Obscure Indian Films About Dance: My "Holy Grail" List

Sunday, December 5, 2010
Throughout all of my research on classical dance in Indian films, I've come across a number of movies that I am fervently eager to see but appear to be nearly impossible to find due to lack of commercial release or limited print existence/distribution.  I've written out my list of "Holy Grail" films below with interesting tidbits and pictures, if available.  It's lovely to have them all in one place, and I hope to come back and edit this page as I find new ones.  My hope is that some kind soul will happen onto my blog and have a similar interest or know of where to obtain a copy.  The internet brings us all together, so let's band together and track these obscure films down! :)

Kalpana (Hindi, 1948) - EDIT: Found! See this post.   Directed by and starring Uday Shankar, the “Father of Modern Indian Dance,” Kalpana (Imagination) is said to contain some fantastic dance performances.  I’ve become quite fascinated by Uday Shankar and found this very interesting and thought-provoking set of articles about him.  Uday took Indian classical and folk dance traditions and blended them with Western ballet and other world dances and his dance company was instrumental in shaping Western perception of Indian dance, though in India his dance was apparently viewed with skepticism by some when compared with traditional, ancient dance forms such as Bharatanatyam being revived surrounding the time of India‘s independence. I am mesmerized by the pictures from the film and can only imagine how visually stunning the choreography must be. 

As Richard previously blogged about, the only known print of Kalpana is severely damaged and Martin Scorsese has taken up the effort of restoring it.  This article claims that heat and humidity damaged the copy and that “partial prints of what is left of the original of Kalpana have been duplicated by the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) and are now stored in temperature-controlled vaults in a purpose-built facility near the city of Pune, but Scorsese's foundation hopes to reconstitute the film in its original version for general release.  Digitalisation and restoration is required…"  I find this curious though given that some commenters on Richard’s blog posts about the film and a cinematographer online claim to have seen the film (and one person notes that it gets screened yearly at the Uday Shankar Dance Festival).  If there indeed is only one print of the film and it is terribly damaged, how could all these people have seen it in different locations?  Me thinks there are more prints floating around...
Rangam (Malayalam, 1985) - EDIT: Found! If you thought Vanaprastham was the first time Mohanlal attempted the role of a Kathakali dancer, you would be mistaken!  He appears to have done a similar role way back in 1985 in Rangam (Stage).  I was so excited to find images from the film’s L.P at Jay’s World of Music blog. Just look at the stunning Kathakali costuming!  To add to my excitement, Shobana is pictured wearing a dance practice sari, so I’m sure that this film contains some fantastic dances.

There is a short review of the film at IMDB that claims the film "tries to present sexual foibles as a crime in a society that holds on to high pegs of morality."  Socially-unacceptable sexual behavior between Kathakali dancers and regular folk seems to be a theme in Malayalam films about Kathakali.  It happened in both Vanaprastham and Parinayam, and I wonder if Mohanlal and Shobana's characters have a similar experience in Rangam. I wonder if this theme has any meaning or precedence.

I’m a bit puzzled that there is so little information available on the film given that its cast includes such huge stars as Mohanlal and Shobana and especially since Mohanlal reprised a similar role in Vanaprastham.  You would think that a diehard Mohanlal fan somewhere would have a copy of this film in a collection!

Marattam (Malayalam, 1988) - A film shot for Doordarshan National TV containing actors from Kathakali and theater traditions, Marattam (Interchange), tells the story of a woman who feels deep love towards a character in the Kathakali play Keechaka Vadham (The Killing of Keechaka) and “is about the identification of an actor with his role, [and] also the relation between viewer and actor” as this article states. This interview of the director, the late G. Aravindan, outlines some details of the plot and makes the film sound fascinating.  Folk music instead of Kathakali music is used in an interesting twist. 

A rediff review of Vaanaprastham suggested that its director Shaji N Karun was “inspired, perhaps, by his mentor, the late Malayalam auteur Aravindan's 1988 opus, Marattam” in the film’s use of “Kathakali as a medium.”  I can certainly see the similarities between the two films- the woman’s love for a character, the blurred line between an actor and his role,  Images from the above articles at cinemaofmalayalam.net.

