Another great edition to the Kamala film dance collection!

Starts 1:23:34


A Better Version of the Films Division Documentary Bharata Natyam (1954)

Back in 2012, I excitedly discovered that a very low-resolution video of the 1954 India Films Division documentary Bharata Natyam viewable online was centered on Kamala and her guru Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai.  The Films Division has been slowly posting more and more of its catalog on its YouTube channel in the years since then, and while it hasn't posted Bharata Natyam there yet, a kind commenter on my 2012 post recently alerted me that India's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has a Films Division "Video on Demand" web page where anyone can watch Bharata Natyam for free in much better quality!  I soon realized that page looks to have the entire Films Division catalog viewable by scrolling through the list and clicking on the desired title!  Unfortunately the page appears to be finicky and often shows a server error for me or plays but frequently pauses and buffers.  Looking for other sources, the Video on Demand page on the actual filmsdivision.org domain does not have Bharata Natyam available for viewing, but someone has uploaded it this past summer at archive.org and that's the source I've embedded below.

Look at how much sharper quality this version is!  There's lots of dust and scratches, but the quality of the image is fantastic!  I've included a few screencaps below to show off the high-res greatness, click on them for larger versions.




As I was searching for alternate sources of the video, I spotted that the Films Division's Film Catalogue lists another instance of Kamala dance footage I've never heard of before.  It's in the news reel NR0237 dated 1953, which includes in the description that the reel has footage of the "Music Festival in New Delhi" including "The South India Club presented Kumari Kamala, a Bharatanatyam danseuse."  Would love to see that!

The Films Division catalog (and VOD page) also list the Bharata Natyam release date as 1956 which contradicts the BFI source I had used before to determine the date 1954, but the catalog also says the director was Madhu Bose which is incorrect since the title credits of the video itself list Jagat Murari as the director, matching the BFI's information.  So, I'm not sure whom to believe.


Chori Chori (1956, Hindi) Has Been Colorised!

Back in 2010, I had posted about Kamala's splendid Bharatanatyam dance in the 1956 Hindi film Chori Chori, which was not only one of the few good Bharatanatyam dances in Hindi cinema but also had great black-and-white contrast.  In the past few years, more and more classic Indian films are being digitally colorised with improved quality, and Ultra Studio has done so for Chori Chori!  Watching Kamala's dance in color feels so different, almost like it's an entirely different dance.  What determines the color Ultra chose to use for various aspects of the visuals, I wonder?  I can't embed the video, but click on the picture collage below (or click here) to link to her dance!


And yes, that also means that Sai and Subbulakshmi's separate dance in the film was also colorised!


Films I'm Still Looking For, a Scare, and a Photo

Long-time readers of the blog are familiar with my and my friends-of-the-blog championing Kamala's remembrance as such a talented and important piece of Bharatanatyam and film dance history in India, and I've been quite successful in tracking down so many of her film dances.  After looking at the updated partial filmography for Kamala at her Wikipedia entry, I checked my list and see that I am still looking for her dances/appearances in the following films: Valibar Sangam (1938), Sevasadanam (1938), Ramanama Mahimai (1939), Kanchan (1941), Shaadi (1941), Chandni (1942), Vishkanya (1943), En Magan (1945), Ekambavananvishkanya (1943 or 1947), Katagam/Katakam (1947), Vijayakumari (1950), Lavanya (1951), Devaki (1951), Manithan (1953), Vilayattu Bommai (1954), Thirumanam (1958), Chandan (1958), Naach Ghar (1959), Naya Sansar (1959), and Sivagamiyin Sabatham (unknown date).  If anyone finds those, please let me know!

I almost had a mini heart-attack when I read news that "Kamala Laxman" passed away in 2015 before realizing it was not the Kamala Laxman of this post, but rather the children's book author that married the Kamala of this post's former husband, R.K. Laxman.  So yes, in the strangest of coincidences, after R.K. Laxman and the Kamala of this post divorced, he later married another woman also named Kamala, who then went by the name Kamala Laxman!  Sadly, R.K. Laxman also passed away in 2015.  The Kamala of this post was known by many names throughout her lifetime and two marriages: Baby Kamala, Kumari Kamala ("young woman" Kamala), Kamala Laxman/Lakshman (first husband), Kamala Lakshminarayan (second husband), Kamala Narayan, Kamala Narayanan, or simply...Kamala!

To close, I noticed that a couple years back, the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) shared a brief tweet about Kumari Kamala on her birthday, which included this photo (painting?) I've never seen before of Kamala:

2 comments:

  1. I have credited a wiki page for Mahathma Udangar. Here is the link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahathma_Udangar.
    -Mohan

    ReplyDelete

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