|Cinema has made the greatest
impact in the lives of people globally. It takes you to a different dimension
and puts your imagination to test. Films incorporate many kinds of art
forms and portray the creativity of the makers at their best. Of all the
thousands of cinemas made world wide, few over the decades have touched
our spirits. These cinemas become unforgettable and the people who created
and acted in it, become legendary.
In India and other countries, cinema
is inseparable from one's life. For thousands, it provides livelihood and
for millions, it is an escape into a fantasy world. This imaginary world
could be splendid, perfect, or filled with love and joy. Or it could be
nothing but struggle, pain, disappointment and misery. There is no
perfect formula to create a memorable and long lasting cinema. Or is there?
Bhanu Priya - Bharata Natyam Dancer
Bhanu Priya in film Sitara
The great Indian cinema industry has
been incorporating song and dance sequences around the story line to attract
and entertain audiences. A majority of the movies do a very poor job of
this but there are always few gems that are uncovered. They have unique
story lines and noble characters, which stand for a cause and struggle
through their entire lives to find happiness. These characters can include
activists, poets, writers, singers, dancers, artists and many other types
of individuals. We watch these unique cinemas again and again. We do not
care if they are in foreign languages. We share them with our children,
friends and neighbors, as these cinemas have the quality to inspire people
of many generations for decades.
Madhuri Dixit - Kathak dancer from the film Devdas (2002)
Most good actors, actresses and artists
in general are passionate about their trade. They need to be in their creative
mode, if not, it becomes a life and death issue for their souls. Some of
these great actors and actresses include professional classical dancers,
some of whom have an elevated artistic expression that needs a bigger audience
and bigger stage. They could be Kamal Hassan, Gopi Krishna, Hema Malini,
Shobana, Vyjayanthimala, Padmini, Ragini, Bhanu Priya, Madhuri Dixit, Meenakshi
Seshadri, Manju Bhargave, Sabitha Bhamidipati, Sudha Chandran, Prabhu Deva,
Shanmukha Srinivas and the list goes on.
Shobana - Bharata Natyam dancer & awarding winning actress
As a child, one of the first classical
dance and music-based cinemas I have seen was Shankarabharanam. It was
one of the gigantic hit movies in the Indian film history. Director K.
Viswanath was a creative genius who respected classical art forms. He brought
in new actors for all the major roles. Manju Bhargavi was the heroine who
was caught in a strange situation. Her acting and dancing was outstanding.
For my generation, this movie was the call to become dancers.
Classical dancing was also brought to
the silver screen decades before Manju Bhargavi. Lalitha, Padmini and Ragini
are known as the Travancore sisters from Kerala. They were all leading
actresses and dancers in South India and acted in several Hindi cinemas
also. Dancer and actress Shobhana is their niece - brother's daughter.
Among the sisters, Padmini has had the most successful career. She has
acted in more than 250 movies and some of the movies she acted in are classics,
even today - Thillana Mohanambal is a great example.
Manju Bhargavi - Kuchipudi Dancer, from the film Shankarabharanam
Currently, Padmini is the Director of
the Padmini School of Fine Arts with five branches in Queens, New York,
and New Jersey. Padmini started learning classical dance at the age of
four and at the age of ten, she had her 'arangetam' or dance debut and
by 14, she became a member of a dance troupe that toured various parts
of India. The legendary dancer Uday Shanker, on seeing her performance,
invited her to act in the film he was making. Thus, Padmini started a career
in films spanning a period of over 40 years.
Padmini - Bharata Natyam dancer, from film Thillana Mohanambal
Vyjayanthimala is another heroine and
dancer who took classical dancing in Indian movies to another level. Her
elegance and facial expressions are mesmerizing. Her beauty, talent and
successful career made her a superstar.
Vyjayanthimala - Bharata Natyam Dancer, from the film Gunga Jumna
Then came Hema Malini, who looked and
danced absolutely stunning in every cinema she made. Along with her predecessors,
Padmini and Vyjayanthimala, she popularized classical dancing in and outside
the movies. Now in her late 50's, she is still an amazing dancer who travels
with her dance company around the world.
Hema Malini - Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi & Odissi dancer
Who can stop talking about the most
handsome and perfect dancer, Kamal Hassan. When his dance movie “Sagara
Sangamam” released, boys and men were lining up to take dance lessons.
This cinema deals with the tragedies in the life of a talented dancer.
Gorgeous Jayapradha stars against him in a love story that is absolutely
touching. Kamal Hassan proved to all those parents who are afraid of their
sons joining in dance studios that male version of classical dance is glamorous,
masculine, tasteful and elegant. Even though he was trained in Bharata
Natyam, in this film Kamal Hassan performs many other styles also.
