My Favorite (Color) Classical Indian Film Dances

Monday, September 27, 2010
As a follow-up to my post yesterday regarding my favorite black and white Classical Indian Film Dances of all time, today's post lists my favorite color classical dances in Indian films!

Like my post yesterday, I focused on songs that are based on classical dances and included only those that are my absolutely top favorites that I enjoy watching repeatedly.  There are some "classics" that I haven't included in my list simply because they are enjoyable but not my favorites (songs from films like Thillana Mohanambal, Pakeezah, Shankarabharanam, Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje, etc.) and there are some dances that aren't classical enough to be included (like those from Amrapali).  I have a whole slew of posts coming up that will cover even more dances in all sorts of different categories!

As I noted in the black and white post, these dances are of course "not 'pure' classical dances but rather the filmy variety.  What I love about film dances is the energy the camera generates through angles and editing as well as the beauty visualized through costume and set design.  There’s just something magical about dances seen on screen." 

Let's roll the list of my favorites in order of affection!

Swathi Thirunal (Malayalam, 1987) - “Thillana” - This Bharatanatyam competition song is packed beginning-to-end with excellent dancing and varied rhythm.  Since the film is a period piece, the dancers do not have blouses.  The entire thing is riveting!  Best of all, there are minimal shots of the onlookers (which always make me shout at the screen “I don’t want to look at you- I want to watch the dancers!!”). If I find a better quality version of this video, I will post it. Edit: Switched to better quality version and changed title from "Dheemthanu" to "Thillana."

Video starts 58:44

Hamsageethe (Kannada, 1975) - This 10-minute segment from the film features a spectacularly authentic Bharatanatyam/Kuchipudi performance on the side of a mountain.  I was introduced to this film and dance by Ramesh on his blog entry (with links!) about the film Hamsageethe, and have grown to love this particular segment; it stands out ahead of the pack of film dances with its pureness.  The first dancer emotes beautifully without overdoing it, and the second dancer performs a nice Kuchipudi dance.  If only I understood Sanskrit (or had subtitles!), then I could even better appreciate its nuances. Unfortunately, the print quality is not the best. Edit 12/11: Embedded better-quality version with subtitles that I discussed in my post about the song.

Ananda Bhairavi (Kannada, 1983) - “Malagiruveya Ranganaatha” - This film contains some of my favorite classical dances ever; it's too bad that the print of the film is damaged, but it still doesn’t stop me from loving it to pieces.  The dancer makes beautiful lines and sharp movements with her body, and I always enjoy seeing the rare male dancer on film!  Be forewarned there is some drama in the song that interrupts in the latter half. Edit: Switched to the Kannada version video which is in much better quality (in the Telugu version, this song is called "Koluvaithiva Ranga Sai"); also corrected release date.

Ananda Bhairavi (Kannada, 1983) - "Thillana" - This song begins with a sharp Kuchipudi performance, then transitions to Manipuri, then Kathak, then Kathakali, and ends in a rousing finale as each dance form follows in quick succession as the different percussion instruments are featured.  Since its hard to find film dances that feature Manipuri or Kathakali, this song is such a treat.   The dancer (whose identity I’m not sure of) is one of my favorites in film.  The sound is quite muffled, unfortunately. Edit: Embedded the Kannada version of this song which is much better in quality; corrected release date.

Manichitrathazhu (Malayalam, 1993) - "Oru Murai Vanthe" - The classic beloved by so many, this song features Shobana as a woman possessed by the spirit of a Bharatanatyam dancer from the past with unfinished business from her life to sort out.  The way the song is edited is brilliant; the back and forth shots of her crazed present state and the royal courtly dance in her mind is riveting.  Unlike the Tamil and Kannada remake versions of this song, Shobana doesn’t go over-the-top with the “possessed look.”  Last, the male dancer in the song is very good as well; I’ve since learned he is the Kannada actor Sridhar. I’ll have another post on male classical dancers coming soon to a blog near you!

Sagara Sangamam (Telugu, 1983 - Salangai Oli in dubbed Tamil version) - “Bala Kanaka Mayachela” - Here, the trained classical dancer Manju Bhargavi gives a Kuchipudi performance on stage while Kamal Hassan practices in the back amongst kitchen help and dreams of himself on stage in her place.  It could be the only song where vegetables are “danced” into the cooking pot! Very charming.

Shatranj Ke Khilari (Hindi/Urdu, 1977) - In this film by Satyajit Ray, King Wajid Ali Shah is shown to be a connoisseur of classical dances and music.  One of the dances we see him watch is a beautiful Kathak performance by real-life Kathak exponent Saswati Sen.  She underplays the abhinaya quite a bit, but it gives the dance a soft quality that culminates in gentle spins near the end. 

Swarna Kamalam (Telugu, 1988) - “Koluvai Unnade” - I have little objectivity when it comes to Bhanupriya and this film, but I did exercise restraint and only included one song: the Kuchipudi practice segment, one of my very first exposures to classical Indian dance.  It’s a nice dance with a humorous twist; Bhanupriya’s character in the film hates practicing dance hence her irritable expressions and funny behavior.  Watch out for the little boy who is also quite the dancer (and, I suspect, the same little boy in Sruthi Layalu)!

Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal (Malayalam, 2000) - “Sivakara Damaruka” - This classical-modern hybrid group dance featuring Bhanupriya and Lakshmi Gopalaswamy (I believe) features some beautiful choreography set to haunting music (well…except for the cheesy jazz part!).  The classical influences are clear.  I think the clip is taken from someone filming a screen which is why there are jarring frame adjustments; I don’t believe the original is like that. I have the VCD on order so we’ll see how the original looks! Edit 12/11 - Updated video to better-quality copy featured on Lakshmi Gopalaswamy dances post.

