Sunday, August 22, 2010

SRIDEVIPALOOZA: Sridevi the (non-Classical) Dancer

So SRIDEVIPALOOZA 2010 has officially ended, but many of us are still going. The links will continue to be posted, so definitely keep sending any Sridevi-related posts my way!

I wanted to explore something that's a bit problematic for me, because my inner-Sridevi-fangirl doesn't want me to in any way imply that Sri is anything BUT perfection. But that's not necessary as a true fan. It's kind of like recognizing your parents or loved ones shortcomings but loving them regardless. I'm Sri's unconditional fan.

There is no doubt for anyone that Sridevi is a spectacular dancer. She's been touted for many years as being one of the best dancers in Bollywood. I absolutely adore Sridevi and think she is tremendously talented, but the one point that makes me a bit uncomfortable is when people state that she is a good CLASSICAL dancer. Being a good dancer, and being a classical dancer are quite different. Being the daughter of a renowned dancer and having been trained in Bharatanatyam since the age of 2, I'm quite critical when it comes to dance. Ok, I admit, I am VERY critical when it comes to dance. And I also get VERY irritated by the fake classical dance that's often featured in Bollywood, or when classical dance costumes are worn by dancers doing weird hip-shaking, thrusting moves. I feel it's disrespectful to the style that my mother, and so many others, have dedicated their lives to.

So when people try to tell me that I must like Sridevi because she's "such a good classical dancer", I bristle a little. She has openly admitted in many interviews over the years that she is not a classically trained dancer.

She's most certainly a good dancer in general! She does great at your typical Bollywood fare, and she made the odd choreography of whoever created those madcap Sri + Jeetu aerobic routines look good. That is no ordinary feat! She could take the silliest moves, and make them look classy. That's one of the things I loved about her ... the way she could pull just about anything off!

But CLASSICAL dance is different. Having a background in classical dance makes any dancer a better dancer overall. I've seen it in real life too, in the community I grew up in (the Detroit suburbs) ... whenever the girls of the community got together and danced to film songs, the ones that truly stood out were the ones with classical dance training.

So too are the best dancers in Indian Cinema the ones that have classical dance background, including Vyjayanthimala, Padmini, Hema Malini, Meenakshi Seshadri, Madhuri Dixit and Aishwariya Rai. In the South, there's Jaya Prada, Bhanupriya, Amala and Shobhana just to name a few. Even Urmila Matondkar, who I know took dance from my own dance Gurus in Mumbai (the one and only Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharata Natya Kalamandir in Matunga!), has a defined classical dance style, so much so that she sometimes looks like she's doing Bharatanatyam when doing Hip-Hop type moves. Let me clarify that I am not saying in any way that they are superior actresses or that I like them better. Sridevi is my absolute favorite actress of all time. But their classical training makes their movement more refined, more graceful and more exact. It makes a difference! You can always tell when a dancer has had classical training, no matter what style of dance they are doing.

Now before the haters go crazy, let me say another thing. I believe that Sridevi had all the potential to be an AMAZING classical dancer. Without any training, she became famous for "Tandav" dance pieces in many movies, particularly Chandni and Chaalbaaz, and did a spectacular job in the popular "Mein Teri Dushman" song from Nagina. Items like "Jhanjhanana" from Nazrana, "Suraj Naache" from Patthar Ke Insaan, and the fabulous "Naan Vanangugiren" from Guru (video below) showcase her natural talent.

She is an extremely talented dancer and I believe has the unique ability to imitate very, very well, which helped her pull off a lot of the filmi-classical numbers she did over the years. If she had classical training, she would most definitely beat out ALL of the actresses I mentioned above (ok, maybe not Vyjayanthi, but everyone else) as the best dancer in Indian Cinema, hands down. She has inherent talent as a dancer, and would have picked up classical dance very quickly and easily.

