Remembering Ragini and her songs in Malayalam, 35 years on.

Ragini in and as Unniyarcha (1961)
1937 - 30 December 1976

Today marks the 35th year of passing of Ragini, a unique combination of grace, chutzpah and sensuous style that graced the Indian screen. (Thanks to Manu for the reminder).

Ragini, of the legendary Travancore Sisters trio, didn’t have much to do as a dancer in Malayalam cinema till our producers suddenly woke up and smelt the coffee. By the time they devised storylines with which the Travancore Sisters’ immense popularity could be translated into box-office money, it was a bit too late. And, they were so hugely committed to their Tamil and Hindi projects that Malayalam just got into the queue a bit too late. And of course, with our two left-feet approach to dance onscreen in Malayalam cinema, to try grabbing a share of the fame from ‘one of our own’ who were now the toast of the Nation was a bit too painful and arduous task  for our production houses, if you get my drift. :). Her performances and roles would need a more exhaustive approach, but for now, I just thought of putting together the ones that came in. without an effort to hunt them down.

Hope you enjoy these 10 memorable ‘performances’ from her early years, also left me wondering as to how it would have been, if he had productions with Ragini in Malayalam that would have sent Kalpana (1960), Shikari (1963), Naag Rani (1963), Veerapandiya Kattabomman (1959 ) slinking away into the shadows, paled by the grandeur and sheer merriment. If only.

Ragini’s first film in Malayalam was Prasanna (1950), which also had the company of dear sister Padmini – sadly, a legal copy of the film is hard to come by, yet, in the commercial domain. Nair Pidicha Pulival (1958) almost took a decade in coming but hey, I’m not complaining.

Nair Pidicha Pulival (1958)

Song : Velutha Penne Velutha Penne.
The song title is in itself downright corny and racist :), addressing your beloved as “Oh, Fair-skinned One” is a bit over-the-top for me. And, with all due respect, Sathyan and romantic movie interludes were mutually exclusive. Satyan full-on ? Romanticism gayab !

Unniyaarcha (1961)

Song : Aaru neeyen Maarivilley ?
One of my all-time favorite of hers. I have written in detail about her role and the movie here.

Another fabulous one from the movie.
Annu Ninne kandathil Pinney..

Umminithanka (1961)

Song : Geethopadesham.
Ragini and Ambika in one of the historic dance sequences. Will leave to tell more on that for another day, but hardly anyone seem to have made full use of Ambika’s dancing prowess in her movies. She was an accomplished classical dancer who hardly got to display her consummate skill onscreen.

Viyarppinte Vila (1961)

Song : Kochukuruvi vaa Vaa

Bharya (1962)

Song : Periyarey..

Palaattu Koman (1962)

Song : Chandanapallakkil
Everytime I see Sathyan in that headgear, I crack up. It looks to me as if Sathyan has somehow ended up donning one of the female artiste’s costumes by mistake, and is trying his level best to hide it up with his overtly romantic gestures :).

Puthiya Aakaasham Puthiya Bhoomi (1962)

Song : Thamarathumbi Vaa vaa
A reprise of the Periyarey picturisation. 🙂

Atom Bomb (1964)

Song : Naanikkunnilley.

Poombaatta (1971)

Song : Shibiyennu peraya.
Ragini with baby Sridevi. Precious !
More on the movie here.

Do write in with your favorites.

21 thoughts on “Remembering Ragini and her songs in Malayalam, 35 years on.

