Dances from Jeevithanouka (1951)

Thikkurissy Sukumaran Nair and BS Saroja in Jeevithanouka (1951) The first two decades in Malayalam cinema, 1928 – 1950 could very well be termed the Lost Years (as I have mentioned earlier) owing to the near-impossibility of finding a copy of the 13 films produced in the 20 years ( an unlucky figure in all aspects, don’t you agree? ), hence it becomes a natural choice to start with Jeevitha Nouka ( 1951), or the Boat of Life that also gave Malayalam cinema its  first bankable ‘star’, Thikkurissy Sukumaran Nair. It also feels sad to have been denied the legacy of  two decades of singing and dancing  – if only they had been a bit more careful with preserving their celluloid stories that they so crafted with care. Anyways, coming back to Jeevithanouka, in the 13 (?) songs in the ‘Social Melodrama’ that ran to packed theaters, almost all of them suffered from a strong hangover of the existing trend those days – to make Malayalam clones out of existing popular Hindi tunes, and it is with a lot of pent-up sadness and wry humour  that Swamy , (the legendary S Dakshinamoorthy) recalls the brief given to him for putting together the songs for the movie.

With the movie more or less resembling a theater-production ‘surrealistically adapted’, watching the movie now seems a bit ‘disjointed’ if you are not mentally prepared for it. With one of the thespians of  Malayalam theater at the helm (Sebastian Kunjukunju Bhagavathar ), it would have been surprising if it had been normal. The leading love-struck couple, played by Thikkurissy Sukumaran Nair and BS Saroja would have been a riot when seen with the eyes of 2011, but, remember, back then, this was exactly what made the previous generation and the one before flock to the cinemas.

Aanandamiyalum Baale  [ The Leading Lady in Love ‘Domestic’ Dance ]

Lyrics : Abhayadev
Music : V Dakshinamoorthy
Singer : P Leela

Yeah, yeah, I know what you are thinking.
Here is where it came from.

Lata Mangeshkar’s Hawa Mein Udta Jaaye from Barsaat (1949)

Aanathalayolam Venna

Lyrics : Abhayadev
Music : V Dakshinamoorthy
Singer : Sebastian Kunjukunju Bhagavathar and Alappuzha Pushpam

I have never seen a performance as delightfully memorable as this from the early years of Malayalam cinema. The exuberance, the driving rhythm, the tone and the folksy choreography, made all the more enduring by the joi-de-vivre that Baby Girija brings to the song. The song is about propitiating the infant Krishna, tendering all his favorite things on planet Earth, starting with “a dollop of butter as big as an elephant’s head” so that he stays happy and amongst them, keeping them safe and secure. This praise to Lord Krishna, performed by wandering minstrels, I presume was another form of the traditional “Naveru” renditions by Pulluvar who sing songs as a part of their ritualistic devotion to the snake-gods, which is believed to exorcise and cast away evil spirits and bad omens from households. Please note that this is my presumption. I would be more than delighted to know the real history of renditions of a similar nature. Do write in if you know it.

Ramakrishna Panicker - Musician and Dancer
Pix Credit : The Hindu

The song also has an interesting celluloid history – it is sung by Sebastian Kunju Kunju Bhagavather and Allapuzha Pushpam, father and daughter in real life. Sebastian Kunju Kunju Bhagavather, incidently is also the ‘villain’ of the movie ! The elderly musician in the scene is K Ramakrishna Panicker, the youngest of the legendary Ambalappuzha Brothers – a maverick genius in performing arts, and probably the first choreographer in Malayalam films as we know it. He has choreographed Baby Girija‘s moves for the song.

Nagging doubt : Any similar composition in any other movie you remember that is equally memorable?

This dance, to me, is the most powerful cinematic idiom of the movie, so much so, that the entire movie could happily be for me,  the one with the “Aanthaloyalm venna tharameda” song.

Premarajyamarnu Vaazhka Naam

Lyrics : Abhayadev
Music : V Dakshinamoorthy
Singers : V Dakshinamoorthy and P Leela

One of them from the early years that unfailingly makes you smile. An exhortation and a mutual promise rolled into one, “Come, let us reign happily forever after in the Kingdom of Love”, the composition am sure must have a Hindi cousin somewhere. 🙂 I just haven’t been able to figure out. The dancer who plays the “Loverboy Prince” also appears in another onscreen ‘musical’ too, in the same movie, the one on Mary of Magdalene, which is the next video.
Credit Title Card from Jeevithanouka

The credit titles mention C. R. Rajakumari and Indira Acharya as the main dancers in the movie, so that is settled. All I need now is to tag the right name to that face. Do write in.