Chenda (Malayalam, 1973) - EDIT: FOUND!  See this post.  Given the film artwork of a Chendra drum being played and a Kathakali dancer outline (courtesy malayalasangeetham), this film is clearly about Kathakali.  But the main reason I’m eager to see it is that it contains a dance by Kamala Lakshman and her sisters Radha and Vasanthi, as I learned from one of the many articles posted on Kamala’s dance school website.  I have a feeling there are oodles and oodles of amazing dances contained in this film.  Will it ever be available?

Mayuri (Telugu, 1985) - EDIT: FOUND! Video here reuploaded here! I have had the hardest time finding any information on the Telugu original of the 1986 Hindi remake Nache Mayuri.  In a case of impeccable timing, the site TeluguCinema.com posted a retrospective last week about the film Mayuri (and included the wonderful black and white image of Sudha Chandran).  Mayuri stars and tells the real life story of Sudha Chandran, a classical dancer who lost part of a leg in a horrific car accident but continued to pursue her passion for dance with an artificial “jaipur leg.”  I have seen the Hindi remake Nache Mayuri, but like all other South Indian-to-Hindi classical dance film remakes I‘ve watched, I found the classical dancing watered down and spoiled by filmi music.  I suspect that Mayuri contains much more realistic classical dance sequences.

The retrospective article notes that only the core story about Sudha’s accident and subsequent pursuit of dance were taken from reality; the rest of the film’s happenings were fabricated for filmi purposes.  Sudha is said to have been initially resistant to acting in the film, and by the time she agreed the filmmakers had to apologize to another girl who had already contracted to play the role! 

However, the most interesting tidbit from the article was its mention that one of the actors in the film directed a film with Sudha and himself in the lead roles; apparently it didn’t get released until 2008 (25 years later) as Mayuri 2.  I couldn’t find any information whatsoever on the film.  Yet another Holy Grail film to add to the list!

Baje Bainsi Nache Ghungura (Oriya, 1982) - I only know two things about this film from online sources.  One, that the famed late Odissi Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra directed the film, and two, that Odissi dancers Sangeeta Das and Snigdha Mohanty were in the cast and likely the stars.  These two supposed facts, plus the words "Nache" and "Ghungura" in the title, are more than enough to put this film permanently on my “hope to find someday” list.  

Since there isn't any more information or pictures available online that I could find about the film, I've included a picture of Guru Mohapatra that looks like it might be from the time of the film.  Guru Mohapatra's legacy continues today through his dance school, Srjan, directed now by his son Ratikant Mohapatra.  I'm tempted to write to the school and ask if they know anything about the film...

Lal Pahare’r Katha - (Bengali, 2007 - A Story of the Red Hills) - Mithun Chakraborty stars in this film as a former Chhau dancer who teaches a disabled boy the art form and transforms both of their lives in the process.  Chhau is a style of folk dance that has some influences from martial arts, and it is splendid and powerful.  In two of the three styles of Chhau, the dancers wear extravagant, colorful masks on par with the kind seen in Malayalee dance forms such as Kathakali.  Being able to see this style on film in all its splendor would be fascinating, and the film sounds quite touching.  The slightly overdramatic trailer gives very brief glimpses of the fantastical dance numbers and the drama.

America Ammayi (Telugu, 1976) - Edit: FOUND (the dance)! See this post. I’ve seen the original Tamil film Melnaattu Maramagal, but I am dying to see its Telugu remake America Ammayi (American Girl).  Both films contain the basic plot of a white, western woman who comes to India and learns classical dance.  However, in my browsing of Melnaattu Marumagal, drama, drama, and more drama seems to occupy 95% of the running time until the very end where the white girl dances a Bharatanatyam number with an Indian girl.  In contrast, this retrospective article on the film America Ammaayi makes me think the Telugu remake has much more dance content. 

The Telugu version stars Devayani, a French woman originally named Anne Chaymotty who in real life came to India on an Indo-French Cultural Exchange Programme scholarship to learn Bharatanatyam and became an accomplished dancer who was awarded a Padma Shri award in 2009 for her contributions.  In the film, the song Aanandataan Davamaa De is said to be a Kuchipudi dance by Devayani shot in the famous Nataraja Swami Temple of Chidambaram.  The only song from the film I’ve seen is "Paadanaa Telugu Paata" in which Devayani lipsynchs to a Telugu song on stage. 

