Film Choreographies of Nattuvanar V.S. Muthuswami Pillai: Part One

Friday, July 26, 2013
V.S. Muthuswami Pillai (source: Sruti)
While reading about the hereditary nattuvanar of yesteryear V.S. Muthuswami Pillai in Sruti magazine (Issues 319 and 320), I was surprised to learn that he was the sole guru and early film choreographer of the most brilliant dancing duo of Indian cinema, Sayee-Subbulakshmi! He was also responsible for some authentic Bharathanatyam numbers in Indian cinema, not only of Sayee and Subbulakshmi but also Vyjayanthimala and other artists. The author of the Sruti articles, Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, presents a portrait of V.S. Muthuswami's life from his youth in a hereditary dance and music community to his dance direction in Indian cinema and finally his "French period" where he reached his creative peak teaching foreign students from France and creating his own style.  Sujatha also links Sayee and Subbulakshmi to relatives P.A. Periyanayaki and R. Padma!

Thus my much-delayed "Remembering Film Choreographers" series officially begins!  In the series kick-off post, I had revealed my discovery that almost all of the top-notch classical film dances featured on my blog were choreographed by members of the traditional dance community or eminent dancers; in the case of Tamil films, by hereditary Bharathanatyam nattuvanars.  It's a subject that has received precious little attention, popular or scholarly, until recently.

Look beyond the sparkling veneer of these film dances and one finds that they were often the products of economic necessity by the hereditary community whose stigmatized way of life underwent tremendous upheaval during the reform movements surrounding women, temple dedication, and dance in the early twentieth century in India.  Many nattuvanars migrated to urban areas like Madras (now Chennai) where upper-class/caste girls from outside the traditional community desired to learn the dance in newly-formed institutions.  Films provided another avenue of opportunity, and due to the reach of the medium into the popular consciousness, the film dances of these nattuvanars were partly responsible for creating awareness of Bharatanatyam among the masses and surely contributed to the dance "revival's" success and acceptance. To the delight of historians and archivists, these film dances also serve as a visual record of the early dance form, the nattuvanar's style, and in some cases glimpses of the nattuvanar himself.  And to the delight of this blog, these film dances are damn good!

Because there is so much information to cover, I've split up this post topic into three parts.  In this first part here, I will focus on V.S. Muthuswami Pillai's life (hereafter just "Muthuswami Pillai") and choreography in films before and outside of Sayee and Subbulakshmi.  In the second post, Sayee-Subbulakshmi's training with Muthuswami Pillai and their film choreographies, both by Muthuswami Pillai and other dance directors, will get center stage.  And in the third part, the work of P.A. Periyanayaki and R. Padma in films and their exciting relation to Sayee-Subbulakshmi will be excavated.  I suppose this is the official first post of my much-delayed "Remembering Film Choreographers" series!

What is a Nattuvanar?

V.S. Muthuswami Pillai demonstrating an
adavu (source:Sruti, credit: Samudri Archives)
My favorite online articles for understanding the nattuvanar's role in Bharathanatyam dance, then and now, are "The Rise and Fall of the Nattuvanar" by A. Seshan and "Where are the Master Gurus?" by Gowri Ramnarayan [no longer locatable at The Hindu, but appears archived here].  From all of the reading I have done, my understanding is that while the role of a nattuvanar (hereditary dance guru, conductor, and choreographer) in Bharathanatyam has changed significantly over the last century, nattuvanars were traditionally members of a hereditary community of non-Brahmin, professional musicians and dancers (often called Isai Velalar) that made their living through arts of their exclusive domain. At the top of the community's hierarchy were two professional and specialized ensembles performing distinctive art forms known as periya melam and chinna melam.  The periya melam focused on performing stylized instrumental music to accompany temple rituals and other festivities and featured the powerful and rousing nadaswaram/nagaswaram.  The chinna melam focused on devadasi dance performances led by nattuvanars who taught the devadasis of the community and conducted their performances.  The dance of the chinna melam ensemble was also called names like Sadir or Dasiattam, and it was this dance that was reconstructed and named Bharatanatyam in the 1930s as nonhereditary dancers from outside the community began learning and performing the art.

