Swapna Sundari Dancing in Kissaa Kursee Kaa (Hindi, 1977)

Sunday, June 19, 2016
Today I was alerted to Anuj Kumar's days-old The Hindu article about the 1977 Hindi film Kissaa Kursee Kaa which reveals that the director used classical dance forms "performed by Swapna Sundari to anchor the narrative." Swapna Sundari! I always enjoy finding examples of famous dancers performing in cinema, and learning that the well known Kuchipudi and Vilasini Natyam dancer Swapna Sundari danced in a film was certainly surprising!

It's a controversial film for Swapna to have involved herself in. A scathing satirical and symbolic work spoofing the Indira Gandhi government, Kissaa Kursee Kaa (Tale of a Throne, aka Kissa Kursi Ka) was made during the turbulent period known as “the Emergency” when India's government declared a state of emergency ushering in a dark period in India’s modern history which saw basic freedoms and rights suspended. The print we see on YouTube is actually a remake of the original that was banned and never released and had all its prints destroyed by the government. After the Emergency was lifted, director Amrit Nahata reshot and released the film in 1977 (while The Hindu article and YouTube video list 1978, I've listed 1977 which is the date the Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema and many other articles list). The film has been in the news recently again after Nahata's son has demanded the original prints be returned or compensation be made. I would love to hear what Swapna's experience was in taking part in this film, but I've not been able to find any other mentions of it.

Raghavan?
While the dances are disappointingly underwhelming and brief (what a let down!), they are notable not only for being an uncommon example of South Indian dance being performed by trained dancers in a Hindi film but also featuring what looks like Kuchipudi dance movements. The male dancer is another rare sight whose identity I'm not sure of—according to a friend's translation, the film credits list Sudharshan Dheer and Raghavan as possibilities, and since the male dancer looks nothing like the late famous Kathak dancer Sudharshan Dheer, my guess is he must be Raghavan. I bet Sudharshan Dheer assisted with choreography especially the Kathak parts.

Muthukumara Pillai On Screen in Kannika (1947), and Other Nattuvanars in Indian Cinema

Saturday, November 28, 2015
Thanks to two YouTubers who have uploaded songs from the 1947 Tamil film Kannika in the past few months, Bharatanatyam dance history aficionados can now witness on screen the nattuvanar Kattumannar Koil Muthukumara Pillai (1874-1960, also known as Muthukumaran or Muthukumarappa, of the village Kattumannarkoil aka Mannargudi or Kattumannargudi) at the age of 73 playing the role of a nattuvanar in the song "Natanam Adinar":

Muthukumara Pillai can be seen at 1:14, 1:58, closeup at 2:55, and 3:51 onward
(the lower quality version includes 2 more seconds where he begins to speak, but it's cut off!!)


How do I know it's him? I had read a while back in the September 1993 Sruti magazine feature on Muthukumara Pillai (for brevity, MKP) that when he was in Coimbatore from 1944-1947 teaching exercises and dances to young boys at a drama company, he "came in contact with Pakshiraja Studios and trained the proprietor Sriramulu Naidu's wife Saroja for her lead role in the film 'Kannika' [and] Muthukumara Pillai himself too made a brief appearance in the film." When I watched the recently-uploaded songs and compared the nattuvanar's appearance with known photos of Muthukumara Pillai, it was clearly him! Compare these stills from Kannika with a photo of MKP that I featured in my post on Muthuswami Pillai and that must have been taken in the late 1930s which were the years the young man on the right, Muthuswami Pillai, trained with MKP.

Left: Kannika  Right: Muthukumara Pillai [credit: Mohan Khokar]
This Kannika footage is incredible because Muthukumara Pillai belonged to the oldest generation of nattuvanars whose hereditary artistic practice was discovered in the twentieth century transformation of what we today call Bharatanatyam. What's more, he along with his contemporary Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai (also known as Pandanallur Meenakshisundaram Pillai, from Pandanallur village, for brevity MSP) are often remembered today as the two top-ranking gurus and nattuvanars of their generation who trained most of the first non-hereditary Bharatanatyam dancers who spread and popularized the art form far and wide. The two of them each trained such legends as Ram Gopal, Rukmini Devi Arundale, Mrinalini Sarabhai, and Kamala Lakshman.

Found: Rangam (Malayalam, 1985) and Shobana/Mohanlal's Bharatanatyam and Kathakali Dances!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Rangam, one of the holdouts from my "holy grail" wish list, has finally been uploaded to YouTube! Thanks to cram for informing me of this lucky discovery! As I had hoped, classical dance (Kathakali and Bharatanatyam) serves as the backdrop to Rangam's plot, and no more than 15 minutes go by before dance is seen again either in the background or as a centerpiece. Most exciting of all, there are lots of my beloved dance practice sequences scattered throughout the film!

Rangam is part of the rash of classical arts films that swept South India in the late 70s to 90s starting largely with the success of Sankarabharanam (Telugu, 1979). Rangam seems to be one of the earliest Malayalam films to follow the trend, and it was followed by other similar classical dance/arts films in Malayalam like Swathi Thirunal (1987), Kamaladalam (1992), Swathi Kiranam (1992), Rajasilpi (1992), Devasuram (1993), Manichitrathazhu (1993), Parinayam (1994), and Kaliyattam (1997).

Now on to the dances! I made a comment on the video at YouTube that lists all the dances in the film by category, so if you go there you can click on any timestamp of interest and it will whisk you away to that timestamp on the player. Here are my favorite dances from the film...

Bharatanatyam/Mohiniattam Dances

Video of Jack Cole Performing "Hindu Swing" in Hollywood Palace (1965)

Saturday, July 4, 2015
In my 2011 post on the "Father of Modern Jazz Dance" Jack Cole, I had included a production still of Cole dancing on the American TV show Hollywood Palace (1965). The image captured an important performance for Cole fans and historians because unlike the tight Bharatanatyam inspirations in Kismet (1955) for which Cole was behind the camera choreographing, the Hollywood Palace image captured a performance featuring Cole himself on screen dancing and, given the choice of costuming, likely featured choreography even closer to the Bharatanatyam source than usual.

I assumed the Hollywood Palace footage was lost or locked away in some LA archive somewhere which would be a shame since the extant visual footage of Cole himself dancing in frame is limited and mostly shows him outfitted in American-style clothing with the exception of a brief and tantalizing clip of him in Indian-inspired dress. But my pessimism was misplaced. Thanks to YouTuber Alfred MrDance, we finally get to see the Hollywood Palace footage! I first discovered the clip in its posting at the "Jack Cole, one of the greatest choreographers and dancers ever" Facebook page with different music overlaid. Inquiring by comment referred me to the original video on YouTube. Here it is in all its rare glory:



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