Friday Review

Enriching cinema, Kamal style

Kamal Haasan had a hand in choreographing most of his dances onscreen, even if he wasn’t credited.  

(This is the last in a series of articles on Kamal Haasan’s tryst with the arts.)

Part 1: >His classical odyssey

Part 2: >'You can feel the fear in this song'

Part 3: >'He taught me to sing with abandon'

Part 4: >And more on the Ilaiyaraaja connection

Part 5: >Kamal and the art of screenplay writing

Part 6: >Kamal discovers Kuchipudi

Part 7: >Three teachers, one student!

Part 8: >Cinema, Kamal’s fulcrum

After Kamal Haasan became a dance assistant, the late dance master Raghuram became an acquaintance. Raghuram was related to Padma Subrahmanyam – whom Kamal had fallen for when he saw her dance on stage. “I fell in love with a lady I didn’t even know” is how he put it – and when Kamal found out about this, he knelt in front of Raghuram and said, with a wink in his eye (or maybe without one), “I want to marry your aunt.” He settled for learning her style of dance instead. Kamal said, “I don’t know if he was bluffing or if he really learnt from her, but he used to teach me. We were from different styles, and so it was sort of an exchange of ideas.”

K. Balachander did not care for dancing in films. He did not care for choreographers. Thangappan Master was hired for ‘Sollathaan Ninaikkiren’, but Balachander did not like what Kamal Haasan called “the traditional cinema dance master.” He wanted someone young, and so Kamal brought in Raghuram. Balachander asked them to partner up for the choreography. They became co-choreographers for films such as Balachander’s ‘Avargal’, whose title cards mention that the mock-cricket match was “staged by Kamalahasan and Raghuraman.”

Kamal Haasan said, “Raghu was really talented. He was working with Chopra Master. His training was superior to mine because he had a great teacher. When we got together, we formed a new style, a bit of Padma Subrahmanyam, a bit of Kolhapuri Kathak, all my influences. So our compositions looked very different.”

They worked together on many films, including Hindi films such as ‘Ek Duuje Ke Liye’. Kamal Haasan said that he had a hand in choreographing most of his dances onscreen, even if he wasn’t credited. After the release of ‘Avargal’, Raghuram got married. Kamal and he were still choreographing dances together, but around the time of (the 1978 Malayalam film) ‘Madanolsavam’, Kamal said he didn’t need this title. “It was more useful for him, as I had already made it. I was a star in Kerala.”

We spoke about his dances in the films of the late 1970s and the early 1980s, when it was practically signed into his contract that a film that featured him would also feature a dance by him. ‘Unakenna mele ninraai’ in ‘Simla Special,’ ‘Kaamanukku Kaaman’ in ‘Uruvangal Maaralaam’. Even the tweaking of ‘Yadhuvamsa Sudhambudhi Chandra’ in ‘Sanam Teri Kasam’. “That’s not classical,” Kamal Haasan said. “That’s a sell-out. That’s what people like my sister didn’t like.” Then came ‘Sagara Sangamam’. Kamal and RC Sakthi wanted to make a film on a similar subject, about a dancer who was an alcoholic. They even had a name for it: ‘Anupallavi’. But when K. Viswanath came calling, Kamal felt he had to do the film, especially as it was from the creator of ‘Sankarabharanam’.

On the sets of ‘Sagara Sangamam’, Kamal’s training restarted. Gopi Krishna was one of the choreographers, and he insisted that Kamal train for at least a month. Kamal was one of the top stars of the time, doing multiple shifts, but he had to find the time. “It was actually a great sacrifice from my side,” Kamal Haasan said, but it was worth it. The dance sequence that resulted for the song ‘Naadha Vinodhamu’ became one of the film’s highlights. The other dances, including the “dance of rage” that predated the ones in Yash Chopra’s films, were composed by Kamal and Raghuram. I asked him if he considered the dances in this film “pure dances.” He said, “But even in the film it is called Bhaarat Natyam. That was my constant defence against the question: ‘What style is your dance’? It’s better than calling it Oriental Dance, which is a very derogatory term coined by the British.”

Over the years, Kamal Haasan’s cinema has featured not just dance but other arts as well. There was street theatre in ‘Anbe Sivam’, shadowpuppetry in ‘Dasavatharam’, and now ‘Uthama Villain’ will showcase Theyyam, villu pattu, kalari and koothu (“Not theru koothu, as it has been brought down to, but the traditional form”) and even Bharatanatyam (“where the teacher used to dance with the disciple; it’s only after Rukmini Devi Arundale that the nattuvangam artist sat down”). Kamal Haasan said the film wasn’t so much dance-based as folk-art based, and added, “A purist will not accept this form, even in folk arts.” He’s done an attakalari performance for the film, and he’s written the lyrics for the piece. “It’s difficult because you have to maintain grace with that huge headgear. It’s like dancing Kathakali with a kavadi.” Kamal took out his phone and showed me picture of him in the Theyyam make-up of Narasimha avatar. I asked him if this was his way of enriching cinema. “Absolutely,” he said. “I am at this opportune position. I am trying to bring a lot of great talented people into this cinema, which is very versatile and accommodating. I want to give everything I have to this medium.”


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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 6:28:46 AM |

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