Nattuvangam is the name given to a nattuvanar's conducting of a performance, and it comprises of striking the cymbals (talam) to match and mimic the sound of the dancer’s feet and salangai (ankle bells), reciting the rhythmic vocal syllables (solukattus in patterns called jathis) to pair with nritta (abstract, "pure" dance), singing in classical style, controlling the tempo (laya) of the dance, and serving to lead and conduct the orchestra as a whole.  The nattuvanar was the absolute authority of the dance form and served as the devadasi's guru/teacher/choreographer in an intensive guru-shishya (teacher-student) relationship.  Traditional nattuvanars dedicated their entire existence to teaching and conducting the dance form and training in its related functions (music).  The hereditary system allowed the art to be passed down from generation to generation usually by being born into a family of artists or moving into one to be a disciple of the art form.

Many of the artists in these communities incorporated the name of the place of their family origin into their name, so one sees names like Pandanallur Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai (from Pandanallur village), Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai (from Vazhuvoor village), T/Thanjavur Balasaraswati (from Thanjavur), or the subject of this post Vaitheeswarankoil Muthuswami Pillai (after the Vaitheeswaran Koil temple).

Muthuswami Pillai 

Sujatha's article on Muthuswami Pillai in Sruti magazine is an enlightening read that provides a personal view of what life for members of these traditional communities might have been like.  The article is best read in full, but here I've summarized what were for me the most interesting parts with a few quotations of Sujatha's here and there in italics.

V.S. Muthuswami Pillai (Vaitheeswaran Koil Sethuraman Muthuswami Pillai) was born in 1921 (d. 1992) in the village Vaitheeswaran Koil to a traditional family of dancers, nattuvanars, and musicians.  He grew to love dance and nattuvangam as a child, but “boyish enthusiasm gave place in a few years to disillusionment and distaste for the profession, which was at that time held in social contempt.”  The Sadir dance of devadasis was performed not only in temples but also at weddings and social functions and while it was a very popular entertainment, it was treated with little respect.  Muthuswami related that the nattuvanars and musicians often spent the night in cowsheds for distant concerts, were given performance spaces consisting only of a rough carpet and small bench for the harmonium, and much of the audience left before the dance began.  The pay was not great, but it was more than the salary and rice he received for his nattuvangam service at the temple.

When the bill to ban devadasi dance in temples was introduced in 1927-28, “the uncertain future prompted several nattuvanars to leave their villages and migrate to urban centres, where upper and middle class girls had started showing an interest in learning the art.  The celluloid medium was a new frontier and a veritable gold rush commenced.” At age 15, Muthuswami moved toward Madras with his guardian, Vaitheeswarankoil Meenakshisundaram Pillai, who entered films like many of his contemporaries and directed the dances of his famous students, the sisters Yogam and Mangalam. For Muthuswami, a village boy, “the arc lights and the proscenium stage must have been a novel experience.  Dance was becoming the entertainment of the elite and the proletariat.”  At first I thought Muthuswami guardian was the famous nattuvanar Pandanallur Meenakshisundaram Pillai, but soon I learned to seek out the prefix of the name—in this case Vaitheeswarankoil, not Pandanallur!

Kattumannarkoil Muthukumara Pillai
and VS Muthuswami Pillai (Sruti)
Muthuswami soon struck out on his own and advanced his Bharatanatyam training from the eminent nattuvanar Kattumannarkoil Muthukumar(appa) Pillai.  Muthukumar was "held in high regard by his peers” which “must have been a revelation to young Muthuswami, who had until then chafed under the ignominious treatment meted out to nattuvanars and devadasis.”  After it became to difficult to “eke out a living in the village” teaching dance and conducting recitals, Muthuswami joined the dance school Nrithyodaya ran by K. Subrahmanyam, father of Padma Subrahmanyam.  It was a hotbed of creativity where many masters of various Indian dance and music traditions were brought together to teach, though the performances were apparently fusions of various traditions falling under the term “Oriental Dance.”

Muthuswami soon entered films which I will cover below.  Later in his life, in what has been called his "French Period," he found his creative peak concocting new adavus and movements for French nationals who had come to India to study from him culminating in his most prized student Dominique Delorme.  Sujatha describes it as a unique bani (style) and that "the traditional format was intact, but he had improvised and embellished, using movements hitherto unknown in Bharatanatyam" such as adavus the rotated around a global axis or performed with one hand only.  These innovations were done after he had finished directing dances for films.