I absolutely LOVE the Prince’s groove at 1:52.

Vaarthinkal Thaalameduthavar from Magdalana Mariyam.

A 11-minutes long ‘musical’ that traces the ‘fall and rise’ of  Mary of Magdalene, strung up with extracts from the great poet Vallathol‘s Magdalana Mariyam, starting with celebrating her life of wanton pleasure, introspection, seeking her real Savior and  finally finding him. I absolutely love the props ! The two main male dancers as per the title cards are Gopalkrishnan and Balchandran.

Next : Ponkathir (1953)

12 thoughts on “Dances from Jeevithanouka (1951)

  1. That Gopalakrishnan dancing in Magdalana Mariyam scene is definitely Guru Gopalakrishnan. The other guy dancing with him later became hero of many other films. That is T. K. Balachandran!

  2. Regarding this discussion about the “Gopalkrishnan” dancer identified in the credits, are we thinking he’s the same person as the famous “Guru Gopalakrishnan” discussed in this article? There’s a picture of him at that link, and the dancer at 1:28 in “Vaarthinkal Thaalameduthavar” sort of looks like a much younger version of that picture, but it’s hard to say for sure. And Achinthya, nice to “meet” the fellow inspiration for this post series. Your mention of Gopalakrishnan’s possible choreography of a song/s from Neeyakkuyil has me eager to check out the film ASAP; I see it’s just been posted on YouTube a couple months back, yay! I’ve been dying to see some of his and Guru Gopinath’s choreography and this whole “Kerala Natanam” dance I’ve been reading about that seems a bit tied into what Uday Shankar did and all sorts of cool things. 🙂
    And that is such a wonderful comment Sagarika made- what wonders the web and YouTube brings to connect us all together. 🙂

    1. Dear Minai,
      As I keep repeating, the pleasure is mine. yes, it seems to be the same Goaplkrishnan, the very same Guru Gopalkrishnan, and Achinthya has promised to provide more details – she normally is involved in 23 million things at the same time ! The next in line, which I could lay my hands on is Ponkathir (1953), and after that would be Neelakkuyil, where I am sure that woman will go on a rampage :). I had written to Sagarika but am a little saddened by the silence from her end. She will write, won’t she ? Just maybe that she is caught up with her work..Ah, yes..the surprises that the Web throws at you..regards..cinematters

  3. Lovely….
    CM, muaaah to you.
    CM and Minai I really dont know how to congratulate you guys. What passion what perseverance! MMoooo….
    Btw, Baby Girija’s dance is not so folksy. The mudras and other movements are all done in pucca classical style of yore when Bharatanatyam was not done in clean linear motions yet ( watch Balasaraswati’s clipping and you will know what I mean). But of course her gaits in between the charanams can be called folk or rather something closer to what is called lokadharmi in style.

    Sagarika…woww… Your grandmother was a part of Hindi film industry too for some time, I believe. Great meeting you here.
    Incidentally they say that one of the two male dancers are Gopalakrishnan. This must be the same Gopalakrishnan who choreographed the dance sequences ( jinjakkam thaaro) in Neelakkuyil. He is in some way related to P Bhaskaran.
    Come on boy, it is time for the next post

    1. Dear Achinthya :-P,
      The lokadhrami style that you touched upon does give that ‘order’ to her flow, I suppose.It has to be the same Guru Gopalkrishnan that Minai also mentioned, else we are on another Bharat Movies Khoj, mostly. 🙂 Thanks so much

  4. The lover boy prince in the song Premarajyamarnu Vaazhka Naam is none other than my grandmother Indira acharya I have been moved to tears watching this video … as a family none of us have had a chance to catch a hold on her dances neither did she ever keep footage !! thank u so much for posting this . do reply .
    She is my maternal grandmother and I was extremely close to her . I would be happy to answer any queries

    1. Dear Sagarika,
      Words fail me. I am overjoyed.Even with the criminally short number of movies that we got to see the big-screen adaptation of the theatrical dances of those times, it is gems like these that still lift up one’s spirits. I absolutely love her grace, style and poise – oh, man I would have been the extra-supercoolest grandkid had I had a grandmom like that ! 🙂 The most obvious question, Sagarika, would be how she ended up in films? Were there tamil films also that she did because I think that was a natural progression, and if so, any names that you know of? We will try to track them down. Any idea whether she appeared in any more Malayalam movies? With you around, I just want to know everything possible ( I am that greedy), and even put them all together as my lil tribute to her here.Any photographs from the times?Thank you so much for writing in. As I said, I am speechless…Regards..cinematters

