Classical Dance Practice Scenes/Songs in Indian Films

Thursday, October 28, 2010
There is something charming and beautiful about classical dance practice numbers in Indian films. Perhaps it's the unassuming and flattering cotton sari wrapped around the dancer's body; I've always liked plain saris a bit more than the full, complicated costume. Or maybe it's the everyday, unadorned, simple nature of the dance that adds to its beauty. Or it could be that the dances often gets closer to their classical roots in this format. Whatever it is, I'm simply a huge fan of them in films.

Below is a list of all 34 practice numbers I can think of in Indian films where the purpose of the song or scene is not "performance" but rather informal "practice" overall. It's interesting how many of them are from the 80s and 90s, the seeming "golden era" of this type of classical performance in film. The videos below are listed in rough order of awesomeness, favorites first. If you can make it all the way to the end, consider yourself a classical dance nerd like me! (Or maybe it's just list-making nerd?) Enjoy!

Sringaram (Tamil, 2006) - This is an absolutely beautiful Bharatanatyam Padam piece made all the more enjoyable by the English subtitles.  It features Manju Bhargavi (many years after her performance in Shankarabharanam below) and Aditi Rao Hydari.  I really hope that this gorgeous film gets released on DVD one day; my posting of this clip is a plea to the makers to do so! (My separate post on the dances from this film is here).

[Video removed at request of director.]

Dance Like A Man (English, 2003) - Shobana, one of my favorite classical dancers, gives some beautiful performances in this film accompanied by the delightful music of Ganesh-Kumaresh. I must point out the hilariously-bad performance of Arif Zakaria in the second clip starting at 1:35. He is clearly giving his all in an effort to keep up with Shobana, but it's a lost cause. His expressions of sheer terror and then joy at getting through the number are priceless. The last clip below is a nice, slow-moving expressional segment featuring Shobana being taught by a devadasi. (Update: More about Shobana's film dances here and here).

Yugant (Bengali, 1995) - I got a hold of this film after learning that its dances were directed by Ileana Citaristi, an Italian woman who moved to India in the 70s and learned Odissi under the legendary guru, the late Kelucharan Mohapatra. While many of the dances in the film are modern, I was delighted to find two scenes of Odissi dance practice especially since it's a rarity in Indian films. The film is a slow-moving drama about a man and woman's relationship; the romance is at a rocky place during the first scene below as evidenced by the very humorous "interruption".

Vanaprastham (Malayalam, 1999) - Like the rare Odissi dancing above, this film features another rare dance form in cinema, Kathakali. The lovely dance scenes are heightened by the gorgeous cinematography and atmosphere; I will have a review of this phenomenal film posted soon. The child featured in the young boys' practice scene gives a glimpse of the exaggerated facial expressions seen in the dance form, and he looks so much like Mohanlal it's a wonder of casting! (Update: My review of the film is here).

Start 12:29

Sagara Sangamam (Telugu, 1983 - Salangai Oli in dubbed Tamil)
- In this part of the film, Kamal Hassan's character is being asked to apologize to the young woman for a bad review he had written about her dance performance and is accused of knowing nothing about classical dance. When confronted, he asks her to show him how she expressed the lyrics on the cassette. He then shows her how it's really done by dancing Bharatanatyam, Kathak, and Kathakali versions of the song clip. He ends it by telling her that she is too concerned with the audience's reaction and calls her "Nache Mayuri," a "Dancing Peacock." Ouch.

Shankarabharanam (Telugu, 1979) - Real-life classical dancer Manju Bhargavi gives an earthy and glowing practice performance here on a rooftop with the overcast-crowned sea in the background. It looks like something pulled straight out of real life- hitch up the sari and dance when the mood moves you!
Start 3:24

Ananda Bhairavi (Kannada, 1983) - "Guru Brahma" - Here, a Brahmin priest (Girish Karnad) teaches a little girl Kuchipudi and demonstrates the hand gestures and postures for her to mimic back. It's a delightful song with some nice dancing; I wonder where that little girl is now! Edit: Uploaded the Kannada song versions from this film since the quality is much better; corrected release date. (Update: My post about this film and its dances is here).

Ananda Bhairavi (Kannada, 1983)- "Chaitrada Kusumaanjali" - As a continuation to the clip above, this song shows the little girl growing into womanhood under the tutelage of her dance instructor. I'm such a huge fan of the grown actress' dance skills- she forms such beautiful, crisp lines, and gets ample opportunity to show them off here. Edit: Embedded the Kannada version of this song which is in much better quality; corrected release date.