Muthuswami Pillai's Film Choreographies

In the mid 1940s, Muthuswami Pillai entered films and directed for 30 or so through the mid-1960s.  Lucky for us Sujatha lists "some films in which he was dance director"!  Sujatha's list doesn't include dates, so I have added them from my research, and the films are in Tamil unless otherwise specified:
Kanda Lila (likely Sri Kanda Leela 1938-9), Sathi Murali (1941), Rishyasringar (1941), Sabapathi (1941), Paithiakkaran (1947), Rukmangadan (1947), Apurva Chintamani (1000 Thalai, 1947), Devadasi (1948), Vethala Ulagam (1948), Inbavalli (1949), Rattakkanner (1954), Malaikkallan (1954), Akki Ramudu (Telugu, 1954), Koondukkili (1954), Doctor Savitri (1954-55), Marma Veeran (1956), New Delhi (Hindi, 1956), President Panchaksharam (1959), Kann Thirandadu (1958), Parthiban Kanavu (1960), Irumbuthirai (1960), Baghdad Thirudan (1960), Chittoor Rani Padmini (1963), Arunagirinathar (1964), Bhakta Dhruva (Malayalam, Unknown).
Also to add to the list is Madanamala (1948) which according to Randor Guy had dances choreographed by Muthuswami and Vedantham Raghavaiah.

Lots of caution is warranted when trusting claims about film choreographies, especially in lists like the one above that appear to be drawn from personal memory.  Film credits often reveal multiple dance directors, but the choreographers themselves will often recall their work in such a way that it sounds as if they choreographed all of the dances in a film.  I consider the credits in the film's introductory title cards the only way of verifying claims 100%, which for South Indian films means that I must relentlessly pester my Tamil and Telugu friends and loved ones to translate for me (thank you!!).  When there are multiple choreographers listed, I can only rely on educated guesswork in the absence of statements from the choreographer regarding the exact dances of their creation.  I wish I could get a hold of Muthuswami's biography that I recently learned about!

After trying to view all of Muthuswami's film choreographies that are available, one thing became clear—he is responsible for some beautiful Bharatanatyam numbers in Indian cinema!  Most of the dances I have featured on my blog previously, but I am especially excited about the devadasi-style one I've not seen before.  Here is my research on his film choreographies outside of Sayee-Subbulakshmi and R. Padma whose work willl be the subject of the next post installments.

Choreographing Vyjayanthimala's Best Film Bharatanatyam

Vyjayanthimala is well-remembered among the South Indian imports to Hindi cinema for being one of the first to introduce semi-classical dance. While the bulk of her film-dance-ography features North Indian and Kathak-based dances, her South Indian dances based primarily in Bharatanatyam were among her most exciting showcasing her speed and form. But they weren't very authentic and seemed designed to evoke "classical art" through a "pseudo-classical style [that] is perhaps a filmic equivalent of calendar art's version of Ajanta murals and Tanjore glass paintings, taking over the icon of the large-hipped, full-bosomed beauty developed e.g. by Ravi Varma" (Rajadhyaksha). Surprisingly, it was Gopi Krishna of all people who was responsible for her most well-known but not-very-authentic Bharatanatyam dances in Hindi films, namely Prince, Amrapali, Suraj, and Chhoti Si Mulaqat.  She also had a well-known, riveting dance duel with Padmini choreographed surprisingly by Hiralal in the Tamil film Vanjikkottai Valiban which gave Padmini all the Bharatanatyam-inspired movements but had a completely different feel than Gopi Krishna's choreographies above (its not a pale imitation or a faux-knock off but rather a creative inspiration close to its roots).

In New Delhi
What seems much less well-known is that Vyjayanthimala had another set of South Indian dances in films that were almost about as authentic as you can get with film Bharatanatyam. As I have found repeatedly, it took the skills of a hereditary nattuvanar to pull this off—in Vyjayanthimala's case, Muthuswami Pillai!  His choreography that gets the most attention is for Vyjayanthimala's Alarippu number in the Hindi film New Delhi.  But I've discovered that Muthuswami choreographed four other films of Vyjayanthimala's, three Tamil and one Hindi: Chitoor Rani Padmini, Marma Veeran (1956), Irumbuthirai (1960), and Patrani (Hindi, 1956).  In addition to these Tamil films being named among Sujatha's list above, V.A.K. Ranga Rao in his Sruti article on Vyjayanthimala's film dances noted she had a "classical number" in Marma Veeran, and the actual film credits for Irumbuthirai and Patrani both list Muthuswamy Pillai as a dance director (sole for Irumbuthirai, and one of three for Patrani). Given the evidence above, I think it is safe to assume that Irumbuthirai and Patrani both had at least one Bharatanatyam-based dance by Vyjayanthimala.  Now let's get to watching them!