      1. Hello Sir,
        Firstly I am extremely sorry for this immense delay in reply . I study in Pune and course work has got the better of me . Trying to pursue a masters involves efforts that move the Himalayas. Yes she was known for her grace , poise and style through out her 86 yrs of life and she was the most progressive and the most coolest grandmother ever . Sir my grandmother was a trained dancer in Kuchipudi primarliy , she went on to learn many other dance forms . She was a professional performer and did many performances . She was also a film critic with the Indian Express if im not wrong, and in that day and age was very progressive and career oriented . It was through her dancing that she made all her filmy friends because in those days most of the actresses were trained classical dancers . My grandmother was a great friend of S.S Vasan and his wife . She spent a lot of time with them and at their studios . She helped with a lot of choreography and dabbled in theatre as well . She was best friends with famous Telugu actress Pushpavalli. She was close to Bhanumati as well . S.S Vasan always wanted to give her a lead role but my grandmother for some reason ( I still need to find out properly about this and I will ) would offer to do all the small small roles and aid in choreography . She had friends in the hindi film industry and it came to a surprise to me when I saw three hindi films listed in IMDB . She also spoke on AIR as the first female voice alongside C Rajagopalachari . Many veterans of the telugu industry also remember her . Infact sir I will only be able to get more details only when I get back home over the trimester break which is in another 2 weeks . I live in Chennai . My grandmother hailed from Andhra . they were Tamilian Iyengars who had lived in Andhra for generations so most of my mother’s side speaks Telugu more than Tamil . Also I request all those who read this to send me any links of her or any info to this id – indira (dot) acharya @ As I am planning to make a documentary , I was shocked to find this video . I just was curious to learn more about her colourful past and I came across this all thanks to you and your team . no wonder my mother could speak Malayalam .
        My grandmother is an inspiration full of energy , spunk and sheer courage to defy tradtions in those days and to walk her own path .

        1. Dear Sagarika,
          First off, request you to please do away with the ‘Sir’ bit, makes me chronically uncomfortable.:) CM would be just fine.Thank you so much for writing in – I almost thought your work got the better of you. Thank you. SS Vasan, Pushpavalli, Bhanumathi head is reeling.Wow, what a great way to start a week.With regard to her writing, are there any archival material of hers that have survived – articles from the IE? She must have been one super cool Grandmom ! Also regarding her speech at AIR, was it through the Delhi station? We could atleast make an attempt in getting that recording ( I am hoping against hope against hope here). We could write to them, speak to them. We will try our best. This is so wonderful.Look forward to your trimester break and the surprises THAT would bring ! Can’t wait :).. Also have removed your email id from the forum as I deem it a security hazard to have personal id’s displayed in public domains. Have provided an alternative.have mailed you the details. Look forward to knowing more..regards..cinematters

  5. Lovely dances! And especially riveting given how early the film was made. Baby Girija is so sweet and adorable! Was she a famous child star in her day? Anything like Baby Kamala’s fame? Her number is so charming; I agree with your comments about the “exuberance” and rhythm. All of the dances in this film are like that! There’s not a concern with overtly-serious “art” or precise dance but rather a genuine charm accompanied by such happy music. Puts me in a good mood! That Mary of Magdalene musical was very interesting (so much going on!) and I’m so appreciative that you explained what’s happening in the song. One thing I’ve learned through your blog, as this song reflects, is that Christianity seems to be more prevalent in Kerala than other parts of India (or at least other parts of South India) and is correspondingly reflected more in cinema. I’ve really enjoyed seeing how Christian iconography and such is interpreted. Thanks for a lovely post, looking forward to the rest of this series!!!

    1. Dear Minai,
      I can sure sense your happiness 😀 Baby Girija seems to have appeared in just a handful of movies with her dances being a featured item in another movie too – Kidappadam (1955), Malayalam cinema’s version of Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zamin’ (1953). I am trying my best to get hold of a legal copy of the movie or atleast a clipping of the dance. Will keep you posted. You are so right in the aspect of a greater degree of infusion of Christian idioms, iconography and cultural syntax in Malayalam cinema, compared to its regional cousins, which I guess could also stem from the fact that one of the two chief production houses in Malayalam in the early years – Udaya Studios was owned by one, and by virtue had a greater say in the way his scripts were worked out for general consumption. Also, would suggest you keep yourself in the loop with the subscribe option on the blog which would push a mail announcing the latest post in the category to your mailbox. If you still haven’t, that is 🙂 Thank you for being the catalyst. Regards..cinematters

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