Seventy-five year young Kamala, the foremost disciple of Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai, has to her credit an eventful career span of over seven decades, both on the dance-stage and the silver screen. She has a style that combines charming grace, refined elegance, well-polished expressiveness, highly advanced rhythm and of course, aesthetics. If Rukmini Devi got for Bharatanatyam its due status, it was Kamala who induced a desire among many parents that their children should be like ‘Baby Kamala.'

Pandit Nehru who was enthralled by her performances described her as the ‘Queen of Dance.' She is settled in the U.S.

Looking back, Kamala remembers the 1950s as the happiest period of her artistic career, when she was at the peak. She says that if the audience appreciated her performances, a lot of hard work and practice went into them. Her dance was so sought after that she had the privilege of performing Bharatanatyam for almost every visiting dignitary those days. One memorable one was in the august presence of Queen Elizabeth in Raj Bhavan, Chennai. The Queen said, “You dance beautifully.” Similarly, another programme that is still fresh in her memory is her performance in honour of the U.S. President Eisenhower at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi. She was just four when she first danced on stage in Mumbai where her parents had settled. “It was at this time that Chandulal Shah of Ranjit Movie Tones introduced me to Hindi movies, in which I showcased Kathak. AVM introduced me to Tamil movies.” Thereafter, she acted in many movies including ‘Jagathalaprathapan,' ‘Vethala Ulagam' and ‘Naam Iruvar.' She says that after her mother, it was her husband Major Lakshminarayanan, who supported her in her dance career.

Among the innumerable awards she received, she fondly remembers the special Platinum Jubilee Award of The Music Academy in 2001. “My association with the Academy started in the 1940s and continued till the 1970s. I used to perform almost every year.” Though she was a stickler for tradition, she brought in refreshing ideas into the art. “I was the first to choreograph and present ‘Ananda Narthana Ganapathim,' the Nattai kriti of Oothukkadu Venkata Subbaiyyar. I remember reviews questioning the aptness of the song in a dance performance. But now I see many artists performing the piece.”

Among her favourite dances in the movies are those she performed in ‘Parthipan Kanavu' and ‘Konjum Salangai.' Not just Bharatanatyam, she was also trained in Carnatic music by S. Balasubramanian and Ramnad Krishnan. HMV had released recordings of hers - Thaaye Yasodha and Natanam Aadinaar. “I gave a full-fledged Carnatic vocal recital at Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha in 1956 or 57. Of course, now I cannot venture a concert; but I can delineate a few ragas,” she says.

Does she have any unfulfilled desire? “Yes, I would like to make a movie on Bharatanatyam featuring my students, at locations in India and the U.S. I am looking for a sponsor.”

ramakrishnan.h@gmail.com

(A column where artists recall performances/impressions that remain in their memory)

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