  1. Dear All(especially CM and Narayan ji)

    I am sincerely thankful to CM for such a post.I never thought that u were designing such a creation when u asked me on Rakki’s birthdate.I rightly knew that Rakki was an April Born.She has the same star of Lord.Sree Raama and rightly she appeared in male attires in her dance performances,and often her male roles would have excited the young girls of that time(especially from Ponkathir,Marumagal and Raaman Thediya Seethai-Again Raama was called Uthama Purusha).
    Narayanji to ur knowledge.Rakki had opportunities to act in colour movies.A few of her movies were made in colour version too.Some of them are:
    c.Cobra Girl/Naaga Rani(Hindi)
    Again Pakshirajas’ Prassanna(otherwise know as Madhuvidhu) was the begining of all the three sisters-Lalitha Padmini and Ragini into Malayalam.Lalitha was Prassanna,Padmini was Meithini(i guess) and Ragini was Hamisni- a comedy role.And i think Ragini has danced in Kanchana(move that were made in Kannada,Malayalam ,Tamil at the same time)..An to ur kind knowledge,Most of the movies with title Lalitha-Padmini too carried Ragini(among the dancers list).
    Again Shabari Mala Shree Ayyappan ,the very second full fledged colour movie in Malayalam had Padmini(Mohini) and Ragini(Mahishi).This movie too was been released in other languages too.

  2. Where else could such great discussion about dances in Malayalam films be found but here! So glad you started this series CM. I’ve got to digest all these comments (and go try to watch all the dances mentioned that I haven’t seen). Pravanam Arts was associated with Mohanlal, right? CM, I will be working on my big list of classical-oriented dances in Malayalam films that I promised. Though that entails organizing my files and videos which are a mess at the moment so it will take me some time. 🙂 I’m so excited about the discoveries this series will bring. That’s all, nothing much to add, will be back later! 🙂 Cheers, ~Minai

    1. Awwwwww.. remember the facilitator’s role? the web janitor? think no more 🙂 Pranavam Arts is Mohanlal’s venture, without a doubt. And I will be looking forward to that indexed, cross-indexed, and maybe back-indexed for the cross-indexes list

  3. Well being a Malayali completely in love with dance as a medium and having always loved to dance myself ( be it on stage or otherwise ) let me share my views also on the same. Just as in the other 3 states of South India as far as I know even girls in Kerala are encouraged to learn dance ( whether its Bharatnatyam or Mohiniattam )-now how many of them take it seriously can be a question.So in terms of the college crowd being active in dance events during college culturals-its certainly been on for quite some time. Even I did my graduation in Coimbatore like Pradeep & I remember most of the better dancers ( especially girls ) whether in my college or elsewhere were students from Kerala. Even college festivals in Kerala had their fair share of dance events. Coming to dance in Malayalam Cinema well here is where we cut a sorry figure. For one we’ve never really had too many good dancers-if you actually ignore the Travancore Sisters & Shobana there is hardly anyone else one can remember among the heroines. And among the hero’s the situation is even more worse. Added to it a lot of movies were made in the realistic/serious mold and there really was no scope for dance over there. Some of the rare Malayalam actors who could dance are Raveendran, Rehman and Vineeth. In fact I’ve seen Raveendran dancing more regularly in Tamil films than Malayalam films. Currently thanks to Malayalam Cinema’s music scene itself getting inspired by Tamil&Telugu there is some marked change in the way dance is being looked at. While most of them are a pain to watch once in a while we come across a song which has some good choreography for example-Manam Thelinje Ninnal from Thenmavin Kombathu, Kannadi Koodum Kooti from Pranayavarnangal, Karupinazhagu from Swapnakoodu, Chingamasam from Meesha Madhavan, Lajjavathiye from 4 the People, Bayye Bayye from Malabar Wedding are those which come to my mind.Sadly the youth in Kerala probably look up more to a Vijay or a Allu Arjun when it comes to dance 😦 As for our weddings not giving scope for dance & music-well nothing much can be done bout it I guess 🙂

    1. Dear Sethumadhavan,

      Couldn’t agree with you more :). ergo Raveendran, Rahman and Vineeth. Manam Thelinje Ninnal was choreographed by Shobana herself, and even the costumes that she wore for Thenmavin Komathu was her own contribution. Still, as you said, with the influx of the current Tamil and Telugu movies, The Curse of the Two_left Feet seems to be lifting. 😀 ..Warm wishes of the New Year too..regards..cinematters

  4. Don’t know whether all three Travancore Sisters acted together in a Malayalam movie. here is a clipping from MANTHRIKUMARI – a tamil movie of 1950.

    where the trio came together.
    Padmini & Ragini came to the stage together in the Hindi movie AMARDEEP (1958).
    dont know whether Ragini or Lalitha has acted in any colour movies.

