Classical Dances in Kannada Films - Part 1

Saturday, April 9, 2011
Subba Shastry DVD Cover
Throughout all of my posts on classical dance, one thing that has bothered me is the lack of representation from Kannada movies.  Tamil and Telugu films seem to dominate the landscape of filmi classical dance offerings with Malayalam films in a distant third likely due to Kerala's rich classical dance traditions.  But finding native Kannada films (not dubbings) with classical dance content has been difficult. 

There is a relative lack of information about Sandalwood (the Kannada film industry) online compared to other southern industries which means an outsider like me has put forth extra effort to unearth anything useful. When I first pondered why I had so few Kannada songs in my blog posts, I wondered if the film industry's obscurity relative to its southern counterparts had simply hidden songs from my view.  Or was it the industry's recent struggles compared to its earlier golden years?  I even started to wonder if Karnataka had less of an engrained classical dance tradition that would be reflected in film compared to, say, Tamil Nadu, but I suspect I'm ignorant on the subject. In any case, here's what I've been able to find about classical-inspired dances in Kannada cinema.

My Favorites

This stunning black-and-white gem from Subba Shastry (1966) is listed first because if you're only going to watch one Kannada film classical dance, it should be this one!  I found it while searching for other choreography of Adyar Lakshman (who did Hamsageethe below) and I feel blessed to have laid eyes on it!  What a discovery. Over 10 solid minutes in length, it is packed with fantastic pure and expressive classical dance, storytelling, varied tempos, and attentive group choreography.  If only it had subtitles!  I especially love the set design, the way the background dancers are utilized, and how the costumes so well-fitted and patterned.  Absolutely one of my top favorite classical film dances ever.

The only song worthy of a follow up to Subbasastri would be the dance competition from the period film Hamsa Geethe (1975).  Lovely and authentic. Details about the song and its translation found at my post dedicated to the song.

Aptharakshaka, the 2010 sequel to Apthamitra (a remake of Manichitrathazhu), contains a nicely-choreographed stage number near the start of the film that I've embedded below.  Recognize the male dancer?  It's Anuj Mishra from the Kathak video I featured in my dated “How South Indian Films Stole My Heart” post!  Strange coincidence, eh?  I love his lines and think he’s beautiful to watch- his curly mop of hair and defined muscles adding just the right amount of zest! I'll also note that the film also contains a lackluster dance reprisal of "Ra Ra" by Vineeth and Vimala Raman near the end, but it's quite terrible and doesn't deserve to be listed here! 

Starts 7:16

The woman with Anuj in the video above is Lakshmi Gopalaswamy, a trained Bharatanatyam dancer still practicing today whom I’ve become quite curious about.   Though she is a Kannadiga from Bangalore, she’s had much success in Malayalam films which form the bulk of her filmography.  I find myself wishing she’d stuck with Kannada cinema to increase its classical dance filmi quotas!  It appears she’s only been in three Kannada films so far (Vishnu Sene, Poorvapara, and Namyajamanru).  In the latter she does a classical-inspired "dance" for a veena-playing Vishnuvardhan, and though the choreography is a bit silly at times her training shines through in her crisp posture and lines.  She appears to be the only trained (and good) classical dancer in modern Kannada films and deserves the attention.  Expected a lengthy and video-filled post on her soon. :)

The songs from Kalavathi (1964) feature an absolutely gorgeous and slim young woman whose unusual face shape, slender frame, and gigantic eyes draw me to gaze at her.  For quite some time I tried fruitlessly to determine her identity.  Some suggested she might be Kanchana or Jayanthi, but pictures and videos of those women didn't look like her.  I then noticed KannadaStore carried a 3-in-1 with Kalaavathi on it, and there was Ms. Unknown pictured on the right side!  The cast listing mentioned a G.V. Latha...was that her? I mustered up some courage and emailed the folks at KannadaStore pleading to know who she was.  If you can believe it, by the next morning I had a response that her name was Latha!  The kind people at KannadaStore also listed seven films she has been in, only three of which I can find copies of.  One, Emme Thammanna, is on YouTube; she and Rajkumar are too cute in "Belli Hakki Aguva" and she is one of two women cute-ing it up yet again in "Kanneredu Kareyuthidhe." To my disappointment, there seems to be zilch information on her on the web, and it doesn't help that her name is similar to playback singer Lata Mangeshkar.  Really a shame because she has simply captivated me.

My favorite number of hers from the film is "Gaana Natya Rasadhare."  The song is very sweet and has its' heart in the right place.

In "Rajadhi Raja Sree Krishdeva Bhoopa," Latha forgets to do any sort of footwork most of the time and just waves her arms around and positions her body in poses reminiscent of classical dance, but I simply love gazing at her.  I find myself wishing this song had gone the way of Vyjayanthimala's wonderful Alarippu in New Delhi

Closer to a mujra than anything else, "Namoh Namoh Sri Mahadev" tries to go for a "classical feel" but doesn't quite make it.  But Latha has cast her spell on me, and it's actually a lovely song, so I'm listing it here.

