Srividya | The Danseuse onscreen

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.

Srividya after her arengetram at the  Sri Krishna Gana Sabha
Srividya after her arengetram at the Sri Krishna Gana Sabha along with MLV

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 Paatupusthakam Cover
Chenda Paatupusthakam Cover | Courtesy :MSI

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, except for  Nruthyathi, Nruthyathi that feature the Kamala-Vasanthi-Rhadha sisters. 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 MadhuriKaviyoor 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.

As always, please do write in on the ones that I may have possibly missed.

10 thoughts on “Srividya | The Danseuse onscreen

  1. So enjoying your posts on Srividya. As yet I am still a beginner as pertains to vintage Malayalam cinema, but I am learning more and more everytime I click on your blog (much thanks to your posting on my blog and alerting me to yours!!). Sigh. I just wish more of these films were available with subtitles….but I must check out the mythologicals regardless. I know the stories well enough still enjoy the films even without the subtitles.

    1. Thank you Mike.Always a pleasure.Glad to know that this lil’ nook is helping you learn a bit more about Malayalam films 🙂 When the producers/distributors only care for a quick buck and the consumers are not even bothered, I guess it boils down to those who really want a much more enriching experience in watching movies to find ways and means of their own. Do let me know if you find any instances across any movies difficult to follow and it would be a pleasure to walk you through. Thanks again..regards..cinematters.

      PS: Come to think of it, the Magic of Pedro still keeps working, isn’t it, bringing together souls from across the web united in their passion for cinema ? 😀

      1. Good work.Great tribute to a great actress.But I have to tell something.
        Not only Srividya,but Rani Chandra,famous actress was also a very good dancer.The dance scene from the movie ‘Amba Ambika Ambalika’ is the best example.Another one is from the movie ‘Ayodhya’,were she performances both classical & western.Unlike Srividya,none of Rani’s talents were used by our veteran film makers.
        She had a dance troop of her-own back at her college days itself.She used to train her friends and class mates for many programs.At last we had lost her forever in a plane crash,way back to Madras after performing a dance program at middle east..She was a talented and gifted actress.So pretty she was,like Srividya.
        But C.M,I didn’t find anything regarding her in OMC.

        1. Thank you Meghnath for the update on Rani Chandra.There are a lot of actors who have not yet been featured here and we will get to it, slowly but surely. For starters, why not put together a feature on Rani Chandra and we will have it published here?
          Thanks, cinematters.

  2. Viju, you know what CM told me when he asked me if i could do a piece on my favorite movie of hers? “Hold back on the adjectives. Remember there are things such as nouns and verbs too.” i think he gave me a word limit too in order to rein me in;) personally, i don’t think any adjective can do justice to her. Period.

    1. Ha ha ha , I like that Remitha.. Thanks for sharing this here. And what you said is so true…. No Adjective can do Justice to Her!!!!

  3. I always felt she had the best symmetrical face in the whole Indian film industry. You can capture her in any camera angle and she would just look perfect with her chiseled features. If only God was kind enough to give her a perfect body, Malayalam film industry would have never got her. She would have been one of the superstars up North where South Indians always ruled. Why was so popular in Malayalam? Was it her looks? Yes she had a perfect Malayali look with her wide expressive eyes, perfectly lined full lips and most of all her long black curly tresses. And most of all, Malayalis liked their heroines round and buxom.  She could speak volumes with those eyes. A slight quiver from her lips was enough to convey the message which has to be told in dialogues written on a 100 pages.
    I remember telling some of these to CM and you know what he said? “ Venda! Mathi! Athiru kadakkanda! So I take the cue from him and stop here. I can go on and on! Njaanenthayalum athiru kadakkunnilla. :D..Viju

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