New Delhi - Vyjayanthimala's Bharatanatyam Alarippu piece here is perhaps the most iconic and authentic classical dance of hers in film.  It's a surprising inclusion in a Hindi film made possible by her character being a Tamil girl. In Vyjayanthimala's memoir Bonding (available on Google Books with a preview that coincidentally spans the parts where she talks about her film dances!), she relates, "in one particular film, there was an instance when dance director Muthuswami Pillai was not very pleased with a certain bol sung by Lata for a Bharatanatyam piece.  When I mentioned this to music director Jaikishen, he said he would ask Lata if she could redo only that bit."  I think the "one particular film" is the dance below in New Delhi, which had Jaikishen as the Music Director and Lata as a playback singer.  At least one other film of Vyjayanthimala's had this set up as well (Patrani), but I think New Delhi is the likely candidate given its rare usage of dance syllables/bols.

Starts 34:45

Chittoor Rani Padmini (Tamil, 1963) - "Devi Vithayar Bhavani" - Compare this dance to Gopi Krishna's choreographies above and you can immediately see the difference!  Vyjayanthimala here is all form and lines and crisp perfection with a few moments of embellishment and film license thrown in for good measure. Vyjayanthimala is said to have another dance for the king at the end of the movie.  I wish I could locate it! V.A.K. Ranga Rao noted this film, along with Marma Veeran, only received a "lukewarm response at the box office" and is "sadly forgotten."

Patrani (Hindi, 1956) - While this film is not part of Sujatha's list, it has lots of dances of Vyjayanthimala and as you can see from the credits (left), it was choreographed by Muthuswami Pillai, presumably.  If true, it would be another rare Hindi film choreography of his.  The only problem is not a single dance among the low-Q copies online looks like it was choreographed by Muthuswami!  Maybe there was a dance scene, not part of a song, that he choreographed for.

Irumbu Thirai (Tamil, 1960) - The only dance that exists in an online copy of this film is a group dance featuring Vyjayanthimala that looks very similar to the North-Indian style one choreographed by Gopi Krishna in the Hindi film it was remade from, Paigham (1959). Yet Muthuswami Pillai is listed as the sole choreographer in the credits! Perhaps there is another dance cut out from this print?

Marma Veeran (Tamil, 1956) - VAK Ranga Rao says she has a classical number in this, and since it's referenced along with Chittoor Rani Padmini I bet it's a great one!  Supposedly it was dubbed in Hindi as Piya Milan, but I haven't yet been able to locate video of either version outside of Helen's spectacular dance in Piya Milan (who is that guy!). EDIT: Found! And thoroughly analyzed with insightful guest writing in this follow-up post.

Muthuswami's Other Film Choreographies

Muthuswami started choreographing for films around 1938-1941—years before his debut with Sayee Subbalakshmi in 1954—and finished his last film dance in 1964.  The dances below are perfect samples of the way his choreography likely differed in form and depiction in the early years of South Indian Cinema versus the later years.  Reminder: I'm saving all of Sayee-Subbulakshmi's dances for my next post!

Aayiram Thalaivaangi Apoorva Chinthamani (Tamil, 1947, aka "1000 Thalai...") - THIS! This is my favorite devadasi-style dance in films that I have seen. Everything from her pyjama-style costume with the hanging-cloth front to her speed in the pure dance segments to her charming, expressive face is simply beautiful.  In another dancer the movements would look uncompleted using modern Bharatanatyam standards, but this dancer shows how the style can be aesthetically pleasing. The credits do not list any names for the dance choreography, but given the classical nature of the dance and setting (and the lack of classicism seen in all the other dances in the film) and the film's inclusion on Sujatha's list, I think it's a safe bet the choreographer is Muthuswami for this particular dance. Also note the rather unusual court dance at 2:09:05. The film's subject was a "popular folk tale about a sinner in saint's garb who had Chintamani, a princess, under his thumb," and in addition to being a huge box-office smash it was apparently the longest South Indian film with a running length of over five hours at one time!

Starts 2:22:22

Arunagirinathar (Tamil, 1964) - This film told the well-known story of the man Arunagirinathar who after a life of visiting devadasis and becoming diseased begged for forgiveness at a temple and was transformed into a saint by the god Muruga.  The credits identify the dance directors as Mutthuswami, BS Murthy Ramaswamy, and Thangaraj.  In the video below, Lord Muruga (I believe) is seen dancing.  The little boy (is it a boy?) is a fabulous dancer!  Due to its classicism, it is clearly the work of Muthuswami.

