NRUTHASHALA | The onscreen Malayalam Dance Chronicles

Jeevitha Nouka (1951)

There are two names that have had a catalytic effect on this ‘renegade-train-of-thought’, Achinthya and Minai. 🙂

See, its like this. The average Malayali psyche, traditionally, has been a pathologically mortified entity when it comes to expressing exuberance, gay abandon, sheer joy – anything that symbolises an overt physical display of happiness, according to me. WE REVEL, WALLOW and FLOUNDER in STOICISM. To us, repression of emotion is something genetic. We must be probably the only regional community on the planet who looks at a wedding, the finest example of an an occasion that symbolises all of the above, as merely a stiff-upper lipped ‘social obligation’ than a celebration. Aww, c’mon, admit it, you would crawl to that dank, musty, dark place where beetles go to die, rather than dance at your brother’s wedding. I know things are slowly changing, but, traditionally we have been so stoic when it comes to expressing emotions that it has inadvertently seeped into our creative expressions as well. In the place of a full – throated ( more like a window-pane shattering war-cry) of Balle ! by a bursting-with-happiness Sardar in an occasion such as the above up North, the best you would come to face in a sea of crackling mundus and tinkling jewellery would be a stern admonishment from the patriarch, “ഇറങ്ങുന്നില്ലേ? മുഹൂര്‍ത്തം കഴിഞ്ഞിട്ട് അവിടെ എത്തിയാല്‍ മതിയോ അമ്മയ്ക്കും മകള്‍ക്കും?” Shaking a leg, you see, is the last thing on his mind 🙂 . I think this ‘Culture of Extreme Restraint‘ is a part of our anthropological set-up, so to speak, or else how else can you explain two regional communities lying within shouting distance, one who break into a jig at the drop of a hat , and the other who wouldn’t even think of  even waggling his finger in rhythm to save his life?

Ambika in Umminithanka (1961)
Ambika in Umminithanka (1961)

It is in this ‘historical’ context that I wanted you to look at the dance sequences created and adapted for screen for Malayalam films, all the way  from 1928. The first two decades had its inevitable (and, shall I say welcome) effect of the Tamil movie culture in the films, which included the number of dance sequences of the movies of those times, which gradually gave way to folksy-choreographed ones in the early Sixties. A shift, I presume that came with the indigenous stories that throbbed with the native identity and a bunch of talented film makers, lyricists and technicians who set about introducing the indigenous cultural idioms on screen.  If I were to point out a movie that started off this infusion of our own ethos in  dance onscreen, it has to be Neelakkuyil (1954). True, the hangover took a long time to wear off, ( a decade, I think) but the effort started picking up momentum from here on, to me.  We got them all, packed tight in the Early years – single Dances, Twin Dances ( Minai’s favorite 🙂 ), The Leading Lady in Love ‘Domestic’ Dances, the Mythology Hoe-downs – we had them all.

Ragini in and as Unniyarcha (1961)

I wish we had the maximum number of movie dance sequences ever shot on film with Ragini, Padmini and Lalitha – after all they were our own ! Sadly, we have the least. I donot think we need to look far for the ‘why’ of it.

So what is Nruthashala at OMC all about?

It is an attempt to chronologically archive the Dances picturised in Malayalam films, which would help, it is hoped, impart a better perspective on the stylistics and ‘evolution’ of the specialised art form through the years. I just thought of archiving all the dance sequences on video found on popular video-sharing sites, with its years and relevant categories that would help sort them out easily right here on the blog. It would also help avoid any blazing copyright violations with any of the producers. Whatever is available, and if I can find, I intend to archive it here. Organised chronologically, I think it would help make you reach your own fair assumptions and conclusions on the stylistics and evolution of this unique art of Dance in Malayalam Cinema.

What I would love you to do.

  • If you are a trained Classical/ Conemporary Dancer and you are reading this, and have the luxury of time and patience, to share your inputs on the whole aesthetics, uniqueness, peculiarities or massive goof-ups on the sequence.
  • Sharing  info on dance sequences from movies you remember. If you can’t track it down, leave the rest of the hunting and associated research to me.