And if you watch Sridevi's interview on Baaje Payal (posted below), she makes a VERY valid point. With dance, sometimes your expressions can mask any technical imperfections. This is why classical dancers spend so much time studying Abhinaya and training our faces to convey a myriad of emotions. I always say, a dancer can be the most technically gifted person in the world and the athletic prowress to leap from one end of the stage to the other, but if they can't make me feel any genuine emotion, then I'm not interested in watching them. Indian Classical Dance is spiritual in nature, and the whole idea is to connect with the divine through dance. Abhinaya, or the codified study of expression, is CRUCIAL to a dancer's success.

In that respect, Sridevi is tremendous. Her expressions are awe-inspiring, and I think far more powerful than let's say for example Aishwariya Rai, who is indeed a technically superior dancer, but her face often freezes in an overly-bright smile. Sridevi's expressions are always genuine and certainly are a highlight of her dancing.

Another great point she makes is that she loves to dance and enjoys it, and that might be why everyone likes her dancing. That is absolutely true. When someone genuinely loves what they are doing and expresses that joy outwardly, it is impossible not to enjoy watching them. That is one of the reasons I much prefer watching Sridevi to many of the other classically trained dancers, like Jaya Prada or Hema Malini. Sridevi's joy and exuberance is unbeatable!

For more SRIDEVIPALOOZA posts, visit either my Delicious or Tumblr links! There are many more Sridevi-themed posts to come!


  1. Geat read Amaluu. Even to me, who knows nothing of classical dance, from keen observation,Hema Malini, vyjaya,shobana are technically better dancers but it just hardly matters. Her expressions, overall charm and energy, she carries off anything. Aishwarya certainly does not come close.

  2. VERY informative post, I love it!

  3. I don't agree about the Aishwarya part. She is an amazing dancer but she also has a very expressive face.

    Watch Kajra Re for example. She hardly had any dancing to do in there. But her expressions were priceless. They contributed to make it into a cult song. Or even the recent Raavanan.. in the song 'Kalvare', fabulous expressions, especially using her eyes. Ah! priceless. I've always believed that she is a perfectly graceful dancer, the best in this current generation and will always be one of the best in generations to come. Good post, nonetheless.

  4. Shobana, Ash and Madhuri are the best dancers ever!

  5. I echo the first two comments - I know nothing about dance of any kind, and probably even less about Indian classical forms despite going to concerts when I can, and it's great to learn. As for Sridevi, I think her face says it all most of the time - it's hard to STOP watching her. I watched ALL of those videos you posted in the Sri+Jeetendra aerobics post and could have sat through 20 more very happily :)

  6. Hello there! Nice post (and blog- just discovered you recently!)- I have to say that I agree. I was just watching a lot of her dance videos recently, and I noticed that she is excellent at doing very fast-paced moves with precision which along with her passion for dancing gives her the appearance of pulling off classical styles. But what always bugs me is how her dance numbers seem to be more focused on how "sexy" she is with the camera angles and shimmies and such. That always detracts credibility for me! The distinguishing characteristic that reads "I'm a good classical dancer" to me is the lines formed by the body. Folks trained in classical dance know how to keep their elbows up and their arms straight and their araimandi's deep and such- I don't know that much about classical dance but I know it when I see it!

    Anywho, I'm off of my soapbox. Great blog you have here!

  7. Um... Ash has expression? Poonam Dhillon had more expression than Ash and she only had two. Sorry, Ness. But at my age (43) I am allowed to disagree. Kajra Re was good because of one aspect of one of the navarasa. That doesn't make her a great dancer. However, Alisha, I do completely agree with you on Madhuri. She is phenomenal and well-trained. I could watch her forever. I also think Shobhana is beautiful. But Sree has a powerfulness that is inimitable.

    Amaluu, I am surprised you didn't include something from Kumarasambhavam, being that Sridevi as little Murugan had infintely expressive eyes, neck, head and phenomenal timing in her angry baby God moment. She is genius as a child actress and she just committed to getting better and better. I do miss her.

  8. Thanks everyone for your comments. Velvet, I agree with you and disagree with Anonymous above. I don't think Ash has much epxression (LOL at Poonam Dhillon's 2 expressions!!! Me & my sisters used to always say the same thing!). Ash's dancing is technically good, but is always missing something from within. She reminds me of those dancers that dance because they know they are good, vs. ones that dance because they purely love it.