Sruthi Layalu (Telugu, 1987) - What I want to know is who is this little boy and is that bottle glued to his head! (Edit: The boy is Shanmukha Srinivas). The performance showcases the "plate shimmying" seen distinctly in Kuchipudi, though I cringe a bit watching the bleeding feet at the end. Overall, awesome.

Swarna Kamalam (Telugu, 1988) - “Koluvai Unnade” - This song was featured in my favorite classical dances post; 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)! (Update: My post about Bhanupriya's dances in this film is here).

Kamaladalam (Malayalam, 1992) - This film contains some fantastic Kathakali dances as did Vanaprastham listed above. Here is a practice clip scene featuring a young Vineeth and some wonderful expressions from the group.
Start 1:44

Swathi Thirunal (Malayalam, 1987) - "Alarsara" - Abhinaya (expression) features center-stage in the first part of this clip. In the last minute, the dancer can be seen full-length in a glowing white sari dancing what looks to be Mohiniattam. The blouseless sari is due to the time period the film is set in, and it adds to the languid beauty of the performance. Edit: Uploaded better-quality version.

Siri Siri Muvva (Telugu, 1978) - This is a charming song in which Jayapradha's character is shown dreaming of learning Kuchipudi while practicing in the mud. It also features one of those staples of "real" classical dance practice, the wooden box that is struck to keep time (I have no idea what it is called- anyone want to enlighten me?). The film was later remade into Hindi as Sargam.

Starts 3:48

Azhagan (Tamil, 1991) - Bhanupriya plays a dance instructor and love interest of Mammootty's character in this film. In the scene below, she gives a wonderfully-pissy practice performance when confronted. My favorite part is when she moves away from Mammootty in a ghungroo-enhanced huff after he turns off her music. The attitude! She tells him that dance was everything for her and she didn't dream of love or men until he came into her life and swept her off her feet. Update: There's also a small practice segment of Bhanupriya in this dream sequence.

Starts :37

Sagara Sangamam (Telugu, 1983) - This scene showcases a packed Kathak dance class that holds Kamal Hassan's character mesmerized. He succeeds in communicating to a woman whose language he does not know that he wishes to join the class and much to his delight makes it in.

Autograph (Tamil, 2004) - This very short scene features a beautiful Mohiniattam group practice scene with exquisite lighting and atmosphere. For that alone it is worth a view.

Starts 1:04:16

Kamaladalam (Malayalam, 1992)
- This is a lovely Mohiniattam practice scene in the film; Mohanlal's character clearly comes and disturbs the session. And in the surprise of the evening, the end of the clip (starting at 9:48) features a white dude practicing Kathakali. Now I really have to see this film... I'll also note there is a short Mohiniattam practice scene where Mohanlal is teaching in this clip.

Starts 7:42

Nache Mayuri (Hindi, 1986) - This film immediately begins with a scene of Sudha Chandran admiring a woman practicing classical dance on a nearby patio and then dancing on her own. Sudha looks absolutely beautiful.

Nache Mayuri
(Hindi, 1986)
- This scene in the film features Sudha Chandran dancing in a Kathak class. As I noted in my review of the film, Sudha plays herself in this film about her own real-life story of losing part of a leg in a car accident and continuing to dance with a prosthetic. She dances so admirably well despite her condition! There's also a brief scene of her dancing at the beginning of the video below if you want to "rewind" to it.

Bawarchi (Hindi, 1972) - In this sweet film, Rajesh Khanna plays the role of a cook hired for a family who ends up changing it for the better. One of the many skills he has is Kathak knowledge, which he teaches to one of the girls in the family in a nice practice scene.

Khoobsoorat (1980, Hindi) - "Piya Bawari" - This is a very cute Kathak-inspired performance by Rekha and another woman (whose identity I'm not sure of) wearing simple saris dancing in front of a dude on a Tabla. I think the unnamed lady is an awkward dancer, but Rekha gives a nice performance that surprised me.

Umrao Jaan (Urdu, 1981) - "Pratham Dhar Dhyaan Dinesh" - This song features Kathak/Mujra practice dancing briefly by two girls and then by Rekha and another dancer. A nice, slow performance set to some haunting music.
Starts 2:30

Vaithegi Kaathirunthal (Tamil, 1984) - I learned of this clip when Prasanth at GoodTamilFilms wrote a blog post about the film. In the clip, Revathy is seen leading a dance class with her back facing the camera until her identity is finally revealed. The majesty of the South Indian temples towering in the background is beautiful.

Devasuram (Malayalam, 1993) - Revathy gives a brief classical practice performance in this clip; I like the way her sari is wrapped with a little fan in the front.

