When Rukmini Devi Arundale danced in a movie

Writing this post was an eye-opener to me, and I think it would be the same to you. But, there is a small selfish motive in writing this post. Read on to find it out. In the 1986 issue of Kalakshetra Quarterly, Prof. C. V. Chandrashekhar writes [1]

It is a shame that there is no documentation of Rukmini Devi’s dance. Many of her critics had never seen her dance. There was more exposure to her dancing when she was dancing in her earlier productions ‘Kutrala Kuravanji’ and ‘Kumarasambhavam’. Being the only two of her major productions in which she danced the main roles herself, she had the added responsibility of a dancer apart from being the producer.

In the same issue, C. K. Balagopalan also says [2]

My greatest regret is that there is not a scrap of film of Athai to reveal her genius to the public.

Many times I too have wondered and wished that there was some videos available to see her dance. There are documented evidences that point to artists having a great dislike to videography and to photography as well. I resigned to the thought that probably she also shared the same idea. Shri C. T. Nachiappan’s (later Sri-la-Sri Nachiappa swamigal of the Koviloor Aadhenam) photo archive of Rukmini Devi is quite extensive and there has been publications with the photographs more than a decade ago. Some of them were not seen by the world until the photo exhibition that happened in 2001 [3] and later as part of the centenary celebrations [4, 5].  Having realized this, I could not think of a reason as to why no one experimented with video documentation, even though the technology was not wide spread, but available.  Although contended at that time, there was this nagging thought inside me that somewhere-someplace a video of her dancing could possibly be surviving unknown to many.

Well, if you were also wondering/wondered about it, my friend, look no further than this post.

Rukmini Devi Arundale dancing in a movie (dated 1936)

Yes, in a movie! Did that make you jump from your chair? 🙂 My good blogger-friend Minai says

there seemed to be no available recorded footage of her yet she was such a critical figure in the history of Bharatanatyam.

Thanks to her for pointing me to the some sources, we now have evidence of a video that showed her dancing. Apparently it was for the Tamil film “Raja Desingu”, released in 1936 (No, not the one starred by MGR). In response to a movie column in Madras Musings about what role Rukmini Devi would have played in Raja Desingu, K. S. Krishnaswamy writes [6]

As a young boy I happened to see this film.  Rukmini Devi’s dance came as an addendum, probably to attract crowds.  It was not a part of the main film.

And if one wonders if he did really see Rukmini Devi or confused with some look alike, we get another confirmation from  two independent sources. The first one is none other than Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai, who mentions in a Sruti article that[7]

Raja Chandrasekhar produced a film called Raja Desingh and Rukmini Devi danced in it, her husband Arundale providing a commentary. She did abhinaya for the padam Padari Varuhutu.  I’m not sure this film was released but, when I was choreographing the dances for another of Chandrasekhar’s films, he projected it on screen for me.

Speaking of how cinema, at one point of time, had a high involvement of musicians and dancers, Selvaraj Velayutham in his book “Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s other Film Industry” mentions that [8]

Rukmini Arundale, a proponent of high culture performed a dance in a film Raja Desingu (1936).

Having identified the dance as “Padari Varuguthu” by Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai is quite significant here. As one would have probably thought about her choice of the padam! I am sure she would have realized the importance of going on record for dancing to this padam. For those who don’t know this is a famous Sringara rich padam composed by Subbarama Iyer! I am really really curious to see how she would have danced. Was it the similar choreography Kalakshetra dancers are taught about “Padari Varuguthu”?

In the Sarabhai collection (dated 1942/43)

When I read the lines by Mrinalini Sarabhai about Rukmini Devi Arundale, I was pleasantly surprised. Recounting a visit to Ahmedabad by Rukmini Devi after Mrinalini Sarabhai’s marriage to Vikram Sarabhai, she says [9]

At that time Vikram [Sarabhai] was a keen photographer and had purchased a cine camera. He asked Rukmini Devi to dance for him so that he could film her. She at once graciously consented and on the terrace of our home ‘The Retreat’ she danced a padam, which he filmed.

Given the fact that their wedding happened in 1942, it is highly likely that the video was filmed in 1942 or 1943, max. Surely this video is in their private collection and secretly watched by a few pair of eyes!!!! I so want to bet that the padam she could have done was “Padari Varuguthu” in Kambodi. Given that few years back she did the same in the movie.

So, here I am disclosing my selfish motive. As of now, it looks like the 1936 film video is non-existent. If any of you can come across it in some archive, wouldn’t that be like A-W-E-S-O-M-E! Given the surety that most families treasure rare archival material more than their lives, I wonder if someone who reads this post could coax or cajole the Sarabhai’s to reveal the rare video taken by Vikram Sarabhai. Any readers out there who can do these? Is there a Santa Claus in real life to grant my wishes?

🙂

UPDATE: Well, She is not exactly doing a performance in this video. But, you can see her demonstrating movements to the students. See time stamp 7:42 onwards. If I am not wrong, the small boy in the video is Prof. C. V. Chandrasekhar. And the little girl taking the Tattukazhi and Thalam from Rukmini Devi Arundale is most probably Sharada Hoffman.

References:

  1. “My Guiding Spirit”, C V Chandrasekhar, Kalakshetra Quarterly. Vol VIII. No 3-4 Pg-26.
  2. “A Quest for Beauty”, Gowri Ramnarayan, Kalakshetra Quarterly. Vol VIII. No 3-4 Pg-110.
  3. http://www.prakritifoundation.com/events03/avanthim/avanthim.html
  4. http://www.hindu.com/fr/2003/12/19/stories/2003121901930600.htm
  5. http://www.hindu.com/mp/2004/02/23/stories/2004022300420200.htm
  6. “Our Readers Write”, Page 3 of Madras Musings, Vol XVI, No:8, January 1-15, 2007
  7. “Natyacharya Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai: A Creative Master in Tradition Mould”.  Part 1 and Part 2.  Sruti. Issue #26, November 1986.
  8. Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s other Film Industry” By Selvaraj Velayutham, 2008, Routlegde
  9. “Rukmini Devi: An Aesthetic Visionary” Mrinalini Sarabhai in “Rukmini Devi Arundale (1904-1986) – A Visionary Architect of Indian Culture and the Performing Arts” edited by Avanthi Meduri, 2005, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers
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One response to “When Rukmini Devi Arundale danced in a movie

  1. 1. I am sure when u go to chennai, u can find a copy of raja desingu. If it was released someone should have a reel of it. If it was unreleased, u can go to the production house/archives and fetch it with due permissions.

    If what is shown in the picture is hte “new costume” what was the old costume like?

    Right, if it was only that easy to find as it sounds. 🙂
    The old costume was worn like a “kaccham”

    Ragothaman

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