Start 1:16:07 

While it is obvious Muthuswami must have directed the dance number above, there is another dance by a devadasi at the start of the film that has a lot of that "fake classical" choreography that was rampant in 1960s films.  It doesn't look like the work of Muthuswami, but it seems strange that his talent would not have been tapped for this number.

Starts 1:43

Paarthiban Kanavu (Tamil, 1960) -  In this film the danseuses Vyjayanthimala and Kamala Lakshman were in the cast, but Vyjayanthimala was relegated to only acting and singing numbers while Kamala Lakshman shone in multiple dance segments.  I was thrilled to learn that the credits reveal dance direction was done by Ellappa and Mutthuswami Pillai; I assume that Ellappa refers to Kanchipuram Ellappa who was a well-known hereditary nattuvanar as well.  There are very few references to his film choreographies so this is an excellent find.   There is a folksy group dance that don't seem like a dance Muthuswami and Ellappa would have done, but Kamala's exquisite four-part "Sivakamiyin Sabatham" episode is definitely their work. My favorite two numbers from this episode are below.  But the question remains—who did what?

This number showcases Kamala's rhythmic dance accompanied by the dance syllables/solkattus.  I wonder who plays the nattuvanar at the beginning, and I especially wonder who is actually reciting the solkattus!

Behold the glory that is the heavenly combo of music, visuals, and Kamala dance of "Munnam Avanudaya Naamam Kettal":

Many of Muthuswami's film dances are difficult to locate now.  The one I am most in anticipation of is Devadasi (1948) which according to Randor Guy tells the story of a begger girl being taken in and trained by a devadasi in dance and later luring the king.  It also has a comedy track featuring N.S. Krishnan singing Carnatic music while T.A. Mathuram dances Bharatanatyam!  Sri Kandha Leela, assuming he choreographed for the 1938 one, would also be a fascinating watch given its early date and the billing by Randor Guy of K.L.V. Vasantha as "one of the popular heroines of early Tamil cinema, who could also sing and dance well."  In Madanamala, both Vedantham Raghavaiah and Muthuswami Pillai are credited by Randor Guy for the dances, one of which is a court dance for the king by T.R. Rajani as Madanamala, which along with other dances Guy refers to as "impressive."

Doubtful Film Choreographies

Above I had described how caution is needed when trusting film choreographies.  Another tricky issue is when a choreographer's name is displayed in the credits but none of the dances look anything like his or her work. And then there is the issue of credits not spelling names right or being ambiguous.  Here are the films from Sujatha's list that fit one of these criteria:

Paithiyakaaran (Tamil, 1947) - Researching this film's dances has proven perplexing! The credits name the dance directors as V Raghavaiah and Muthukumarswamy.  The film is part of Sujatha's list of Muthuswami's film dances above, but Muthukumarswamy is distinct from Muthuswamy.  There is only one dance in the print of the film that's been circulating online—the sprightly "twin dance" of a young MK Saroja and another dancer.  Muthukumaran Pillai was MK Saroja's guru in real life, which is closer to Muthukumarswamy but still no match!  Even more intriguing is that Randor Guy mentions a second dance in the film by T.A. Jayalakshmi and two others (though he mixes up the song name with the twin dance one).  At first I could not find any trace of it in the film, but then I noticed a split second image flash on the screen (see above) during the wedding scenes and realized that the dance appears to be cut out the film.  What a shame!

  • Baghdad Thirudan (Tamil, 1960) - This film (viewable in full at RajVideoVision's YT channel) has lots of dances and lists four dance directors in the credits: R. Krishna Rao, Sohanlal, Jai Shankar, and VS Mutthuswami Pillai. None of the dances are based in Bharatanatyam at all and Vyjayanthimala's all have a middle-eastern flavor to them, so I wonder which one Muthuswami directed? 
  • Vedhala Ulagam (Tamil, 1948) - The credits list Tara Chowdry and Vazhoovoor VB Ramaiah Pillai as dance directors for this film, but it is listed in Sujatha's list above as one of Muthuswami's.
  • Rishyasringar (Tamil, 1941) - The credits only list P. Krishnamurthi for the dances.
  • Koondukili (Tamil, 1954) - The credits list B. Sohanlal and B. Hiralal for the dances. 