Thooval Kottaram (Malayalam, 1996) - This short scene features a group of young women practicing classical dance led by an instructor. This film also has a very nice Bharatanatyam competition number which I'll feature in a later post.

Maro Charithra (Telugu, 1978) - "Vidhicheyu Vintalanni" -  A repost from my favorite black-and-white classical songs post, this song begins with a home practice scene involving sufficiently tight bell bottoms; Kamal dances again briefly at 1:22 and then resumes again for the stunning finale at 3:43.

Ek Duje Ke Liye (Hindi, 1981) - Kamal Hassan gets a lesson in classical dance in this song; the film is a remake of Maro Charithra. I'm not sure what possessed Kamal to hike-up his already too tight pants at 6:28!
Starts 6:05

Vanaja (Telugu, 2006) - These two Kuchipudi practice performances by the young star of the film, Mamatha Bhukya, are noteworthy because she learned the dance form with no prior training for about a year in preparation for the film. The sequences are rustically shot and worth a watch (especially with the English subtitles!)

Nizhal Nijamakirathu (Tamil, 1978) - Another repost from my favorite black-and-white classical songs post, the tight pants make a showing again here at :34 seconds in where Kamal dances for some children while his thick-spectacled admirer looks on.

Starts 4:06

Padikkadha Medhai (Tamil, 1960) - "Aadi Pizhaithalum" - Yet another repost from my favorite black-and-white classical songs post, this song features a very short segment of two children practicing Bharatanatyam and then transitions into a stunning non-practice dance performance of EV Saroja! (Update: I'm unable to find a clip with the practice scene right before the performance dance).

Marunaattil Oru Malayali (Malayalam, 1971) - "Govardhanagiri Kayyiluyarthiya" - This one is a bit too commercial and songish, but I love the dance movements and retroness of the whole thing.  The women are definitely "practicing," so it finds a place on this list, albeit last. Edit: Yah...this song is pushing it. But Minai always has to throw in a curveball! Video viewable here.

Edit: Adding the following suggestions 10/29/10

Pournami (Telugu, 2006) - Thanks to Dustdevil for reminding me about this one!  Here, Charmme practices classical-inspired dance in various picturesque locations whilst Prabhas accompanies her with his rhythmic drum.  The part where she practices the rhythms with her feet while shopping for vegetables is a cute touch.  While I'm not a big fan of Charmme's dance style, the spirit of the song is in the right place so it definitely belong on the list.  Charmme also has a brief practice scene in this clip.
Start 1:00:13

Raavanan (Tamil, 2010) - "Kalvare" - Thanks to Ramesh for pointing this one out to me! Aishwarya Rai can be seen leading a classical dance class in slow motion, and throughout the song she prances about for Prithviraj with classically-inspired moves. While the song is missing most of the markers of classical practice numbers, it's definitely going for that "feel" and belongs on the list.

Last: I almost listed the song "Chandham" from Chess (Malayalam, 2006), but that Dileep guy just ruins the whole thing for me and it's way too songy for the list... and just, bad.

And that ends the list! If you've made it this far, congrats for being as nerdy as me! :)  As always, do suggest any scenes or songs that I might have missed and I'll add them to the list. I'm always hungry to find more examples of these kinds of things in film, or to just discuss them with others.  And do let me know of any errors!


  1. Wow, another great collection. I need to get in gear and see more of the older Kamal Hassan and Mohanlal films. I have seen Vanaprastham, which was amazing.

    I love that the scenes you've listed all have a nice naturalism to them with the lighting, music, and filming style. At the other end of the sprectrum, the dance practice scenes from Pournami popped into my mind. They are definitely more about the drama than the dance, which a highly produced music score (vs. the actual practice music), lots of camera angles and cuts, and dramatic lighting. (Also, I have no idea if Trisha or Charmee are any good.)

  2. The great thing about Kamal/Mohanlal films is that there are *so* many to choose from.

    That's an excellent point regarding the naturalism of the scenes. In my trying to define what a "practice" scene is, I didn't even think of it from the point of view of the filmmaker (lighting, music style, etc); that is an excellent point.

    And thanks for reminding me about Pournami! For some reason I had remembered Charmme's practice scenes as having very little real dance in them, but upon rewatch they definitely should be on the list!

  3. wow! this post is "just so" and perfect! hit the sweet spot.

    thanks minai!

  4. Oh jeez..When you said you were going to write about practice scenes, I definitely did not expect such a....massive and meticulous post. Hats off to you.

