Filmy Ripples: Dancing Queens of Tamil Screen (Part 1)

By P V Gopalakrishnan

Dance and Tamil cinema have had a long association. And when you talk of early period Tamil movies mostly the dances were in classical Bharatanatyam format, choreographed by veteran gurus such as Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai and the like.

About a hundred years ago, the dance was performed only by professional dancers either belonging to Devadasi tribes or Royal Courts. Even it was considered a taboo for women from family backgrounds to learn or perform dances. As such the same was not in the domain of commoner. It was the cinema, which brought dance forms to the public at large, through the movies. Leave alone the Films, today, in stark contrast, the dance forms are hugely popular with the public with no such past inhibitions.

Our films have had very many talented, graceful & beautiful dancing stars. It was an added advantage, for the female artistes, if they could dance well. Even otherwise, the not -so-good heroines at dancing too did dance, thanks to the choreographers who taught them to make a semblance of the dance, per se!

Kamala&Vyjayanthi mala

Kamal and Vyjantimala in Ananda Vikatan Deepavali Malar 1945 PC: From the archives of TCRC

In this write up we are covering some of the popular dancing stars of Tamil films in its early period.

In the bygone era of cinema, the dances were in slow pace giving more importance to mudras & abhinaya than brisk body movements, as in tune with the rest of the movie’s ingredients. You will agree, the following visuals would stand by my observations!

Hemamalini Arni

Here is a dance sequence by Hemamalini Arni, (in her thirteen, then) to the classical song ’Nadanam aadinaar” from the film “Kannika” (1947). In the music composition of Papanasam Sivan. Hemamalini Arni, who had tutelage in Bharatanatyam under Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai, also had sung her own vocals in this song “Natanam Adinar”. Hemamalini Arni was gifted a Standard Car by Sreeramuly Naidu for her role in ‘Kannika’. Director M.V.Raman offered her a role in one of his films when she was seventeen, which she refused. It is said, Hindi Film’s ‘Dream Girl’ Hemamalini was named so by her mother, who was a family friend of Hemamalini Arni, in sheer inspiration of Hemamalini Arni,’s first name. Hemamalini Arni is settled in Hyderabad, running her own Dance School for Bharathanatyam.

M.S.Sarojini

In the same film “Kannika’ there was a song-dance sequence with Actor M.S.Sarojini dancing to the hit song of that time,  “Yaaro vandhu en kan pothinaar”, written & composed by Papanasam Sivan. The voices were of M.S.Sarojini & S.S.Mani (nephew of Papanasam Sivan). When the noted Guru Muthukumara Pillai was in Coimbatore in mid forties teaching dances to actors at a drama company, he trained Director Sriramulu Naidu’s actress wife M.S.Saroja for her lead role in the film ‘Kannika’ & Pillai himself too made a cameo appearance in the film. Muthukumara Pillai, who had trained legends like Rukmini Devi Arundale, Mrinalini Sarabhai and Kamala Laxman, belonged to the oldest generation of nattuvanars whose hereditary artistic dance practice was rediscovered in the twentieth century as the dance form Bharatanatyam.

T.R.Rajakumari

TR Rajakumari2

A photo of T R Rajakumari PC : From the archives of TCRC

The run away hit “Sivakavi” (1943), produced by Sreeramulu Naidu, featured M.K.Thygaraja Bhagavathar & the ravishing T.R.Rajakumari. the latter played the role of a Court Dancer who loved the Poet Hero. The song & dance sequence, “Kavalaiyai theerpathu” earned its place in the galaxy of immortal movie melodies of South India. T.R.Rajakumari was considered the Dream Girl of Tamil Films in the forties.

Here again, you might observe the dancing very laid back with its  slow pace, which characterized the films of early films.

Vasudhara Devi

Vasundara Devi (1917-1988), the mother of Vyjayanthimala, was a dancer in her own right as she starred & danced in notable films such as “Rishyasringar” and ‘Mangamma Sabatham”  (1943). 

Though she was a trained in Bharathanatyam dancer, the Director, Acharya of Mangamma Sabatham had used some of the hit songs Bollywood’s Carmen Miranda in the music of Rajeswara Rao in the film for this seductive song & dance sequence of Vasundhara Devi, as can be seen in this video.

Kumari Rukmini

Both the mother ‘Kumari Rukmini’ & grand mother ‘Nungambakkam Janaki’ of the talented actress Lakshmi of the 70’s cinema, were dancing stars in the early years of Tamil films.

“Kumari Rukmini” debuted as a heroine in AVM’s Sri Valli (1945). As per Randor Guy, AVM originally wanted to cast Vasundhara Devi as heroine but since she interfered with the choice of Heros, he replaced his choice with Rukmini with a fresh talent, T.R.Mahalingam, as her hero.

Here is the song & dance sequence in the song ‘Sinthai arinthu vaadi’ from Sri Valli.

                                                                                                                               ( to be continued)

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