Devasuram (Malayalam, 1993) - "Angopaangom"- Revathy’s classical performance here is another of my favorites. Having not yet watched the film, I’m not sure what the context of this song is, but it’s clear that there are some family/village dynamics surrounding Mohanlal's humorous disregard for her performance.  The song has an energy and edge to it that keeps me watching, and I love the Kathakali drum that makes an appearance.

Prince (Hindi, 1969)- "Muqabala Humse Na Karo" - This song is a completely delightful dance competition between Helen and Vyjayanthimala.  Vyj starts off with a lovely Bharatanatyam-based dance that is so phenomenally speedy and crisp; she returns with a joyful Kathak-inspired piece at 2:38, and then finally gives a stunning Kathakali-based performance.  This is the second Kathakali dance on the list!

Kinara (Hindi, 1977) - Kinara contains a lot of lovely classical-based dance performances by Hema Malini; in this clip, she performs a lovely Kathak-based piece on stage.  This film is virtually impossible to find in print, so one has to rely on kind folks that upload clips to YouTube. Edit 12/11 - Note, this film can be seen online; see my post about this.

Abhinetri (Hindi, 1970)- Intro Credits Dance - During the opening credits of Abhinetri, Hema Malini performs a short Bharatanatyam-based dance with an air of detachment and mastery. If only the film was filled with more classical dances!
Video starts at 0:32


  1. Lovely post and what amazing writer you are, i love the shatranj number a lot and after a long time of being on lesser priority on my list looks like i'll be bumping it up. Here's a lovely dance (one of my favourites)from Damini

    P.s i noticed the Shatranj number automatically started at 0.36 secs how did you do that

  2. Thank you! Shatranj is such a delightful but biting film all at the same time- I'd love to read your thoughts on it if you end up watching it. I love that Damini dance too! I think I'm going to put it in my "tandav dances" post coming up- it's definitely one of the best. *Off to read your Damini review*

    Regarding the late video timing, there are two places in the embed code where the actual URL of the video is listed. Right at the end of that, you add &start=30s (or whatever seconds) to each instance and it should start the video at that specific time. :)

  3. MinaiMinai,
    Thanks for adding my link to your blogroll.
    you have mentioned revathy's wonderful dance in "devasuram" and have said you are not sure of the context.
    in the film, the egotistical mohanlal has blackmailed revathy's father into making her dance in his home rather than at the temple to "teach her a lesson" (she has stood up to his goons earlier)
    This is extremely shameful for her.
    After this scene, she throws off her anklets in disgust and vows never to dance again until the day mohanlal's char has died..

    Revathy has another wonderful dance in the film vaideki kathirunthal, the song azhagu malar ada.

  4. Hello prasanth - Thank you for the explanation about that dance in Devasuram- that makes the song all that more riveting! I might have to watch the whole film soon. That Azhagu Malar Ada song is indeed nice. I also like her humorous dance in Kavithai Kelungal from Punnagai Mannan. :)

  5. Hi again Minai,
    There's some more Revathy bharatanatyam in this old one...about a minute in. And also at the end. Was uploading it yesterday and thought you may be interested. Also semi-humorous.

    And in case you wonder, yes, the male singer is supposed to sound's the story =)

  6. Ooooh another Revathy dance! I especially like her lines starting at 1:26. Thank you for taking the time to share that with me prasanth! That's just the sort of thing I love about blogging- how else would we find out about these lesser known songs without the suggestions of others? Don't hesitate to share more if you come across any. :) It's funny you mention the singer being horrible- if you hadn't have told me that, I would have just thought he had a really warbly, exaggerated voice and not have gotten the joke. :)

  7. There is also the unintentional humour of watching Prabhu attempting to dance next to Revathy at the end. =)

    Here's another "light" one you may have not seen.

  8. ^Oh, how did I forget to mention how hilarious classical dance looks in shiny gold pants? :)

    That's another nice video, thank you again. Is that Shivaji on the Mridangam? Then Miruthanga Chakravarthy wasn't his first time making funny expressions while playing the instrument! :)

  9. The drums are tablas, not mridangam (he's just holding them kinda weird), but yep, it's Sivaji all right ;) This one came after MC, so I guess the expressions carried over.

  10. I'm surprised to not see these included (maybe they are, i haven't gone through all of your wonderful blogs): From movie "Thiruvarutchelvar"
    (best part 2:00min+

    (best part 1:00 +)

  11. oh no you did not just post a tiruvarutchelvar link on minai's blog!!! (some tiruvarutchelvar, janak janak paayal bhaje, amrapalli....taboo. )


  12. prasanth - I never responded to your comment! Thank you for the correction, I clearly didn't look close enough. :)

    anon - hello again! You know, I've never seen that second Thiruvarutchelvar dance, thank you for sharing it. Looks like it would fit into my post on tandav film dances, though it's perilously close to what I call a "cracktastic technicolor tandav." ;) Which is also why I'm not a big fan of the first dance you listed - I just can't stand Padmini's costume, the coloring, most of the choreography... it's not one of my favorites, so I didn't list it in this post (just like Thillana Mohanambal and some others I listed at the beginning). But it's certainly a classic. :) Keep the sharing coming! I also love discovering new dances.

    ramesh - "taboo" - haha! Oh don't get me started on JJPB and Sandhya's flailing about! :D

  13. Hi MinaiMinai,

    Great blog and I keep visiting it every now and then and learn a lot more :) Thanks...Just wanted to share this Bhanupriya dance that I came across recently. It is from a Malayalam movie Rajasilpi -

    1. vedasri - Hello! Oh I love that dance of hers in Rajasilpi! :) She has a couple others in the film too. Whenever I get around to Part 2 of my "Film Classical Dances of Bhanupriya post, these will definitely be featured. :) Thanks for sharing.


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