    I definitely love the naturalism of practice scenes. Particularly when you've grown up going to arangetrams where 2 hours are spent dressing/making up the dancer (the remaining 2 are spent giving boring speeches). To see a girl in a plain saree just dancing beautifully is refreshing.

    Interesting that you mention the term golden age. In fact, in Malayalam and Tamil cinema people often refer to the late 80s-to-early 90s as a golden period of filmmaking altogether, with an emphasis on nativisim.

  5. ramesh - thank you, and thanks for the Raavanan suggestion. :)

    prasanth - I've heard the term "golden age" in a few places, most often referring to Malayalam films it seems. Interesting to hear confirmation. I know when I was asking some folks for Malayalam film recommendations, they kept suggesting all these films to me from the exact period you described (many of them Mohanlal films), so I figured there must be something great about that timeframe. I didn't know Tamil cinema had a similar reference as well.

    I wish I could have grown up going to arangetrams! Though the boring speeches part doesn't sound too exciting. :)

  6. The reference is definitely far stronger for Malayalam cinema, no comparison. In some sense Tamil cinema is too big and diluted to make broad statements. For us it's more like "more good movies then compared to now". But what the neighbors in Kerala were doing at that time was something special indeed...they were making movies with unique subjects and very little of the "masala" characterizing the larger industries..

    Odd thing is that many of the Malayalam industry folks in those days are still active today, it seems it's more the climate and audience expectation that's changed.

    Well this is all very off-topic from practice scenes! So I'll end it here =)

  7. Another great list... I know just a few of these, the Shobana scenes being foremost in my mind. And I've got to admit I have quite a few more to go through, but of course, I couldn't wait to see everything before posting a comment. :)

    I wanted to mention, there is a superb Padmini practice scene in Thillana Mohanambal. It is short and goes very quickly, but I consider it a little gem as good as any of the "stage" performances in that film (which are among my favorite dance scenes anywhere, btw)... I don't know if you ever got a full copy of this movie(?), but if you have it, it's a scene definitely worth looking for.

    Among the ones above that I hadn't seen before, "Aadi Pizhaithalum" is very nice. I have been thinking for a while of doing a post about scenes which show practicing or amateur-performing children turning into famous adult stage performers in the same song. There actually are a few of them. One, the name of which I've forgotten already (so it might take me a while to track down) is an early '60s film with Asha Parekh. And there is a good song/scene built around this kind of transition in a film going way back to 1938 - i.e., Street Singer with K.L. Saigal and Kanan Devi:

    That scene is a bit different from the kind you're posting about here, because while the child character dances, the adult character sings without dancing, and I believe that for the most part, this film shows singing and not dancing (though what beautiful singing it is!)... But it must be one of the oldest, as well as greatest, Indian movies that feature practice scenes. (I haven't seen the whole movie, btw, but quite a few songs from it, and I would love to find a copy of this.)

  8. Did my last comment get zapped? Anyway, I love this post because practice sari brings back amazing memories of growing up in a household of dance. Have I shown you the old video about my mom? I'm the totally sloppy 4-yr-old in the yellow costume.

    But another movie recommendation is Sangamam (Tamil) - all about dance. Unfortunately the heroine (Vindhya) is a miserable dancer, but the hero (Rehman) does a lovely job as a folk dancer. Great songs too!

  9. prasanth - that's an interesting point you make about how Malayalam films have changed today. I've sensed that from some of the things I've been reading about recent releases, particularly with the rise of Prithviraj and the GenY films (and massy numbers) he seems to have brought into the mix (or rather catered to the audiences desires, perhaps?). No problem going off topic! :)

    Richard - How interesting, I had no idea Thillana Mohanambal had a practice scene! I suppose that makes sense given the plot of the movie. I think this will persuade me to purchase the film- right now I only have the song numbers from it on a compilation DVD.

    I hope you do the amateur-to-adult performance post, I would be very interested to see it! Another one from my list that sort of fits that theme is the second "Ananda Bhairavi" song above in which the little girl is shown growing up to a woman in full Kuchipudi costume, though she doesn't transition to professional/stage performances in the song. That Street Singer song is an excellent find! I just love that they have preserved these films from the 30s- feels like such a treat to watch them as they are so rare and could have so easily been lost. Now I'm having lots of fun trying to think of other examples I've seen of these amateur-to-professional sort of songs. :)

    Amaluu - Sorry you've having trouble with the comments- I've been hearing the same feedback lately so I made a tweak to the comment settings, hopefully that fixes it.

