Cinema

The elusive celluloid

Naatyaachaarya V.P. Dhananjayan with his wife Shanta Dhananjayan. Photo: N. Sridharan   | Photo Credit: N_SRIDHARAN

The informal meeting with Naatyaachaarya V.P. Dhananjayan is a revelation – the past master of bharatanatyam has actually had a few trysts with cinema! Natya isn't my beat, but when it comes with a cinematic angle my antennae naturally go up. “It wasn't as though they were fruitful. Most of the time they fell flat,” he cautioned. “That should be interesting too. We'll meet up soon,” I promise.

And here I am, sitting with the Dhananjayans once again, listening in rapt attention as they go back in time to recollect their rendezvous with the celluloid medium.

Into it together

Did the brush with the tinsel world involve both him and wife Shantha? “We are always together,” chuckles Dhananjayan. But opportunity first came Shantha's way, when she was featured in a multi-vision presentation produced by the Government of India and Air India. “She was selected from among dancers all over the country. In fact it caused quite a controversy. Why Shantha, when there are several established names, was the question. But the camera person, a foreigner, insisted Shantha be retained,” laughs Dhananjayan.

“It was a big joke at home. ‘How come your face appeals to the whites more than to people here,' they would tease me,” says Shantha. The promotional film was a huge success all over the world,” smiles the proud husband.

When Hollywood producer Herbert Coleman, an associate of Alfred Hitchcock, knocked at their door one morning and said, “I want you to play a dancer-couple in a film produced by Paramount,” the couple was stupefied.

Shashi Kapoor was paired with actor Diane Baker in the film, set in India. After the initial discussions the Dhananjayans didn't hear from Coleman for long! And when he came down, he was crestfallen to see a pregnant Shantha welcome him!

“You're expecting a baby!” he exclaimed.

“How come you have turned up all of a sudden,” asked Dhananjayan.

“I've constantly been in touch with the unit in Bombay. I'm surprised that they've kept you in the dark,” he said.

Yet Coleman was reluctant to proceed without them. He returned the next morning with a re-worked script that had Shantha as the conductor and Dhananjayan pairing up with Ambika Buch for the natyam. “I had dialogue too,” remembers Shantha. She appeared as an expectant mother in the film, titled, ‘Holiday in India.' “Ballet dancers there are apprehensive about the prospect of marriage and kids. Shantha's present condition will show them that straddling career and home is possible,” said Coleman.

An imposing stage was set up at Marundeeswarar Temple in Tiruvanmiyur, Chennai, and Dhananjayan's able planning helped Coleman complete the 10-day schedule in just two days! “He was so overjoyed when work got done in a jiffy that he doubled our remuneration,” laughs Dhananjayan.

Sadly the film never got released!

‘Kann Sivandhaal Mann Sivakkum,' the 1982 film with Jaishankar, Rajesh and Poornima Jayaram in the lead, had Dhananjayan playing a part! A half hour solo performance of ‘Nandanar Charitram' was included. “I worked on it for six months,” remembers Dhananjayan. T.V. Gopalakrishnan and Ilaiyaraja headed the composing crew. Filmed in the open air theatre of Cholamandal Artists Village, with huge torches of flame providing the light, it was 15 days of industriousness for the unit. So Dhananjayan's disappointment was immense when the sequence was edited to run for just five minutes! “I refused to watch the film. Sridhar Rajan, the director, was upset too. But when I heard that my segment evoked a lot of response, on the last day of its run, I decided to pay a visit to the cinemas. I was surprised when I was mobbed! The crowd wanted to know why I didn't appear for a longer time!” laughs Dhananjayan.

“I'm planning to make a film on a male dancer and I want you to play the protagonist,” said director K. Viswanath. The film was ‘Salangai Oli.'

“I wanted Kamal Haasan for the role but he refuses to shave his moustache off,” smiled Viswanath, and came back 10 days later to tell Dhananjayan that Kamal had agreed to sport a moustache-less look. “But I think Kamal did retain it,” adds Shantha.

Later Suhasini approached him to play Mohanlal's role in Mani Ratnam's ‘Iruvar.' But this time Dhananjayan suggested that the opportunity be given to his brother and actor, V.P. Ramachandran. “It didn't materialise,” he shrugs.

The Malayalam movie world too beckoned him, though again little came of it. ‘Kamaladalam' had a teacher's role, which the makers wanted Dhananjayan to take up. But it fell through, “as we had already committed to programmes in various parts of the country.” The opportunity to work in ‘Swathi Tirunal' followed. “They wanted 12 songs to be ready in just seven days and the amount they offered made the proposition all the more ridiculous!” laughs Dhananjayan.

G.V. Iyer's ‘Hamsa Geethe' was another. Dhananjayan worked really hard, but the prolonged silence from the other end put him off. A year later when the couple was to fly to London the next morning for a programme, the unit called up from Chitradurga. “Iyer is waiting for you at the shooting spot,” said the voice, and Dhananjayan lost his cool. “I've been waiting for a year now,” he shot back.

Have these experiences upset him? “I believe in destiny. Otherwise will I dwell on my flip-flop exercises in cinema with such abandon,” he smiles.

And ads too…

Dhananjayan has also worked in commercials. His maiden attempt in this direction for a fertilizer product may not have fructified, but the more recent modelling experience for Nerolac Paints is quite popular.

“It is often flashed on the Asianet channel,” he says.

The natya guru plays a music teacher in the 40-second commercial! “Singer Madhu Balakrishnan plays my student. He sees the jaded master and his dull looking home and adds colour to both! And it ends with a ‘Sabaash' from me.”

As Dhananjayan acts out the entire ad I say a ‘Sabaash' too!


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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 4:22:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/the-elusive-celluloid/article2109370.ece

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