Indian Classical

Evolution of dance in Tamil film industry- The New Indian Express

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Express News Service

In times of isolation, imagination takes wings. In times of enforced free time, we turn to things we otherwise treated as a pastime. Art comes into that pastime list obviously, but in this phase, it has reached a level of daily mainstream. “Let’s sing a song a day and send each other voice notes; music is therapy,” said a friend on WhatsApp. Another said, “Why don’t we have a story competition for our group?” Yet another friend went further and took an online film production class. Group workout sessions and online dance classes also fill up our days. The time we are fighting Corona has given us the window to go back to that one book we have always been wanting to read but postponed, due to lack of time. To watch that one series or recommended movie which has been on the watchlist for the longest time. To create that personal playlist of songs that will come in handy for a brisk walk.

Music and dance are huge tools to mankind to express emotions and to bring a certain rhythm to our movement and words. My playlist consists of robust dance numbers which are needed to push my rather slow feet into action. As the songs play from my favourite black and white to colour films, I realised dance styles in Tamil films have had a massive change from the erstwhile Bharatnatyam numbers to disco and then to duets that were steeped in ‘steps’, and then to the one movie which altered the way songs were shot (Nayagan) and onto another film which brought in the montage treatment to duets (Valaiyosai from Sathya)… And then enter Prabhudheva and the rest is (dancing) history. Brinda is another favorite choreographer whose style defined Simran’s signature moves in the songs of the 90s.

The 80s belonged to Kamal Haasan, whose dancing prowess transcends both classical and Western ends of the spectrum. An evening in a friend’s house a few months ago saw us musing on the different dance songs of Kamal Haasan. We decided to play a favourite each and watch the video as well and we chose to begin with the kathak number: Unnai Kaanaadhu from Vishwaroopam. We went on to see the making video as well. I chose the next. The wonderfully staged Bharatanatyam number, Balakanakamaya from Saagara Sangamam. Even today, this film works at multiple levels, especially for its leading man’s dignified portrayal of a role which is not that of a winner. “Balusubramaniam is also a big dancer”, says Jayaprada. The scene that has her telling an eager Kamal Haasan that he will be performing along with the dancing greats of the country is my all-time favourite. Someone else chose Oh Maria from Sagar. And then, it was Kaasumela Kaasuvandhu ad so on till an entire range of dancing styles and songs were exhausted in Kamal Haasan’s repertoire.

Prabhudheva is another name which is hard to miss. More than being an amazing dancer himself, it’s his role as a choreographer with a keen eye on the camera which I value more. He brought in the concept of changing the shot for each line of a song thus giving a dynamic rhythm to even the most melodious number with cuts, transitions and the choreography that was not just about 1, 2, 3 and 3, 2, 1. Watch any song of his and you’ll know what I’m talking about. There’s always an angle shift, a shot change or a step change to bring in the next line, the next beat. Sundaram master, his father, set the tone of feather-light steps with a blend of the Western even for a fast-paced song.

A fine example would be Vaanam yenna keezhirukku from Vetri Vizha featuring Kamal Haasan and Prabhu, who’s also a stylish dancer. There’s also Vijay, whom you can’t take your eyes off when he’s dancing. A good two hours in a day can go in simply moving to music. If this were a tweet, I would have left you with a list of songs to watch and dance to. But the key is to find that special kind of music and dance that moves YOU. Our cinema has the best buffet of dance songs there is on this side of the planet. So go on, put on your dancing shoes and press Play.

Sujatha Narayanan @n_sujatha08

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