Filmy Ripples : Dancing Queens of Tamil Screen (Part 2)

By P V Gopalakrishnan

Vyjayanthimala

Vyjayanthimala, born  1936, got a break in an AVM’s Tamil movie, Vazhkai, when she was just fifteen. Director M. V. Raman, spotted the young Vyjayanthi in one of her Bharathanatyam recitals at Gokhale Hall, Madras & recommended to AVM. The movie was a great success and also was remade in Hindi as Bahaar (1951). She acted in a few more Tamil movies like Then Nilavu before moving on to a highly successful career in Hindi movies.

Here is her graceful dance sequence with the popular number “Nanda gopalanodu naan aaduvene” in the film ‘Vazhkkai”. The singer was MLV.

 

Travancore Sisters:

Travancore Sisters

The Travancore sisters in Ananda Vikatan 1966 PC: From the archives of TCRC

Several noted actors in the past were dancers and had performed on screen. The three sisters ‘Lalitha-Padmini-Ragini’ from Kerala came and ruled the Tamil industry in the forties, popularly known as “Travancore Sisters”.

Born to Thankappan Pillai & Saraswathiyamma in a large Nair family from Thiruvananthapuram, they took to arts at a very early age. Lalitha and Padmini began their training from Kathakali exponent Guru Gopinath.

When the family migrated to Madras they continued their dance training under the great Nattuvanar and Dance Director for films Vuzhavoor Ramaiah Pillai who groomed them to perfection.

The sisters debuted in the film ‘Kannika’ (1947) as dancers in Shiva-Sakthi dance, choreographed by Bharathanatyam Guru Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai. This was the maiden movie produced by Sriramulu Naidu of Pakshiraja Studios, Coimbatore.

The sisters had an active performing career, both as classical dancers and as dancers and actors in South Indian cinema and Hindi cinema as well.

The highlight of “Vanjikottai Valiban” (1958) was the scintillating ‘dance duel’ between Padmini and Vyjayanthimala, which had come to be regarded as one of the best dance sequences in Indian cinema. Bharatanatyam Guru, Dandayudhapani Pillai, choreographed this.

Sai – Subbulakshmi Duo

The dancing duo sisters, Sai & Subbulakshmi were very popular with their brisk movements & performance like a spinning ‘Top’ in early Tamil  & Hindi films. This was in quick departure from the earlier dance formats, which were rather slow.

Sai – Subbulakshmi are said to be the off springs of P.A.Periyanayaki , a well-known play back singer of early Tamil films. This duo dancers were very well sought after & mesmerized the cine goers with their captivating dance numbers. Dancing in perfect harmony, the sisters seem to merge effortlessly with the song and the situation and it is easy to see why they were such a draw and came to perform not just in Tamil films but in a series of Hindi films too. They were trained under Muthuswamy Pillai and had tutelage in Kathak from well-established dance masters. They interpreted their dance compositions effortlessly their moves were very fluid. Sai of the duo was also the daughter in law of Actress R. Padma, (the beautiful heroine of “Sabhapathi’ & the then Lux Soap model ) and V.S. Raghavan  (Sound Engineer of AVM).

Here is a visual of the Sai-Subbulakshmi duo’s swift dance from the film ‘Malaikannan’.

 

Kumari Kamala

‘Kumari’ Kamala, as she is generally known even today, is a noted Bharatnatyam dancer and actress of yesteryears. Born in 1934 in a family of artists, where her sisters, Radha and Vasanthi were also dancers, she learnt Kathak from famous Lachhu Maharaj at a tender age. The Tamil film director A.N. Kalyanasundaram Iyer happened to watch her doing a dance concert and debuted her in ‘Valibar Sangam’ (1938) and later Ramanama Mahimai (1939), when she was a baby of four years then. So she was initially known as Baby Kamala. She also appeared as a child artist in Hindi films like Kismet and Ram Rajya in 1943. In Chennai she learnt Bharatnatyam from Muthukumara Pillai and Vazhavoor Ramiah Pillai. She appeared in Tamil movie, Jagathalaprathapan (1944) where she performed the Snake Dance. In her next film Sri Valli (1945), she played double role. Her film Nam Iruvar, based on Bharatnatyam theme made a great impact on audience. In 1953, Kamala performed during her coronation festivities of Queen Elizabeth II.

She has acted in more than 100 films belonging to Tamil, Hindi, Telugu and Kannada

She is the recipient of Padma Bhushan, Kalaimamani & Kendra Sahitya Academy award.Here is a popular dance number ‘Theeratha vilayattu pillai’ from the AVM film “Vedhala Ulagam”.

 

Waheeda Rahman

The wellknown Hindi’s heroine of yesteryears, Waheeda Rehman, was in fact originally from South, as her family lived in Chengalpattu near Madras. She and her sister learnt Bharatnatyam  under Guru Trichunder Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai in Chennai and Guru Jayalaxmi Alva, later in Bombay.

Kaalam Maari Pochu

An ad for the film ‘Kaalam MaaRi Pochu in the magazine Pesum Padam PC; From the archives of TCRC

She appeared as a dancer in movies like “Kaalam MaaRi Pochu” (1956), Alibabavum naaRpathu thirudargaLum” (1956). Here is the famous dance sequence of Waheeda in the former film.

Waheeda was proficient in Bharathanatyam. Guru Dutt, who cast her in the Hindi film ‘C.I.D’, spotted her. Then she went on to appear in many of his films. Her pairing with Dev Ananad was  very popular.

