Film Classical Dances of Manju Warrier (She's Back!)

Sunday, May 3, 2015
Manju Warrier (official website)
Manju Warrier is back and dancing in films again with a fantastic Kuchipudi-based dance in the Malayalam film Ennum Eppozhum released in March! I am beyond delighted. Some time ago I had remarked that Manju Warrier and Lakshmi Gopalaswamy were the only two impressive female classical dancers in recent Indian cinema. But Manju's problem was that she only danced in a few Malayalam films in the short years she was in the film industry and then abruptly left in 2000 when she married the actor Dileep. Difficulty awaited anyone who attempted to track down her film dances online which made Manju a neglected subject on this blog.

When Ragothaman of the Bharathanatyam and the Worldwide Web blog notified me of his discovery of Manju's performance in Ennum Eppozhum, I thought it would be the perfect time to dust off my long-coming post and take advantage of the increase in Malayalam films available online.

Manju's film classical dances are always a large notch above the rest because her training clearly shows through no matter how "filmi" and hybridized the choreography, presentation, or editing style. Her body geometry and precise movements are a pleasure to watch. Comparing her to the mature Lakshmi Gopalaswamy, Manju's only problem is that in her early film dances as a teenager she showed a lack of polish particularly in her abhinaya which consisted almost entirely of a plastered and unwavering smile and also in some of her lines which occasionally weren't quite perfect.

Trained in her youth in the Kalakshetra style of Bharatanatyam (studying at the same institution as fellow film dancer Vineeth) as well as in Kuchipudi and Mohiniattam, Manju studied Kuchipudi more seriously in recent years under Geetha Padmakumar (Vempati Chinna Satyam's style) and performed her debut arangetram in 2012 after not having danced in public for 14 years. She's back!

Manju's Classical Film Dances

Ennum Eppozhum (2015, Malayalam) - "Dhithiki Dhithiki Thai" - After featuring Manju in a dance competition in his 1996 film Thooval Kottaram, director Sathyan Anthikad brings her back for her film dance comeback—a solo Kuchipudi stage number in his film Ennum Eppozhum. While it leans much more classical than most Indian cinema dances, it still has that filmi touch with the copious editing cuts, out-of-place isolated hand gesture closeups, and bits of prettified quick-choreography. But the number makes up for its shortcomings with lovely lighting/backlighting and Manju's seemingly clean and self-assured lines in some of the adagulu inspirations. Compared to her earlier films, Manju seems to be an entirely different dancer here. She actually has more than one facial expression, and her movements are much more relaxed and graceful. Some media articles and reviews misidentify the dance form as Bharatanatyam, but it's definitely Kuchipudi notably in the lively springiness, occasional mouthing of the words, and the classic Kuchipudi arm movements at :27 and :41 among others.

In the song "Pularipoo Penne" from the same film, Manju leads a group Kuchipudi practice scene (yay practice dances!) at 2:33 for a lovely 11 seconds.

Starts 2:33

Thooval Kottaram (1996, Malayalam) - I love watching this dance competition between a young 18-year-old Manju Warrier (pink costume) and actress/dancer Sukanya (green costume). Unquestionably "semi-classical" by incorporating pretty "classicalesque" movements with a few classical ones, the choreography is so fun to watch I don't mind. The moves were designed by Kala master (aka G Kala) and have a lot of similarities to her other "classicalesque" film choreographies in Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal, Azhagan, and the dreadful Jyothika-led "Ra Ra" in Chandramukhi.  It's also a perfect example of the stark contrast between a dancer attentive to lines and form (Manju) and a dancer that attempts grace but achieves sloppiness (Sukanya). The part at 4:57 is just sad! After watching Sukanya flail herself around, I was surprised to read that she "studied at Kalakshetra" and was "part of the legendary Chandralekha's troupe." Apparently the director could see the obvious difference in abilities and asked Manju to "underperform" since "Sukanya couldn't match her level."

Starts 2:50

Innalekal Illaathe/ Innalekalillathe (1997, Malayalam) - Barely four minutes into this film, Manju performs a semi-classical dance first on stage and then outdoors that seems to be loosely inspired by Kuchipudi in most of the movements and hair ornaments but has some Bharatanatyam inspiration thrown in. That unwavering smile on her face dominates this dance! At 6:49 I had some serious flashbacks to Bhanupriya's dance-at-dawn in Swarnakamalam. Overall, the choreography here is very "faux-classical" and more interested in quick bursts of prettiness than connected dance movements.

Starts 3:42

Sallapam (1996, Malayalam) - Featuring the "imagining one's self dancing in one's mind" trope, this song features Manju dancing in three short segments, each with different costumes, with choreography taken from Bharatanatyam it seems. Her dance training is obvious...though her smiling facial expression hardly changes until she's seen in the costume that looks inspired by Koodiyattam.


Manju also performs some brief classical dancing in Saakshyam (1995), her very first film, some light "classical" moves in Kudamattam (1997) and Aaram Thamburan (1997), and some folk/popular dancing in Ee Puzhayum Kadannu (1996), Krishnagudiyil Oru Pranayakalathu (1997), Daya (1998), Pranayavarnangal (1998), and Summer in Bethlehem (1998). Surprisingly, while she had a big role in the film Kaliyattam (1997) about a Theyyam dancer, she did not dance at all. And just like her predecessor Shobana, Manju now gets featured in commercials as a dance teacher.

Pleased would I be to see Manju be given some sensitive film choreography worthy of her talents. I can only imagine the film dances we would have been treated to if she would have never left the industry. Here's hoping she can make up for lost time!

More about Manju Warrier


  1. Good to see that along with Manju Warrier, you also are back!

  2. remember song swardam thedi vannore from film daya{performed by manju warrier} which won national award for best coreography

  3. I'm a big fan of manju warrier from TamilNadu, she is bold and her thoughts are mature, Every female in this world is strong today, they should face all their daily things on their own then soon everyone realize their inner potential I consider manju warrier as this kind as read by me in most of the latest kerala news in malayalam about her. Recently she started a union for women actress thats a great thing to do.


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