    Oh that's you in the yellow costume in that video? How adorable! You mom looks so beautiful in that temple jewelry. Y'all were famous back in the day! ;)

    I think miserable is the perfect adjective to describe Vindhya's dancing in Sangamam. :) I haven't watched the film yet, only seen the songs. Didn't know that the male dancer was halfway decent, so perhaps I'll give it a watch. :)

  10. Minai,

    Hi there, Rahman is not a classical dancer in sangamam. He sort of prances around doing "folk" dancing.

  11. Thanks Minai, really interesting!
    The wooden box is called thattu mannai or thattukari, the talam (beat) is also keeping by cimbals or nattuvangam talam.
    The nattuvanar (who's keeping the talam) is usually the guru, the dance teacher.
    Singing the aksharas, the foot-beats is called sollokuttu or sollokattu or konnakol.

  12. hello again daria! Many thanks for the explanations. It can be so difficult to know what things are called especially since each language calls them something different. :) Thanks again.

  13. What about Prabhu Deva in Kaadhalan? It is brief, and somewhat wacky in picturization, but it is real in both his skill and the touches of frustration.

    There are also enjoyable practice scenes in Bommai and Paar Magale Paar, but they are more excuses to show bn than realistic practice sessions.

  14. ^I do remember now Prabhu Deva's BN dances in Kaadhalan where he 'practices' outside, yes! I found his very energetic and forceful style really interesting to watch- he has such long limbs! I hope to include the dances in a post(s) about choreographers coming up, of which Prabhu Deva should be a part. :) I featured one song from Paar Magale Paar on this post- I think that's the film you're referring to? I haven't heard of Bommai! Is that an old film? Will need to track it down if it has a practice scene. :)

  15. Aada vantha theivam also has one

    All the songs in this movie are amazign, the dances are not at teh same level though.

  16. Thanks for the video rec anon- I haven't seen that one before. The video link you provided started near the end of the video, but I think it was meant to start at the very beginning where Anjali Devi and EV Saroja "practice" outside. Very sweet- a bit pseudoclassical but nice to see them dancing in that natural way. I like how Anjali fixes EV's arms at the beginning, and it's wonderful to see another EV Saroja dance- she seems very, very underrated!

  17. The child actor in the movie Sruthi Layalu is Shanmukha Srinivas. The other man in the song, Dr. Rajasekhar, is his alcoholic father in the movie. I don't remember the exact context but I vaguely remember the boy trying to please his father by dancing with the bottle on his head.

    1. vedasri - Thanks for the identification. Yet another post I have planned is one on his film dances, the only ones which I'm aware of are Sruthi Layalu, Swarna Kamalam, and The Deceivers (which you can see in this post). IMDB, often wrong, also lists him in Jebu Donga 1987. Do you know of any other films he danced in? (Or acted in?)

  18. Madam, had u seen the movie karthika pournami (telugu movie)?
    Bhanupriya gaaru did a great job in that movie both dancing and acting?

    1. Wow! Bhanupriya film dances I've not seen before! Thank you very much for mentioning that film, I've never heard of her involvement in it before. I see that someone uploaded the songs from that film a few months ago. Her two vaguely classical-oriented dances are there, and wow she moves at super-speed! I think they sped up the film as well for effect. :) She even does a snake dance at one point! Here's the dances: dance 1, dance 2. :) Thanks again for sharing!

  19. Minai, found another one for you....well, technically it's a dream sequence not practice, but the visual is similar enough.

    1. Oooh an energetic Revathi dance in Antha Vaanam Satchi that ends with flames! Enjoyed watching it, thank you for adding it to the list! Sorry about the way your name showed up, whoever you blog is not kind to wordpress and openID commenters...someday I will figure out what the hiccup is...

    2. That was me. That's what I get for trying out openID. easier way to login to websites, eh....

  20. favorite dance queen Shobana in Rudhera vena & manichitrathazhu

  21. Hi! I came here while researching for dance sequences in cinema. I must say this post has met all my needs. It gives me pleasure to say the post is well-researched and meticulous. Please accept my sincere congratulations on doing such a fine job! Kudos to your effort and I hope we can stay in touch!

  22. In " Khubsoorat " , with Rekha , she is actress of yesteryers ( mostly from Hindi ) " Shashikala ".

  23. The clip of the Telugu movie Sankarabharanam reminded me of the Hindi remake called Sur Sangam which I very much enjoyed. Jaya Prada has some nice dances in it. Here is a link to the remake of the song you posted:

    The movie also has the scene where Jaya Prada is secretly listening to the maestro practising his singing and starts dancing on a riverbank which is lovely. Here is the link :


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