In No. 73 Shanti Nivasa (2007), an Odissi dancer (following a short Kuchipudi performance) gives a performance so short it almost doesn't deserve mention, but her moves are so admirably inspired from traditional movements that the song belongs on this list. Just seeing an attempt at Odissi in an Indian film at all is a treat!  And the dancer's beauty completes the experience.  Unfortunately, the dance degenerates quickly after that into a very tacky Bharatantayam and Kathak-inspired number.  (Update 2019: Embedded new version of video, note that the opening Kuchipudi dancer performs on a plate, something one doesn't see that often in films; following the Odissi dance, the audio strangely cuts out for a bit).

Starts 1:43:10

Favorites Previously Featured

All of these songs are among the best, but since they've been featured previously on this blog I thought I'd group them separately.

The films of male classical dancer Sridhar were another amazing discovery which I previously devoted an entire post to. He appears to have been the only decent male classical dancer featured in Kannada films. Telugu and Tamil cinema had its Kamal Hassan, Malayalam its Vineeth, and Kannada its Sridhar it seems!  Below is my favorite dance of his in Kannada films from Manasa Veena (1984):

Bhookailasa (1956), the original version of the film which was later remade as Bhookailas in Telugu with NTR, has brilliant dances by Kamala Lakshman and Gopi Krishna.  I made a recent post all about Gopi's tandava dance in each version of the film.

For some time I thought that the film Ananda Bhairavi (1983) was only made in Telugu and that the clear videos I saw of it on YouTube in Kannada were just a dub.  It turns out the film was actually made simultaneously in Kannada and Telugu! While the majority of the film is the same (with speaking scenes reshot in each language), there are quite a few differences in editing and some scenes that appear in one version and not the other.  Even the dances have slight differences between each version!  I’m still not sure which version could be considered the “original” in terms of being the “home” production. I plan to have a post dedicated to the two versions of this film, but for now I'll repost the two male-female dance competitions from the film which are brilliantly-awesome:

"Malagiruveya Ranganatha" - Kuchipudi dance competition

"Shiva Tandava" - Tandav dance competition


What about Yakshagana, the dance drama form (folk/semiclassical) that is unique to Karnataka?  Surely such a cultural icon, especially with the colorful costumes and headdresses reminiscent of Kathakali, has shown up in various film songs.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find many examples.  Sridhar's website says that he played a Yakshagana artist in Bannada Vesha (1989), a national award winning telefilm directed by the much-respected Girish Kasaravalli, but I couldn't find any more information or videos.  Also said to be about Yakshagana, the 1978 film Maleya Makkalu directed by Shivarama Karanth is also MIA on the web in terms of additional information or videos. The only two videos from any movie I've been able to find are these:

The song "Nadhim Dhim Tana" from Gaalipata (2008) features a plethora of Yakshagana dancers; though they are mostly relegated to standing around and waving their arms, their presence adds a rich color and feel to the song.

The song "Kannada Naadina Karavali" from Masanadha Hoovu (1984), according to one of the YouTube commenters, sings the praises of the Karavali (coastal) region of Karnataka.  The best part is the segment of Yakshagana artists near the end starting at 5:25.  This song is precisely the sort of thing I was hoping to find--an example of Kannadiga pride in the land, people, and the art form Yakshagana! 

Part 2 coming soon! (Prepare yourself for all the baaaaaaad dances!)

Next post: Classical Dances in Kannada Films - Part 2.


  1. Very, very good post! Thanks for letting us get to know these classics of Indian cinema. Visit my blog at:

  2. Thanks Juze. Another Portuguese blog I see! Happy to see Portugal representing! :)

  3. Very Interesting to read your blog. Actually I was searching for Subbashasrty song and found your blog.
    AN interesting fact about ' SubbaShasthry' movie, it is based on Knnada drama which is indianised version of famous French dramatist Voltaire famous drama.

    There are few Kannada movies which are dance oriented like 'Malaya Marutha', 'Sanadi Appanna', 'Amarashilpi Jakanachari'

  4. Anon - Welcome! I'm happy to see the Subbashastry dance getting some more attention because it is so underappreciated, I think! I did a companion Part 2 to this post which focused on all the "bad" film choreographies and incidentally features all the other dance-oriented Kannada movies you mentioned. I was quite disappointed by them. :)

  5. thanks! I like your blogs! They are very well researched.

  6. I know its old post, but reached here, while trying to search for one song.. after an hour search, finally found it.. and what do I find.. Its of Latha, who had mesmerized you..

  7. super fantastic blog...stuff of my obsession and dreams!

  8. Male dancer in aptharakshaka is vidwan Surya rao


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