Closing Thoughts

Throughout my research, I've found myself wondering many questions. How did the nattuvanars feel about choreographing for films?  How did they learn to design dance for the new medium with complex sets and varying camera angles, which I presume they were not previously familiar with? Were they proud of their film choreographies or embarrassed by them (due to the stigma often attached to films)?  Were they given full creative reign or did they have to bow to the pressures of the filmmakers? How did the public react?  Only first-hand accounts can answer those questions, and I hope more come to light.

Coming up in the next posts: Sayee-Subbulakshmi's film dances, then the film work of relatives R. Padma and P.A. Periynayaki (including in Sabapathi)!

And later, I have more posts about other nattuvanars in the works.  Too many posts and not enough time! :)

Selected sources:
Rajadhyaksha, Ashish and Willemen, Paul.  "Vyjayanthimala (B. 1936)."  Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema.
Rao, V.A.K. Ranga.  "She Brought Lustre to the Silver Screen [Vyjayanthimala]"  Sruti, November 2010.
Vijayaraghavan, Sujatha.  "A Marvel of Tradition and Talent."  Sruti.  Issue 319, April 2011.
Vijayaraghavan, Sujatha. "V.S. Muthuswami Pillai."  Sruti.  Issue 320, May 2011. 


  1. Minai,
    There is a Telugu movie from 1954 called 'Aggi Ramudu' not 'Akki Ramudu'. But the dance director is listed as Thangaraju, Sai-Subulakshmi as dancers and Periyanayaki as one of the singers. I saw the movie in the fifties and just checked the credits. It is on YouTube.

    1. gaddeswarup - Hello! I maintained the spelling from Sujatha's list exactly as she wrote it, but some of the titles are definitely misspelled as in the case of 'Akki Ramudu.' I'll cover this in Part 2, but Randor Guy notes" that Malaikkalan was also remade in Telugu (Aggi Ramudu), Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi (Azaad), and Sinhala. Thank you for the credits information! That's interesting that Muthuswami's name is not listed yet the dance is nearly the same as the one he did in Malaikallan! One thing I've wondered is if there were dance assistants who often did not get listed in the credits. Maybe in this case they brought Muthuswami on to help with the number but gave the full credit to someone else? Hmmm...

    2. Minai,
      That it was made in several languages occurred to me only after I posted the comment. This kind of attribution of credits does not seem uncommon those days. Only those who study the whole sequence can have some idea of who was the main person. I noticed this frequently with music directors. Thanks for the clarification.

    3. An Aside. Thanks to you, I saw one of those dances again and also a burrakatha. The tune in the song seems to be a folk tune and the singers Seeta, Anasuya are well known folk singers who contributed to other films too( I think that Anasuya claimed to have composed one of Malliswari tunes). I think Anasuya also wrote books on folk songs.

    4. Maybe there were politics involved in credits it seems. I'm starting to question my assumption that because someone isn't listed, they weren't involved. Do you have a link to the burrakatha that you're referring to? I'd like to see it. :)

    5. Here it is. Nazar (spelled in various ways) was famous during my school days and 'burrakatha' was a common form of entertainment along with 'harikatha'. He was also a communist activist.

    6. I do not think that it was politics. My guess is that system of giving credits was not well formed. For the film Jayasimha first made in Telugu and Tamil, the MD was T.V. Raju. For the hindi version the tunes were the same but Ramesh Naidu was credied as MD. Perhaps because of his familiarity with the Hindi scene he might have helped organizing the Hindi songs. I think that Gemini Studios had Parthsarathi, Eamani Sankar Sastry, V. Sarala on their payroll. For some of the films remade in Hindi they were termed MDs even though they were not the MDs in the original Tamil films. I think that it was fairly arbitrary system of credits for some years except for the producers, directors and actors.

  2. V S Muthuswami Pillai also was uniquely placed in history. Not only was he part of the change of Bharatanatyam from its more traditional roots, he was also guru to/ choreographed the best film dances of many of the the dancers who took bharatanatyam forward in the 40's and 50's.

    It is remarkable (probably because of his personal life and his private defeats in life) that people who write the history of dance treat him as less than (say) Balasaraswati..or Rukmini when it comes to the development of the art form.

    As I commented earlier, in your devadasi like dances post, the role of the "isai vellalars" (or the nattuvanars) in the coopting of Bharatanatyam by the upper castes has often been diminished in history. Maybe if Muthuswami Pillai had been more voluble about his art (instead of staying in the background, and trying to influence it), History might have been different for Bharatanatyam.