    Actress Sukumari and Ambika (sr.) are the first cousins of the Travacore Sisters. Actress Shobhana is a niece; actor Vineeth is a nephew- while another cousin Satypalan flirted with the movies (as a producer and as a shortlived actor) in the early Seventies.

    1. Dear Narayanji,
      All of them appeared in a Malayalam movie – Prasanna (1950) which was also the debut of Pappukkutty Bhagavathar. Ragini, to the best of my knowledge had only two or three scenes in there. But this came AFTER Manthrikumari. Ragini has appeared in a couple of hindi films – was just watching one of my favorites the other day – the madcap, mindless Cobra Girl :)..cinematters

    2. Veerapandya Kattabomman(in Tamil ,Telegu,Kannada) with Ragini as ilayarani (i guess),was in colour.Again Shivaji Ganeshans’ Shree Valli(1961) was short in colour with Ragini as heroines.

  5. Hey, welcome back! Christmas nallavannom aaghoshichu ennu thonnunnu? 🙂

    Satyan was a hoot in Chandana palakkil. Everytime he cheesed, I fell into an uncontrollable fit of giggles. He was so totally a misfit in the romantic songs – he should have left that to Nazir who did that with so much grace. 🙂

    As for the first song, I guess, at least in Ragini’s case, Velutha penne was apt. She is very fair. It’s when they have dark-skinned heroines who are plastered with make-up referred to as ‘velutha penne that my inner anti-discriminatory gene flares up.

    1. Dear Anu,
      I think his ‘gruffness’ was his weakness 🙂 I really feel sad for being denied atleast a musical that could have involved Ragini and Ambika with a string of gorgeous dances that we could boast about. That ‘Veluthapenne’ turned to ‘Karuthapenne’ in Thenmaavinkombathu decades later, when I think about it..Hope you had a great Xmas celebration too.regards..cinematters

      1. Honestly? I do not think we Malayalis cared much for the classical dances, even though we gave the world one of the oldest (Mohiniattam). I remember my father always used to say, that amongst the southern states, Kerala was the only state where the girls were not taught music or dance as a matter of course.

        1. Hey, I’m talking about the microscopic minority that includes yours truly 🙂 What your father said is absolutely true..We have always had a two-left-feet approach to dance. Repeating what I had already said before,
          “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.”

      2. CM, regarding the part about our approach to dance, I don’t think that is entirely right. During my engineering days in Coimbatore, I remember that in most of the music and dance competitions, the maximum participation was from Kerala girls even though we were a minority in the college. Maybe many of them had learned either music or dance because that was supposedly an advantage in the marriage market (not that they practiced after marriage – eg. my wife) but there were plenty of them who had learned one of the arts.

        Even in terms of our cinema, we do have a fantastic collection of songs and dance, don’t we? Most of our serious cinema has shunned dance as a form because of the way they have approached the medium (probably influenced by European cinema). The moment they break into a song and a dance, critics would suggest that it is a compromise for the audience and if they don’t have it, we think the problem is the way we deal with our emotions. But we still did have the likes of Bharatham, His Highness Abdullah, Kamaladalam, Rangam, Swathi Thirunal and quite a few others (atleast till the early 90s) where classical/semi-classical and folk arts were given importance.

        Our marriage functions are devoid of dance but I wouldn’t think of them as stoic or lifeless. A couple of North Indian friends had come down to Palakkad for my marriage were surprised at how quickly we would up the marriage. I was kind of sorry that they had turned up so far and we had nothing to show but ask them and they were glad that we went along the event with minimum fuss compared to their elaborated ceremonies- a different perspective!!!

