If you have been lucky enough to watch the early films of Srividya, be it Tamil, Malayalam or Telugu, you would recall the amazement at watching this new graceful, lithe dancer with wide, expressive eyes and a smile that lit up the room in the movie’s dance performances. Srividya was a born performer – be it dancing, singing or acting under the arc lights. Her passion for dance was fueled by the singular aspect of having India’s most famous proponents of dance, onscreen and off-screen, the Travancore sisters as her next-door neighbor in Chennai. Though music was in her blood, the fundamental under-current of rhythm that sustained it, extended itself to dance too. It was Padmini who got her the tutelage of dance master Dhandayudhapani Pillai which led to her arangetram at the age of 11. By then, she had also acted in her first ‘part’, that of the young Sita in a Ramayana ballet production by the Travancore sisters.
In her own words, from an interview with The Hindu,
A flair for fine arts is there in my blood. My mother the legendary singer M L Vasanthakumari, wanted me to become a dancer and accordingly I was trained by Dandayudhpani of Kalashetra when I was five. He was the tutor of Vaijayanthimala. Three years later, my master asked to me to take classes for the juniors. Our association with Lalitha, Padmini, Ragini and Sukumari made my entry into the film world easier. Pappiamma was our neighbor.
Srividya had accompanied MLV for her 30 stage – tour of the US which also featured a dance performance of hers in the program before the kutcheri. MLV sang live for her every single dance recital for all the programs. She recalls it was quite strenuous for MLV to then go on and do the kutcheri after the dance. She also sat in for the accompanists when one of them missed the program. Her early appearances in films were mainly focused on Srividya the dancer, rather than the actor which craved the arc lights. Here is a collection of her dance sequences on screen, across languages, which I have tried to get together at one place. Please do write in, as usual, with the ones that are missing.
One of her early memorable performances is from the 1964 Telugu hit Tata Manavadu, where she appeared just for a dance sequence !
Rayanti Naa Mogudu from Tata Manavadu (1964)
Music : Ramesh Naidu
As a danseuse onscreen, her best ones have been with Merryland productions, courtesy P Subramaniam. The most popular and significant amongst them have to be Kumarasambhavam (1969) and Amba, Ambika, Ambalika (1976). While in Kumarasambhavam (1969), she held a brief appearance as Menaka, the celestial courtesan, in Amba, Ambika, Ambalika (1976) [which was also the first color production from Merryland], she played Amba, the eldest of the three sisters, daughters to King Kashya, the soverign of Kashi.
Maya nadanaviharini from Kumarasambhavam (1969)
Lyrics : ONV Kurup
Music : G Devarajan
Sung by : P Leela and Radha Jayalakshmi
Chenda (1973 )
Chenda (1973), the movie that made the movie-enthusiasts from Kerala sit up and take notice of this svelte, doe-eyed, graceful dansuese from across the border was also one that made the best possible use of her talent in dance, albeit for the screen. The main protagonists themselves were Percussion and Dance, represented in mortal forms by Madhu and Srividya respectively.Those who have watched it, must surely remember Sumathi, the Mohiniyattam dancer paired opposite Madhu‘s Appu, the “Chenda vidwan.” There were 6 songs in Chenda ( 1973), out of which one was picturised on Bahadoor and Nandita Bose – Bahadoor as the Dance teacher in love with his pupil . The rest all featured the Appu-Sumathi duo displaying their respective creative expertise with gay abandon. Have been able to track down the video clips of all of them except for the Kathakali-padham heavy Charumukhi Usha Mandham, written by P Bhaskaran.