Devayani claims that after the film released and was a hit she was offered many roles in films with actors such as Kamal Hassan and Girish Karnad.  She also claims on her website that she is the “foremost exponent of Bharata Natyam in India and internationally.”  I’m thinking “foremost” is quite debatable…

The Desire - Journey of a Woman (Hindi) - This delayed and yet-to-be-released film is billed as the first Indo-Chinese coproduction ever.  Starring Shilpa Shetty and the “Shah Rukh Khan of China” actor Xia Yu, it tells the story of an Odissi dancer (Shilpa Shetty), the man who falls in love with her (Xia Yu), and his journey to find her after they are separated.  Jayapradha also features in the film as an Odissi dancer. 

With the cheesy title and the overly-produced stills, it’s hard to say if the film will be any good or not, but Odissi dance is so rare to see on screen it will be a treat.  The dancing should be fairly authentic given the choreography credits of Sumeet Vinod and Ratikant Mahapatra (late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s son) and the fact that Shilpa and Jayaprada both learned Odissi basics from Ratikant for the film and have prior classical training.  It seems impossible to find any information on when this film will release.  The film’s official website lists some email contacts for production- maybe if we pester them enough we’ll get some info! Images from the official website/Facebook.

Films With One or More Dance Sequences

Sri Valli (Tamil, 1945) - EDIT: Kamala's Dance FOUND! See this post This film contains dances by Baby Kamala as the young Valli and Kumari Rukmini as the teenage Valli.  Randor Guy notes, “Kamala interestingly played two roles — that of "Bala' Valli and "Bala" Murugan. She performed two classical Bharathanatyam dances. One was set to the song, "Yaar unnaipol aatharipavar... Arumughatharssey... " and the other was “Sinthai arinthuvaadi... Selvakumaran... "
Some kind soul uploaded a very old copy of Rukmini’s thillana dance, and it is simply delightful.  According to this Hub post, “after trying to win the heart of Valli by singing the amazing kAyAtha kAnagaththE and many other methods that fail, Murugan takes the form of an old man and befriends Valli. The old man comes to Valli's house and entertains her and her family and friends by singing this thillana. Rukmini dances while T.R.Mahalingam sings.”  I can only imagine what Baby Kamala’s dance must look like.  I find it interesting that apparently Rukmini started out as the child actress “Baby Rukmini” and then was introduced as “Kumari Rukmini” in Sri Valli, which is similar to “Baby Kamala” and “Kumari Kamala.”

Holiday in India (Hollywood, 1974) - I found out about this obscure film on the website of the Bharata Kalanjali dance academy founded by the famous Bharatanatyam duo, the Dhananjayans. The film supposedly featured a woman (Diana Baker) who traveled to India and fell in love with Hindi actor Shammi Kapoor and contained a 10-minute dance sequence by the Dhananjayans and students from their school.  Alas, “the film unfortunately did not see the light of day because of differences in opinion between the Tourism Dept. and the concerned production company. It is now in the Hollywood archives.”  Since no pictures from the film seem to exist, I’ve included a picture of the Dhananjayans.

Kann Sivandhaal Mann Sivakkum (Tamil, 1983) - EDIT: FOUND! See this post.  Another discovery from the Dhananjayan’s dance school website, this film was apparently a story about an American NRI girl who “comes to India to do research on the therukoothu tradition [Tamil Nadu street play], goes to Thanjavur and gets involved in local politics.”   It contains a three-minute dance by V.P. Dhananjayan with music composed by Illayaraja. 

Krishna Sudama (Oriya, 1976) - Said to contain choreography by famous Odissi Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, the film is based on the famous “Krishna Sudama” story that was the inspiration for the Malayalam film Kadha Parayumbol and 2008 Tamil film Kuselan.  At first I thought that Mohapatra actually composed something for the film in a dance director role, but many websites have referenced that “Krishna Sudama” was a famous choreographed set piece by Mohapatra, so perhaps the film simply presented the choreography without his involvement.  It appears to be a black and white film given the only song available online with no dancing, Chhota Mora Ghara.

Films With Precious Little Information Available

Bhavantarana (Oriya, 1991) - EDIT: FOUND.  See this postA documentary by Kumar Sahani about the famed, late Odissi Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.
Ananda Tandavam - Said to contain dances choreographed by Adyar K. Lakshman, a noted Bharatanatyam dancer and guru.
Purandaradasa (Tamil) - An award-winning movie with dances choreographed by Kalaimamani Krishnakumari Narendran.
Ontraikulam - Contains a dance-drama with Waheeda Rahman and Guru Gopalakrishnan, the man who choreographed the famous Chandralekha drum dance.
Neelakkuyil - EDIT: FOUND! Video. Contains dances choreographed by Guru Gopalakrishnan.