Before Kamal Hassan, there was Gopi
Krishna who is a Kathak legend. As the director, K Viswanath leads the
classical dance and music cinema in the south, V Shantaram was the director
who made bigger than life dance and music cinema in the north. Shantaram
started off making serious, intense, socially committed films, so Jhanak
Jhanak Payal Baje was a departure from his usual style. Today, it seems
loud and garish, but in 1955, a film based purely on dance was decidedly
Kamal Hassan - Bharata Natyam dancer in film Sagara Sangamam
It starred legendary Kathak maestro
Gopi Krishna, opposite Shantaram's wife Sandhya, who was also a terrific
dancer. Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje had the best Kathak dance sequences,
colorful costumes, elaborate set pieces and melodious music.
The great dancer Mangal Maharaj wants
his son Giridhar to follow his footsteps and win the title of ‘Bharat Natraj'.
But first they need to find a dance partner. None could measure up to their
standards. Then, they discover a young woman named Neela who agrees to
study under Mangal. But Giridhar and Neela begin to fall in love, which
enrages Mangal so much that he injures Giridhar”s leg to separate the two.
But of course, things work out in the end; Giridhar wins the title and
the love of Neela.
Gopi Krishna - Kathak dancer, in the film Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje
V Shantaram said that the film made
a case for preserving the purity of Indian artistic traditions against
the onslaught of the West (in 1955!!). Surprisingly, the audience loved
this terribly self-indulgent piece of work and it reportedly ran for 104
weeks and won the President's Gold Medal for best film. It is one of the
top grosser of all time.
Some of the cinemas, which featured
1. Saptapadhi (1980), starring dancer
Somayajulu, an orthodox high-priest
of a village temple weds his grand-daughter Hema to his grand-son Gaurinatha,
also a priest by profession, without realizing that she is in love with
Murali, a Harijan. Hema is a professional dancer who gives performances
along with her father's troupe, while Murali plays flute in the troupe.
Gaurinatha marries Hema, but only succeeds to see the goddess he worships,
in Hema. He learns the truth from Hema and decides to unite her with Murali.
After much deliberation, Yajulu not only gives consent, but actively carries
it out in the face of stiff resistance from the village. Sabitha Bhamidipati
was my senior and we both went to the same university for undergraduate
studies and Dance College. We both were trained under Dr. Uma Rama Rao.
2. Swarna Kamalam (1988) starring
dancer Bhanu Priya
It is essentially a love story centered
on a reluctant young dancer, and is well scripted and directed. The story
itself is rather simplistic, but it hardly matters, for this movie is essentially
about music, dance and spirituality to an extent. The shots of the various
dance and musical sequences are breathtaking in their simplicity and awe-inspiring
in their depth. My guru, Dr. Uma Rama Rao was the choreographer for this
3. Sruthi Layalu (1987): starring teenage
dancer Shanmukha Srinivas
Shanmukha Srinivas - Kuchipudi dancer in film Srutilayalu
4. Sur Sangam in Hindi & Shankarabharanam
in Telugu (1985): starring dancer Manju Brahgavi / Jayapradha
Pandit Shivshankar Shastriji is
a learned musician who is very well versed in all aspects of ancient Indian
music. He also was the chief musician in the palaces of a former emperor.
Although he does not show his feelings, he secretly loves Tulsi (a dancer),
a woman of questionable repute, apart of being of a caste much lower than
5. Ananda Bhairavi (1984): starring
Malavika & Girish Karnad. This movie depicts the struggle between a
guru and his sishya (student)
6. Natya Mayuri (1986): starring
Sudha Chandran. This movie is the real story of Sudha Chandran who lost
her both legs in a car accident. She triumphs as a dancer with her artificial
7. Tillana Mohanambal (1960s): Starring
8. Sagara Sangamam or Salangai Oli
(1983): starring dancers Kamal Hassan & Manju Bhargavi. This movie
deals with the tragedy in the life of a most talented dancer.
9. Konjum Salangai (1960s): starring
10. Salangaiyil Oru Sangeetham (1990s):
starring Bhanu Priya
11. Esaikku Oru Kovil (1980s.)
12. Kinara (1977): starring Hema
13. Natya Bhairavi (1980s)
Even though making cinemas which
feature classical dancing is considered a major risk to take, there have
been many examples where these cinemas became blockbusters. The directors
and the actors of these cinemas continue to enjoy the fame for life. These
great cinemas and the dance sequences in them are here for us to cherish
for many decades to come. Applause to all those dancers who made history
and to those who are yet to make history by bringing millions of people
close to the great art form of classical Indian dancing.
||Padma is the
artistic director of Cultural Centre of India. She is trained in Bharata
Natyam, Kuchipudi, Andhra Natyam, and Mohini Attam. Padma extensively writes
articles about dance and dance education. Padma Chebrolu's background in
education includes MBA and M.ED from US. She also has a degree in Bharata
Natyam from India. She works as a software engineer at a major corporation.
She lives with her husband and two children in Cincinnati.
Contact information at http://www.culturalcentreofindia.com