Akkare Akkare from Chenda (1973)
Thalathil Thalathil from Chenda (1973)
Sundarimaar Kula Moulikale from Chenda (1973)
Nruthyadhi Nruthyadhi from Chenda (1973)
Dharmayudham (1973 )
Fortunately, for us, A Vincent‘s other movie that featured Srividya and her dances onscreen still exist, moldy – maybe, but survived alright. Every time I watch Prem Nazir on the sitar – be it Bhargavinilayam (1964) or Dharmayudham (1973), I still can’t help chuckle and ( at the risk of repeating myself), say this one more time – Prem Nazir can’t even feign to play the sitar to save his life. Srividya looks divine, and for once, Madhuri‘s vocals have found its perfect screen personality. Mangalam Kaaviley has another speciality too- there is also the erstwhile singer of the yesteryears joining in, along with P Madhuri – Kaviyoor Ponnamma !
Karaikkal Ammaiyar (1973)
An otherwise tepid mythological staple, elevated to a beloved classic just by the screen presence of KBS ( K. B. Sundarambal ) who played the title role, Srividya was Parvathy to Sivakumar‘s Lord Shiva, and the thandava that they perform for their greatest devotee on the planet seems somehow tepid for an act by the Natraja. It is obvious that Sivakumar must have worked his butt off getting those moves right, and it seems too dumbed down for the celestial thandava, if you get my drift. Srividya ( as Parvathy) has no option but to play along, with hardly any scope to flaunt her innate talent onscreen.
Thagathaga aada vaa from Karaikkal Ammaiyar (1973)
Music : Kunnakkudi Vaidhyanathan
Direction : A P Nagarajan
Sung by K.B. Sundarambal herself.
Sapthaswarangal ( 1974 )
Director Baby’s second film, Sapthaswarangal also has a very interesting casting of Jose Prakash playing a Dance master . Srividya looks perfectly at ease, doing something that she had always enjoyed on stage. I think that extra happiness on her face must be of the knowledge that she is performing to the compositions of Dakshinamoorthy Swamy, her favorite Music Composer.
Anuraaganarthanathin from Sapthaswarangal ( 1974 )
Swathi thirunaalin from Sapthaswarangal ( 1974 )
Ma Nishada (1975)
From the “industrial house” of Udaya Studios, Ma Nishada was based on the lives of Kathakali artistes, but as usual, dumbed down and glossed over with kitsch and tackiness, as is expected from any color productions of that age Rangam came in 1985, I guess and post that Vanaprastham in 1999. Did we have any other movies based around Kathakali, other than this? Do write in. Other than Manipravala, there is another ensemble dance sequence which also forms the climax of the movie, with the trio of Srividya, Sumitra and Usha Kumari taking part in a National Dance Competition and winning it.
I hope that too would pop up someday online . It did, thanks to Gopalji, and have posted it promptly. Check out Srividya and Prem Nazir in a Kathakali state of mind. I invariably crumble everytime I see Prem Nazir’s version of the “Blooming Lotus” mudra – from the aangika abhinaya in Kathakali. Pay special at 0:39 and try not to crack up. Here is the original for some perspective.
Manipravala Thalakalunarnnu from Manishada
Kanyakumariyum Kashmirum from Manishada.
Amba, Ambika, Ambalika (1976)
You could say she ‘owned’ the Amba, Ambika, Ambalika movie completely.The whole story revolved around Amba (Srividya), the ‘then-latest screen sensation’ and the her onscreen character in parts. Watching the three sisters onscreen in the opening sequence of the movie, you can’t help but be blown away by the grace, vivaciousness and charm she brings to each frame along with her dance performance.
Venalil Oru Mazha (1979)
There is a dance interlude in the song Ente Raja Kottarathinu, a sort of folksy number in front of the temple premises that just doesn’t seem to go with the general mood of the song and the lyrics. Its almost as if its forced.
I only wish that Malayalam films got more of her dance performances, but, just like how we looked the other way with Travancore Sisters‘ talent, so went hers too. As Saravanan had rightly pointed out, the influx of new comers equally talented in dance and histrionics and way younger took whatever possibly could have come her way in terms of dance compositions for Malayalam films. There was also the obvious physical changes that piled on a couple of more kilos on her making more forays into classical dance onscreen a difficult proposition, literally.