  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kIey2rq0kc

  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGzlScDIVC4

  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJOFmdG_F5U&feature=related

  4. Hi Minai

    Am surprised you couldn't find Mayuri online.

    Here you are:





  5. Minai, thanks for the references. :) Yes, I also am always still looking for scenes from Kalpana (old or restored). In addition to being the famous film by Uday Shankar, I find it very interesting that it contained the film debuts of both Padmini and Usha Kiran.

    I've also been looking for Sri Valli, for pretty much the same reasons as you. Yes, I saw that Rukmini thillana a while back, and some other scenes with her as well. But no Baby Kamala scenes...

  6. Hi again

    Here's something you might find interesting.


  7. Another one I discovered:


    (Telugu movie called Sitara)

  8. cram - Agh!!!!! You found Mayuri!! :) You know, I've always avoided MegaVideo because most of the time the links are fake and I fear viruses, but wow! I think this is the first time I've seen it work! *Off to download right away* I didn't think I'd ever see this film, thank you thank you!! And thank you for the links(Jhanak Jhanak Paayal Baje, Roshan Kumari in Jalsaghar, Kamaladalam, Mayuri, then Hamsa Geethe). They are wonderful- many of them have been featured in my dance post series as of late. Do keep the suggestions coming! Thank you again!

    Richard - Oh yes, that is right, I had forgotten that Kalpana was Padmini's debut film! Definitely a huge bonus! I haven't heard of Usha Kiran before. It seems like we should hear something in the next few months about the restoration, as this year was when it was planned. Let's keep our hopes up! :)

  9. Minai - I have a couple that I have been searching for - Matsya Avataram and Lankeswaran, both tamil films that apparently my mom danced in and we've never seen (my grandfather used to be a film distributor in India so he hooked his daughter up I guess). They were made sometime in the 50s I think. Let me know if you ever hear anything about them!

    Also v. excited you mentioned Mayuri ... Sudha Chandran was actually named after my mom!!! Her father used to work for my grandfather and was a big fan of her dancing - she was known as Sudha Doraiswamy back then. Sudha Chandran mentioned it in her interview on the tv show Koffee with Anu (also featuring Vani Ganapathy, Kamal Hassan's first wife and also a well known dancer trained by our masters in Bombay).

  10. OH! I just realized that I remember one of the songs from America Ammayi - Ananda Tandava Maade, it's a beautiful number, based on an actual Bharatanatyam dance number 'Ananda Nadamidum Padam'! I remember seeing the video when I was a kid!

  11. Amaluu - Can I just say how much I love blogging? Because I get amazing comments such as yours! You've officially said waaaay too many groovy things for one day- I'm overwhelmed! ;)

    Wow, so your mother danced in films? Those two do seem especially hard to find, especially since searching for Matsya Avataram brings up its mythological definition, and searching for Lankeswaran brings up information on an old popular play of the same title. It's kind of like searching for films that are named after ragas or gods - nearly impossible! I will definitely add these two films to my list. :)

    So your mother's name was Sudha? And you mean that your father was a big fan of your mom's dancing? What a small world. My goodness. I've heard of Koffee with Karan, but not Anu! She seems like the South Indian version of Karan's show? Will have to check it out!

    And thank you for the info on the America Ammayi dance- glad to hear confirmation that there is indeed a classical number as these articles claim.

  12. Amaluu - I'm thinking you must have meant that your mom danced in those films in the 80s, not the 50s, right? There's a comment on this Passion for Cinema post that mentions a couple Lankeswaran films, one in the 80s with Rajinikanth apparently? http://passionforcinema.com/badman-is-back/

    1. Hi this is Ammalu’s sister, the other Ammulu. (Family joke). Mom is 77 this year, so in fact, yes she did dance in the 1950’s in those films. She also won the Filmfare talent search the same year as Dharmendra, but our conservative grandpa brought her back saying, absolutely not! :) Grandpa being a provider of services like lighting and color film to Bombay’s film industry, his friends included the Kapoor clan and the Dutt family and Mom has danced for their family occasions back in the day. So many of her friends were stars, like Sadhna, Saira Banu and Dilip Kumar, Waheeda, Hema Malini, and most close to us - Vyjayanthi and the late Padmini. Pappi Aunty stayed close to our family to the very end, and we of course love and respect all our film industry friends.