Rajasulochana

Rajasulochana, born 1934, was a classical dancer and film actress who debuted in Kannada film ‘Gunasagari’ in 1953, since which she acted in more than 250 movies belonging to different languages.

She learnt classical dance forms from various Gurus such as Lalithamma, K. N. Dhandayuthapani Pillai, Vempati Chinna Satyam, Krishnakumar, Vishnu Vysarkar, and Kalamandalam Madhavan. Rajasulochana founded her own Dance School, ‘Pushpanjali Nritya Kala Kendram’ in 1961 at Chennai.

Here is a dance sequence featuring her in the popular song “Vasantha mullai pole vandhu” from the film. ‘Sarangdhara’.

 

Down the time line, there were more trained & accomplished classical dancers who were also actors in Tamil Cinema such as E.V.Saroja, Jayalalitha, and VennirAadai Nirmala.

Tamil Cinema continues to feature dances to date, but of different genres to suit the modern tastes of cine goers. However, Dance as an Art Form, no doubt, continues to be patronized by the Films.

 

Naam Iruvar : From Stage to Celluloid

By Karthik Bhatt

The next in the series of from Stage to Celluloid we visit AVM’s baby Naam Iruvar.

The AVM productions banner occupies a pride of place in Indian cinema. With movies not only in Tamil but also in other languages such as Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Bengali and even Sinhalese, its seven decade journey has been a remarkable one, launching the career of many a star.

Born in Karaikudi in 1907, AV Meiyappa Chettiar as a teenager joined his father’s general stores business, AV and Sons. In 1928, they acquired the distribution rights of gramophone records of SG Kittappa and KB Sundarambal for the southern districts and thus began AV Meiyappa Chettiar’s tryst with the world of cinema. In 1932, he along with his friends started Saraswathi Stores in Madras, dealing in gramophone records. His foray into film making in 1934 had a disastrous start with a hat-trick of losses over the first few years (Alli Arjuna, Aryamala and Nandakumar). These movies were produced under various partnerships with his associates.

In 1946, AV Meiyappa Chettiar decided to strike it out on his own. Thus was born AVM Productions. This post is about its first production, Naam Iruvar.

Meiyappa Chettiar had great regard for theatre. In his autobiography Enathu Vaazhkai Anubavangal (My Experiences in Life), he writes about its importance and how a good stage circuit was essential for new actors and technicians to develop in cinema. Many of his early movies were based on stage plays.

Pa.Neelakandan, born in 1916 began his career as a journalist, working for a couple of Tamil magazines. His first play, Mullil Roja was staged by TKS Brothers in 1942 and won him instant fame. He then wrote a play called Thyaga Ullam, which was awaiting a troupe for its staging. It was around this time that NS Krishnan had been sent to jail in the sensational Lakshmikantan murder case. The responsibility of running his troupe, NSK Nataka Sabha fell on his close friend and associate SV Sahasranamam. The troupe was undergoing troubled times, with a split causing actors such as KR Ramaswamy and Sivaji Ganesan to move out. Sahasranamam was looking for a suitable script to stage when he heard of the success of Mullil Roja. He wrote to TK Shanmugam and requested to be introduced to Pa.Neelakandan.

Neelakandan met Sahasranamam the following week and narrated the script of Thyaga Ullam, which was based on the relationship between two brothers. Sahasranamam liked the script and it was decided that the troupe stage the play. He however suggested to Neelakandan that a character portraying the sister of the two brothers be included, which was agreed to. The play was renamed Naam Iruvar. In his autobiography Thirumbiparkiren, Sahasranamam says that the songs for the play were written by KP Kamakshi Sundaram, who would later go on to become a well-known lyricist. The song ‘Parakkum Bharatha Manikkodiye’ particularly was a hit with the masses. A few songs of Subramania Bharathi which were also used added immense value to the play. Sahasranamam also says that the concept of playback singing in a stage play was introduced in this production. The play, whose inauguration was presided over by noted journalist and author, Va.Ra was a tremendous success, with over 100 shows being staged.

AV Meiyappa Chettiar, who had watched the play nearly 10 times at the eponymous Walltax theatre decided to make it into a movie. He bought the rights from Pa.Neelakandan for a sum of Rs 3000 and also hired him as an assistant director for the movie. A few actors from the play were booked for the movie. Sahasranamam was offered the role of the hero, which he initially accepted. He later backed out owing to logistics issues of balancing the running of NSK Nataka Sabha and the shooting of the movie, which was being held in Karaikudi, where AVM Studios was then functioning. However, it would prove to be a big break for another actor who would go on to become of Tamil cinema’s most popular comedian and character actors, VK Ramaswamy. Notable names in the film included TR Mahalingam (who replaced SV Sahasranamam,), BR Panthulu, who would later go on to direct and produce several colossal movies, K Sarangapani and TR Ramachandran. The role of the sister to the two brothers was played by ‘Baby’ Kamala, a child prodigy who would later make waves in the world of dance as Kumari Kamala.

The most interesting side story in the making of this movie is the nationalisation of Subramania Bharathi’s songs. Meiyappa Chettiar decided to buy the full rights to use a few songs in the movie. The rights lay with the famous jewellers M/s Surajmals, who had bought them to reproduce in the form of gramophone records but had not used them. They demanded a sum of Rs 10000, which was paid by Meiyappa Chettiar in full.  After Independence, the Premier of Madras, OP Ramaswamy Reddiar offered to buy out the rights from Meiyappa Chettiar in order to nationalise the works. A magnanimous Meiyappa Chettiar, the ardent patriot at heart he was, gifted the same to the government.

Below is a popular patriotic song from the film by Subramnia Bharathi