    1. rameshram - Excellent point. Beyond comparisons to well-known dancers, I have wondered why he is not given the same level of respect and memory compared to other nattuvanars. I'll discuss it more in Part 2, but according to Sujatha's article it was partly because he spent all his energies on Sayee-Subbulakshmi during that period of his life and produced no other pupils, and then after a lull he entered the creative phase of his life with the stream of foreign students from France which was not looked on favorably by many of the traditionalists in Chennai.

      The contribution of these nattuvanars to film dance had a far-reaching effect into the public awareness of the art, but it is rarely discussed. More coming in Part 2, but I also wonder why when this topic is discussed only Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai and Kamala's film dances are mentioned. What about Muthuswami and Sayee-Subbulakshmi! Hence why I'm so excited about Part 2, because other than Sujatha and a couple other references online, no one seems to know much about them.

      "History might have been different for Bharatanatyam." That's a fascinating area for analysis. I think you should write more about that--I for one would eagerly await reading it!

  3. I hope you could eventually trace the choreographies of the famous Kathakali artist Padmasri Keezhppatam Kumaran Nair. He had been at Chennai during 40s and 50s doing choreography for Tamil and Telugu movies in the name "K. V. Kumar". He even danced in some of the films (if there was a necessity of Thandavam or any brisk male dance). He had taught dance to Ranjan who turned up as action hero later. In his memoirs Keezhppatam lists one Bholanath from Bombay ( a Hindi film choreographer) learning from him.

    1. Hello! This is excellent information you have listed! I had read about Keezhppatam Kumaran Nair choreographing in films before, but I had not read the details of his credited name being "K.V. Kumar" or that he danced in a few films! I will file that away in my records, and if I come across any film finds I will do a post. I do have a post on Malayalam film choreographers pending sometime in the future, but it was focused mostly on films from the 70s-90s. With the new information you provided, I'm hopeful I'll be able to find more about his film choreographies in the future. Especially since you said he often did brisk dances--I have some in mind that I'll have to research later. Thank you!

  4. Minai,
    The link to 'burrakatha' which I sent seems to have disappeared. Here it is agsin
    Nazar was a famous artist and communist activist during my school days. His urrakatha was one of the main attractions during party meetings. Apart from burrakatha, the other form of entertainment was 'harikatha'. Short versions of that also appeared in films.
    Apart from what I said about credits, I am also wondering whether the artists those days thought that filmi versions were a low form of art and themselves did not care too much.

    1. Thanks! I have enjoyed watching this and reading more about the two traditions in Andhra. Thank you for the additional info. What a great example of an old film preserving a tradition from decades ago, and I love that teluguone included "Burra Katha" in the name so it is easily locateable. Your last point is a very good one--I find myself often wondering the same thing. It's a shame because the film medium often ended up being the only preservation mechanism they had of themselves for future generations to see.

  5. Minai,
    Another about official credits " was the tradition at Filmistan for one person to actually direct the film, and another to get the official credit." from via Chapati Mystery(Faceook).
    About burrakatha and harikatha. They usually started after dinner time and went on for a few hours. burrakatha was only for one night (those I attended_. harikathacould go on for more than a month. It was from harikatha that many villagers like me learnt ramayana, mahabharata stories. Like Nazar, one of the best harikatha performances i attended was a by moslem in a temple premises. Good old days.

  6. Does anyone here know that he was awarded the "Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres" award by France in 1990 for his contribution to this art form? Sadly, tamil fraternity has forgotten such an award and is stating in all media/news that Chevalier award was won by only 2 people from Tamilnadu namely Sivaji Ganesan and Kamal Hassan.

    1. Hello Raja, I mentioned that award in "Part Two" of this post series on Muthuswami Pillai. The source was Sruti magazine who did profiles on him, so there are those in dance circles who are aware of the award. I'm not surprised about misinformation about the award being spread in the media--there are a lot of examples of that in this age of the internet and people believing everything they read online!

  7. Where can we find the link to the part two of this article? Could you please guide me there by providing the hyperlink to that article? Also, can you include the same link somewhere in this article itself?

    1. The words "Part Two" in my comment are a hyperlink. Here is the full URL hyperlinked: My blog is most easily navigated by clicking on the label of interest at the end of the post. I also have posts by category and index at the top.


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