I love the aesthetic of a Tamil black-and-white movie. It lacks the clarity of its companions in the West, but I know, with absolute certainty, that they are hiding more colours than the western movies.
My interest and affinity towards such movies are twofold – technical and philosophical. I wonder if the actors wore mismatched colours to get the contrast just right on the screen, just as I envy the freedom of simplicity that the viewers and artists got to enjoy back then.
My excitement is heightened when I watch peppy dance numbers in these movies. I oscillate between feeling like they could have done so much more with colour and marveling at how the songs are colourless but full of life.
The following are my top 5 best dance routines. The choreography is so intense in these songs that you can do a full-body workout by dancing to them every day.
1. Maama Maama Maama
“வெட்டும் விழி பார்வையினால் ஒட்டுறவாய் பேசிவிட்டு எட்டி எட்டி இப்படியும் ஓடலாமா?”
In this flirty little song, a young man wants to be able to touch his girlfriend to show his affection. The girl is having none of it. She knows his true intentions, and she’s not going to give it up without getting married first. Oddly, they express their desires and hesitations through vigorous sit-ups and kuthu steps. Another thing that stands out to me is the background dancers with their Alibaba pants and neat formations.
Follow this routine for a challenging workout and to learn how to communicate consent through dance.
2. Inge Deivam Padhi
“மனதிலே பெயிருக்கும் மறையாத நோயிருக்கும் வனத்திலே விட்டு விட்டால் மிருகமெல்லாம் வரவேற்கும்”
This is a song you’ve probably never heard, not even in the passing. The first time I stumbled across this song, I was surprised that Nagesh’s dance in Avalukenna and Malarendra Mugam receive so much praise.
‘Inge deivam padhi’ is Nagesh at his finest. The idiosyncrasies that drive his comedy become very much a part of his dance routine. Thus we have a Hindustani jugalbandhi-type philosophical song being performed on the screen with a mix of gymnastics, yoga, and Nagesh’s own brand of dance. I do pity the women who had to dance next to him while he writhes, kicks, and moves to his own beats.
Follow this routine to improve flexibility and to learn about how humans have both light and dark inside them.
3. Yaaradi Nee Mohini
“உண்மை ஏது பொய்யும் ஏது நன்மை ஏது தீமை ஏது மானம் ஏது ஈனம் ஏது தானம் ஏது தர்மம் ஏது”
Legend has it that ‘Yaaradi Nee Mohini’ is Tamil cinema’s first rock ‘n’ roll dance. You’d be skeptical until you get to the rhythmic clapping part at the end of the song, inspired by a Georgia Gibbs song called I Want You To Be My Baby from 1955. The music and dance are so joyful that even Nambiar, the resident bad guy, can’t resist joining in.
An inebriated young Shivaji dilly-dallying with a series of dancers in his tight pants and dressy top is a treat to watch. This song was so provocative when it came that they had to ban part of the lyrics that extol the fun of living lawlessly without self-respect, generosity, and dharma. Follow this dance routine when you want to let loose and party!
4. Chithadai Kattikitu
“முன்னூறு நாளை மட்டும் எண்ணிக்கொள்ளுங்க அதன் பின்னாலே என்ன ஆகும் நீங்க சொல்லுங்க”
This is one of my favourite Tamil folk songs of all time. Though the set and the choreography resemble Maama Maama Maama quite a bit (it even has some of the same dancers), I love it for its out-and-out local sound. You can hear the nadhaswaram and thavil players enjoying themselves. They are included as a part of the choreography in a way that very few songs have used them since (the only song that comes to mind is Oororam Puliyamaram from Paruthiveeran). The song ends with them amping up the speed and competing with each other in a way that I’ve seen real nadhaswaram and thavil musicians do several times.
Unlike other songs on the list, this one has very little downtime. So follow this routine only if you are ready for an intense cardio session.
5. Kannum Kannum Kalandhu
“ஆடும் மயில் எந்தன் முன்னே என்ன ஆணவத்தில் வந்தாயோடி? பாடும் குயில் கீதத்திலே பொறாமைகொண்டு படமெடுத்து ஆடாதேடி”
Rumour has it that Hiralal, then a little-known choreographer, was going through a difficult time. He’d asked both Padmini and Vyjayanthi Mala, trained Bharatnatyam dancers and top actresses at that point, to think about him for their next projects. As luck would have it, they were both a part of a period movie called Vanjikottai Valiban where they were going to have an epic dance-off. Hiralal became the defacto choreographer.
The legendary song is special in more ways than one. Not only do we get to watch the two best Bharatnatyam dancers of the generation together on screen, but we also get to enjoy them displaying their entire range of skills to compete with each other. The grandeur of the set and the costumes, and the uniqueness of the composition enrich the song so well that we are all with P. S. Veerappa when he says, “Sabhash, sariyana potti!”
When the producer saw the final dance routine that Hiralal had managed to get out of Padmini and Vyjayanthi Mala, he’d apparently given him a cheque for Rs. 1,00,000 on the spot. He’d also declared that if any other dance routine compares to this one in the next hundred years, he’d give them a lakh too. No one who watches this song would find it surprising that he never had to write that cheque.
Follow this dance routine… if you can.
Which among these is your favourite? And have I missed a dance routine you love? Let me know in the comments.