Tamizh Talkies: Dance, dance baby
The writer is a former journalist who has worked in the film industry for several years and is passionate about movies, music and everything related to entertainment
A teacher of mine once told me, “If you can write, you can draw; if you can speak, you can sing; if you can walk, you can dance.” Believing this to be true, I try a bit of all that till date without much success, but do I derive joy from doing them all? Oh, yes! Our Indian cinema is a perfect platform for all three and more art forms. I reserve a special place for one art form in particular: dance. Beginning from classical to filmy steps, I flip for them all. From Vyjayanthimala in Vanjikottai Valiban (even though Padmini danced with more gusto, Vyjayanthimala more than held her own in the ultimate ‘dance face-off song’, Kannum Kannum Kalandhu) to Sai Pallavi in Rowdy Baby (which crossed the 1 billion view mark recently), from the group dancers who would grace every black and white high tempo song with their in-sync steps to the ‘Kamal Haasan era’ of dance numbers, right up to Vijay and Dhanush who regale with their dexterous dance moves, song and dance has been and will be a domain dominated by Indian films.
Growing up in the Kodambakkam heartland, names like Puliyur Saroja (the go-to choreographer of the 80s), Raghuram Master, followed by Kala and thereafter, Brinda Master, whose working style and ability to harness talent remains unmatched, Brinda Master… were all familiar names. When the Mani Ratnam era began, in came Sundaram Master (who worked quite a bit with Kamal Haasan earlier) and his sons Raju Sundaram and Prabhudheva, who grew up to be ace dancers and choreographers in their own might. Prabhudheva Master, as he is called, is a true icon of dance choreography. His every song tells a story within a story. Every line of the song gets a different step, one that is not easy to replicate without rehearsal.
When the song, Rowdy Baby, released in 2019, both Yuvan Shankar Raja’s thumping score and the colourful choreography came in for much praise, along with Sai Pallavi, who truly dances like no one is watching her. Dance, in that sense, is more about what’s within which we want to express. Technique and skill come later. What am I conveying when I move? What’s the emotion? Can I dazzle while expressing myself? What a delectable combination that would be. Song and dance routines in South Indian cinema have come a long way—from a template number of six songs to now, montages (because who in real life can break into random steps in the middle of back-of-beyond Ooty or as happened later on, the Swiss Alps?) to realistic situations that make the song/dance believable. Like it is in world cinema, ‘musicals’ will perhaps become a separate genre here too?
From the era of MK Thyagaraja Bhagavathar whose films had 12-14 songs (if you miss a dialogue, you will get a song instead) to MGR/Sivaji Ganesan films (have you seen them dance Bharatanatyam, while sketching lions and elephants with their feet, in Mannadhi Mannan and Paattum Bharathamum respectively), classical dance was the ‘in thing’. But a Bharatanatyam-trained dancer-actor was unheard of until Kamal Haasan entered the scene (his training in other dance forms could be seen in K Vishwanath’s Salangai Oli). Prabhudheva is perhaps the only other ‘actor-hero’ to come in with similar training but who soon shifted base camp to film choreography to create his signature moves. So much so that even after two decades of making people dance to his tunes, a Prabhudheva-choreographed number like a Rowdy Baby breaks worldwide records. This speaks of the magic a choreographer can create with a super hit number, aided by great lead dancers.
What’s life without a tune there and a step here? Taking the liberty of adding to Shakespeare, “If music (and dance) be the food of love, do play on!”