        1. Dear Pradeep,
          I was just underlining our sociological traits, in the society we are, in Kerala. Compared to the degree of involvement there, say Coimbatore, am reasonably sure, it wouldn’t have been that enthusiastic, say, in a college in Trivandrum, at that time. And its just not the ladies am referring to, its also the males. The fantastic collection of dances are a miniscule percentage, to me, compared to the treasure trove we have in Tamil, or for that matter, Telugu.That surprising spike of the movies that you mentioned (from Pranavam) we had in the early 90’s never repeated, if you notice.Even yours truly is married to a maiden from Rajasthan and I still haven’t forgotten their amused looks as they invited members from their new-found family to the dance floor :D. Except for my sister, the rest had, for want of a better term, fled 🙂 I am just trying to turn that sputtering spotlight on the inherent inhibitions that we harbor, that’s all. As you mentioned, perspectives sometimes are refreshingly diverse, but some things just beg to stay put.. Wishing you a great year ahead. regards..cinematters

      3. Considering the importance that is given to arts as part of the various college festivals in Kerala, I’d be surprised if many of the students do not participate in the events back home. But this cultural reticence exists across in the South and we are any day less boisterous than our friends from the North (in real if not reel life, keeping in mind the Dappankuthu made famous by Tamil cinema and now being absorbed by the rest of the South).

        As somebody who’s lived in Hyderabad for a greater part of my life, I have not found Telugu cinema enterprising at all and dance in any form has not been of a standard that you’d recommend except when it came to movies from the K Vishwanath stable. Most reviewers in those days lamented the poor quality of Telugu cinema and would suggest how they should learn from Kerala (a benchmark that we have probably surrendered to Tamil now). Again I restrict my remark wrt cinema from 80s onwards only….

        I don’t even recollect art ever being discussed in my days in Hyderabad; it was and is a culture obsessed with getting into IITs and going to US for M.S. This is not to suggest that we are significantly better but I’d believe that art exists as a medium much more in Kerala than in many other parts even if it is fading slowly…

        ***Confession – The moment there is a party, I try to find an excuse to flee from the scene and luckily we have mobile phones nowadays to support us in that. Quintessential Malayalee:)

        1. Dear Pradeep,


          Warm wishes of the new Year. May we banter and joust long and strong. 🙂

          “The moment there is a party, I try to find an excuse to flee from the scene and luckily we have mobile phones nowadays to support us in that. Quintessential Malayalee:) ” PRECIOUS !.. Have a great Sunday..regards..cinematters

      4. Pradeep, where on earth do we have songs and dances? Half our so-called ‘dances’ would make any dance afficianado dig their own grave and bury themselves in it.

        Until the onslaught of the ‘Youth Festivals’ and directors trawling them to sign the ‘Kala Thilakam’ of that particular year – where *did* we have actresses who could dance?

        The ones who could (Shobhana, for instance) was woefully underused. I can only think of Manichitrathazhu where they finally used dance as an actual part of the narrative!

        If our social ethos encouraged song and dance as part of our social fabric (as it is in the North, for instance), then maybe our films would have used dance better. I do not know about Andhra Pradesh, though their girls are usually taught music and dance (much like a Maharashtrian middle-class family would ensure their children were taught music), but in Tamil Nadu, it was part of a young girl’s repertoire – as much as cooking, needlework etc.,

        Sorry for the l-o-n-g post 🙂 This is something that always used to irritate me – when I watched the Travancore sisters in Tamil, for instance, and would say proudly, “They are Malayalis.” And my friends would promptly counter it with – “Yes, but it needed us to give them their due!”

      5. Anu, point taken that we don’t revel in dances in the cinema of Kerala and what we have are possibly exceptions at our fingertips like the way Sethu mentioned or the movies in the 80s that I had mentioned above where Pranavam Arts created movies that gave importance to dance. And a ‘Vanaprastham’ would stun even a viewer like me who rarely takes interest in dance not to forget that folk dances like in the form of Theyyam have registered their presence in a small way too. But maybe it’s a reflection of changing times and our influence from Tamil and Telugu that since a National Award was instituted for Choreography in 1997, Malayalam and Tamil have the won award thrice each, next only to Hindi.

        Culturally, I don’t think we have an aversion to dance. The Kalolsavams have seen so many youngsters participate in dance forms and honestly, I’d be really surprised if there is anything to suggest we learn music/dance any less than the rest of the South or other parts of India. I have seen enough evidence to the contrary whenever I go back home or when in college, in terms of the large number of students involving themselves in these events; maybe as CM said, the Curse of the Two Left Feet (in our cinema) is slowly becoming a thing of the past.

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