So, when do we start ?

Now, would be good time Sire !

Ragini living it up with Aaru Nee En Maarivilley from Unniyarcha.

6 thoughts on “NRUTHASHALA | The onscreen Malayalam Dance Chronicles

  1. Yay!!!!!!!!! 🙂 Enough exclamation marks, but this makes me very excited! 🙂 I’ve never attempted a “Classical Dances in Malayalam Films” post on my blog because I feel so pitifully unknowledgeable about the subject (and of general Malayalam film dances), and it’s so difficult to find more information beyond artist-specific research such as with Vineeth or Padmini. That’s why I love your blog, because so few folks write about these things in Malayalam cinema. I was also very excited to read the intro to this post and your discussion of how you see dance treated in Malayali culture which is very fascinating and I look forward to hearing more insights and learning how the dances have evolved over time.

    Now for a practical question – how exactly will this “Nruthashala” concept play out? (and what does Nruthashala mean?). Should folks email you their dance suggestions and remembrances and then you’ll do posts on each one with a Nruthashala tag, or will you do themed posts? Should people make suggestions in the comments? 🙂 So many questions I have!

    I’ll close with my favorite black-and-white Malayalam “classical” film dance, from Nirmaalyam:

    1. Dear Minai,
      Thank you :D. Its not that yours truly is anywhere near the suburbs of “well-versed” when it comes to the nuances of dance performances in malayalam films in the “cinema – classical” context but I guess compiling them would help bring in a lot of interactions and inputs from those out there on the Web with the relevant knowledge and aesthetics.About dance in Malayali culture, less said the better. Come to think of it, there ain’t much to be said.. 😀

      Now for a practical question – how exactly will this “Nruthashala” concept play out?
      The content input as I see would happen in two ways – Community suggestions via the Comment area and the Contact Me page, and yours truly’s hunt with the fabled treasure map and GPS :). As and when received, tag it with the requisite tags and upload them with due credit.

      (and what does Nruthashala mean?).
      It could also be written as Nritya shala, but I thought of forgoing the “y” component as dance is referred to as Nrutha (more rigid – remember the stoicism we spoke about 🙂 )in Malayalam than its root term in Sankrit. Shala could be described as a Hall, a public platform for performing arts, for singing and dancing, a warehouse..again from Sanskrit.

      Should folks email you their dance suggestions and remembrances and then you’ll do posts on each one with a Nruthashala tag, or will you do themed posts?

      Should people make suggestions in the comments?
      Last time I checked, this was still a free country and a very tolerant blog 🙂 Let it Rant 😀

      Also, hope you know that the clip you posted is a much sought after one amongst classic aficionados? Thanks so much..regards..cinematters

  2. Hi Anu,
    Other than the Gitopadesham clipping from Umminithanka, the rest all are defunct 😦 Regarding Travancore Sisters, I personally know of two of them who are walking encyclopedias on them, one of them you must have already come across through the posts on Ragini here, Manu J Krishnan. Thanks so much for sharing your research. Will find a way to get them back on ( wink ). Regards..cinematters

    1. Damn! They were all alive when I posted them yesterday! Ofcourse, Manthri Kumari and Uthamputhiran were both in Tamil, not Malayalam. There is a blogger, Richard, who is enamoured of the Travancore sisters. His blog has some wonderful stuff.

      1. Hi Anu,

        Am in touch with Richard. In fact, KPAC Theater and Travancore Sisters were what brought us in touch with each other 🙂 The main stumbling block for all them who love Indian films and Dance is the surprisingly scant information available on them with respect to Malayalam films and no one to ask for more. The language in itself is a huge obstacle. I hope you also have gone through Minai’s Blog. Its a marvelous resource, a treasure trove to speak .Will surely keep you posted on the Travancore Sisters’ contribution to Malayalam Cinema Dance :)

  3. cinematters, my earlier research led me to these:

    Ummini Thanka

    Manthri Kumari

    Uthama Puthiran


    I was planning a post on the dances by the Travancore sisters in Malayalam. 🙂 As you said, they are our own. 🙂 But I’m generous, and you may have them. LOL

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