cinema Hyderabad

Telugu classic ‘Saptapadi’ turns 40

Sabitha Bhamidipati  

As a demure young girl who lets her eyes speak but is a livewire while dancing, Sabitha Bhamidipati captured the imagination of the audience in the role of a classical dancer Hema in K Vishwanath’s Saptapadi. That she’s called a one-film-wonder does not bother her; Sabitha actually considers it a badge of honour. “If I am remembered 40 years after the film, it is a privilege and I cherish the recognition I received for that one film.”

Close on the heels of the Telugu magnum opus Sankarabharanam in 1980, director K Viswanath came up with Saptapadi in 1981; a film that yet again dealt with classical dance, traditions and customs, but went a step ahead to depict a climax that generated a debate among traditionalists.

Set in picturesque Amaravati on the banks of Krishna river in AP, Saptapadi had director K Viswanath’s hallmark traits in every scene, characterisation, music and a message. Sabitha plays a dancer, who despite her love for a Dalit flautist from their troupe, accepts her grandfather Yajulu’s (J V Somayajulu) decision and marries her cousin. Yajulu, a revered high priest of the temple, realises his mistake after the groom refuses to consummate his marriage because he sees the Goddess in his wife. Braving protests from villagers, Yajulu lets Hema leave with her lover.

For the convent-educated, city-bred Sabitha, playing the role of a submissive girl posed no challenge; she says she is one of those girls “who always obeyed parents and believed they knew best”. To a certain extent, Sabitha relates to Hema’ character: “What kind of worldly exposure did we have those days? My world was the school, dance classes and a few friends. I had my dance teacher for a mentor and parents for guidance. Hema is also like that, she doesn’t even consider the option of saying no to elders.”

Recalling how she landed the role, Sabitha says it was her dance teacher the late Uma Ramarao who sent her photos to K Viswanath. Thereafter, she was called for a photo shoot along with hero Girish and got selected. “It came as a surprise. My only aim was to be a good dancer and have a few pictures taken in a dance costume. So out of the blue, my teacher asked me to give my photos, I was surprised but I gave them and didn’t expect to be selected for the role. I had always admired my more glamorous friends in the showbiz and dance circles but never expected to be in their position. I never wanted stardom.”

Soon after Sankarabharanam, a renewed interest in classical arts saw a rise in filmmakers and actors wanting to be part of that genre. “I was told that many classical dancers and leading heroines wanted to work in Saptapadi. I am happy that I was chosen to play the main role eventually.”

On being asked what could have made Viswanath select her over others, Sabitha thinks for a while and says, “Apart from me being a classical dancer probably my soft nature and innocent looks? I don't know, at that age, all young girls look innocent.”

Seshu master not only choreographed her dances but also played Sabitha’s father in the film. The song ‘Nemaliki nerpina nadakalivi...’ was such a rage that dancers would perform that number on various platforms. “It was a semi-classical composition but not an easy one to perform,” recalls Sabita, whose favourite is her dance in the temple precinct to the chant of ‘Om Jatavedase Sunavamaso...’. “The chants give you goosebumps. Seshu master used to explain the meaning of each verse before I would perform. My other favourite is the Thandavam for which maestro Yella Venkateswara Rao played the mridangam.”

The success of Saptapadi brought more film offers to Sabitha who did not accept any of them. “My parents were apprehensive about letting me continue in the industry; they were not sure if I would succeed. No regrets now.” Post Saptapadi, Sabitha enrolled in Vempati Chinna Satyam’s Kuchipudi school in Chennai and went on to give several performances. She fiinished graduation in Computer Science. However, her performances were put on hold after marriage and the birth of her son and twin daughters. “Till 15 years ago I was performing but wanted to devote more time to my children, so I put my dancing on hold and shifted to a software job.”

Today, her children are proud of their mother’s acting stint. In turn, Sabitha is a proud mother of her children’s achievements. and says on parenting: “These days, parents have to give children a choice and respect their decision. They are better judges than us because they have better exposure.”


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Printable version | Sep 22, 2021 9:01:08 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/telugu-classic-saptapadi-turns-40/article35641816.ece

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