Guru Gopalakrishnan was an ace performer, actor, choreographer and guru.

Guru Gopalakrishnan passed away on September 5. A dancer of international repute, he strode like a colossus in filmdom for more than six decades making immortal contributions in varied capacities as an ace performer, actor, choreographer, and above all, a much venerated guru. There was hardly any actor/dancer celebrity who had not either performed under his direction, or, co-acted with him. He was 86.

Endowed with singular imitating talents even as a child, Gopalakrishnan would mime Kathakali maestros he watched performing at the Thrikkulasekharapuram temple in Kodungallur, his native place. They included Pattikkamthodi Ramunni Menon, Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Kudamalur Karunakaran Nair, Guru Kunju Kurup, and Kavalappara Narayana Menon, to mention a few. Gopalakrishnan’s insatiable zeal for the art form received a boost when he saw the dance to the song ‘Shock, Shock’ in the first Malayalam ‘talkie’ Balan.

What catapulted him to the centre stage of the Chennai film world was an advertisement by Natana Niketan, the dance institute run by the couple Guru Gopinath and Thankamani, calling for dance students. It was his inimitable artistry that compelled his guru to assign him the role of the ‘deer’ in the dance drama ‘Sitapaharanam’ for which his co-dancer was Thankamani as Sita, that too on the third day of his joining the institute.

Even as he was undergoing rigorous disciplining in the institution for 10 years, he was also listed in the A category of ‘Dance artistes and bit players’ in Gemini studios. Soon he turned the most sought-after dancer in the studios and he never had to look back. Myriad were the films for which he either performed or choreographed in Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi and Singhala. The Tamil classic Chandralekha directed by S.S. Vasan needs special mention.

Almost all the dance celebrities of those days had performed with him: Lalita-Padmini sisters, Anjali Devi, Waheeda Rahman, Krishnakumari, Abhaya, Vempatti Chinna Sathyam, the veteran N.T. Rama Rao and of course his own guru and mentor Guru Gopinath. Film maestro M.G. Ramachandran was the comperé for some of the programmes presented by his own company Bharathiya Ballet Troupe in Chennai those days.

Among his choreographies, ‘The Spirit of Africa’ based on the life of Patrice Lumumba of Congo and ‘Swan Lake’ produced on the same lines of the Russian ballet directed by Tchaikovsky won him international laurels. The credit for choreographing the first group dance in a Malayalam film, Neelakkuyil, goes to Gopalakrishnan. His tally of 31 films and 16 dance-dramas is incredible. Very active on the stage, he acted in six plays too.

While he mastered the dance form Kerala Natanam, his guru’s own creation, he also learnt Kathakali under Vazhenkada Kunju Nair at P.S.V. Natyasangham, Kottakkal. “This was instrumental to the success of many of my later choreographies,” he had said.

Marriage with Kusum, a graduate of Kerala Kalamandalam, provided added impetus to his career. The 22 years they spent as teachers in the New Era International School at Panchgani, Pune, were the most memorable, he used to say. The school had students from 30 countries and the couple not only took pains in teaching them Indian dance but also in inculcating in them the essential traits of Indian culture.

It was the government of Tamil Nadu that recommended him to the first Indian Cultural delegation to China.

Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi honoured the couple in 1999 and the Kerala government presented him with the coveted Natya Puraskaram in 2010.

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