    Re: Kumarasambhavam, I ADORE that movie and about keeled over with love for baby Sridevi as Tiny Muruga. Her expressions in the "Ellam Shiva Mayam" (in Tamil, not sure what the original Malayalam lyrics were) were amazing! But I wouldn't add it here because it wasn't technically a dance number. :-)

    URGH. I wish a new actress that could REALLY dance would emerge. I'm so sick of these plastic ladies in the current B'wood scene.

    1. Wow! I discovered your blog throuhg a reference on filmigirl's blog to your sridevipalooza.
      And in this post you have written exactly the same things I have been wanting to say about Sridevi.
      1. I must be Sridevi's biggest fan. She can do no wrong. And you took the words right out of my mouth when you said that pointing fualts in her would be like finding faults in a guru or a parent.
      2. I did not know any classical dance while growing up, while Sridevi was dancing in the movies, and while I was watching them I believed she was dancing 'classical'. I learnt Kathak briefly when I was 24-25, and it has made me appreciate what classical dance can do to a dancer. Now I can tell whether people are trained. (I am a guy, a straight guy. IT got hard to continue with Kathak. That is not the point).

      My only ever regret with Sridevi has been that she did not know classical dance. Imagine the wonders she may have done if she was trained. She may have emerged the best dancer ever in Indian cinema. BUT if you look at her shaking her waist, there is a raw filminess in her movements, a slight bit of oomph, that classical dance training turns into grace (I use the word loosely, I do not mean to say Sridevi is not graceful). I just mean that there is some rawness in her movement, certain abandon, that might have got restrained with training. Of course, I can only speculate. We will never know.

      BTW: do you think Priyanka Chopra has trained in Kathak? She looks like it. I wish a few other actress would train too. Aishwarya too seems to have the issues you mentioned about Urmila Matondkar. I would much rather Aishwarya in kalvare-kalvare than krazy kiya re. (I am such a huge fan of Aishwarya that might even compare her to Sridevi!). Although her 'Kathak' in Umrao Jaan seemed a little forced. But thne, even Vaijyantimala could not fake Kathak in some of her vidoes where she has a dance-off with helen and shammi kapoor.

      I will end with a question: is rekha trained in a classical dance form??

    2. Thanks for your comment Archee! Sorry for the late response ... I think it's awesome that you trained in Kathak - I do hope you find your way back to it again someday. It makes me sad that life has become too convoluted for most people to find time and energy for the arts. I think it's crucial to contentment in life.

      I too wish Sridevi had the opportunity to do classical - she certainly would have excelled at it and not only that, I think she would have really loved it.

      I'm not sure about Priyanka Chopra, I have never seen any signs of classical dance training in her. Unfortunately the girls of today are so rarely required to show any skill in dancing at all, just gyrating seems to be all that's necessary. I love Aish's dancing too and agree that she seems so much more at home in Indian dance styles than Western. Still, I was impressed with her in Endhiran (Robot) for her efforts at selling something that was SO out of her comfort zone.

      As for Rekha, I am positive she has had at least some basic training or exposure to Bharata Natyam. My sister and I met her when I was five years old and she came to Detroit for a concert. When we visited her hotel room, she was overjoyed to meet us because she recognized us as South Indian, Tamil girls (we were wearing the traditional paavadai of Tamil Nadu). She was even more excited when she found out we were Bharata Natyam dancers and insisted on us performing the Alarippu for her - then paused us midway through to join us in a pose for the photographer. She was pretty knowledgeable about the Alarippu and was able to sing it and join our pose easily, so I can say with confidence that she knew at least some Bharata Natyam.


  9. Really enjoyed this post. R.

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  12. None can match the footwork and legacy of Travancore sisters, Kumari Kamala, Vyjayantimala, L. Vijayalakshmi, etc. Next in line are Shobana (overrated in South), Bhanu Priya (highly underrated), and western dancers like Simran, Sridevi, Rambha, especially Radha. Madhuri is grossly overrated. Her postures and figure are average!