  13. Minai, you've never heard of Usha Kiran? Here she is in Madhosh (1951):


    Yes, let's keep fingers crossed about Kalpana. (Though I guess we should always specify "1948." There is another Kalpana (1960) that also has wonderful dancing by Padmini...and Ragini.)

    BTW, I agree, Amaluu's comments are rather interesting... And I like Cram's videos too. :)

  14. Richard - Thanks for the video of Usha Kiran. She has a very distinct face- sort of pretty and tomboyish all at the same time. I see that you mentioned her a few times on your blog- must have missed them.

    That's true, we should be clear about specifying which Kalpana we mean. I just got a copy of the 1960 Kalpana- the dances are really nice, especially that long Padmini/Ragini one with the gorgeous sets and costumes.

  15. Minai - you're so sweet - and btw not only myself, but my mom's whole dance school in Michigan is enamoured with your blog!

    My mom's name is indeed Sudha, and I meant Sudha Chandran's father was a fan of my mother's dancing in Bombay in the 1950s. He named his daughter Sudha in hopes that she would dance like my mother - and that she did! :-)

    It was in the 1950s or perhaps the early 60s that my mom did those dance numbers in films. I believe one was supposed to be a dance in a King or Deva's court ... but yes, they have been impossible to track down. Perhaps never even released?

    It was because of all these connections - dance, film, Bombay, etc. that Pappi Aunty was also a close friend of my mom's. My mom calls my 2 elder sisters and I her own Lalitha/Padmini/Ragini. It was such a shock to lose her several years ago. She was quite rough around the edges you know, really funny and tougher than I would have imagined from watching her films. It's also a wake up call ... my mom turned 70 this year and I realize I have SO MUCH to learn from her and time is precious.

    I hope I don't sound like I'm name dropping - I certainly don't mean to ... it just so few people are interested in these artists that I've grown up admiring and had the great fortune to meet through my mom - Gopi Krishna, Pappi Aunty, Vyjayanthimala, Vani Ganapathy, Manju Bhargavi, etc. Nowadays people only seem to care about Bollywood starlets and remix music. Those of us who are dedicated to Classical Dance often feel a bit annoyed by the prevalence of Bollywood bootyshaking and midriff-baring.

    My mom MIGHT have at least the dance numbers from America Ammayi somewhere at home ... the next time I visit Michigan I will try to unearth it if at all possible.

    Oh and Koffee with Anu is the tamil version of Koffee with Karan, a bit less glossy, much more down to earth (with Anu Hassan, Kamal's niece). Unfortunately it's mostly in Tamil, so non-speakers would be at a disadvantage. :(

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE your blog so much! Thank you for your exhaustive work and effort - it really is tremendous.

  16. Hi Minai

    Here's something I stumbled upon and promptly uploaded on Youtube. I don't know if you have already watched it.


  17. Amaluu - Big thank you for your comment! Shout out to everyone at the dance school! :) I'm flattered that I have fans! And thank you for the explanation. How interesting about all the people you know of through your family. Your mother does sound like a wealth of knowledge on the subject of classical dance- I hope to see some posts on your blog in the future about discoveries you've made and movies you've tracked down! And maybe even more details than you're shared in the comments here. :D

    cram - hello! I have seen that clip before- isn't it great? The elaborate costumes and the way they portray the stiffness and facial expressions- thank you for sharing it with me.

  18. yes, yes, there are other secret copies of kalpana floating around. one of the teachers at my university had a copy and she screened it for us. the choreography is indeed visually stunning!

  19. I am facebook friends with someone on the indian film archives in Pune,(part of the FTII pune) who confirms that Kalpana exists in its full version at FTII and they watched it at the Goa Film festival this year,

  20. Ranjana - hello! Yet another account of someone seeing this film! Clearly many have been able to get their hands on it. :) I'm just hoping one of these people will someday find a way to get it posted online for all of us to see! I mean, I've even got a video camera- I'll fly to India and just sit and tape it! hehe ;)

    ramesh- The article I mentioned above discussed a partial print at the "National Film Archive of India" in Pune- sounds like that's different than the FTII in Pune that your friend watched it at. The evidence of a print conspiracy mounts!!! ;) I've got to keep my eye on these film festivals each year to see which ones might be screening it...

  21. minai,

    They are the same place. There was indeed a fire at the national archives, but my fb friend confirms that the print of Kalpana was ok because they saw it after the fire in its complete form.


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