Have you been following Minai’s www.cinemanrityagharana.blogspot.com? Oh! What a treasure trove it is for us cinema enthusiasts, dancers, or anyone who appreciates Cinema and dance! The blog focuses on Indian dance forms in Indian cinema. I myself have looked up to that blog to find how our dance sequences in Indian movies have changed over the years. I have always wanted to know more about the writer behind this blog because trust me, that is a lot of research going into spotting the dancer on-screen, identifying the dance form and who the choreographer is. Minai’s blog makes all this easy for you. Finally, I tracked down Cassidy Minai, the author of the blog and we spoke about her life, interests and her favourite Indian dancers on-screen.
Minai calls herself a “military brat” child who moved around a lot. She, spent much of her childhood in Mesa, Arizona and later moved to Utah for studies and Salt Lake City for her work. Minai grew up learning ballet but she chips in that she never had a passion for it though. Then what makes her interested in Indian dance forms and Indian cinema?
Growing up, Minai was never exposed to dance performances that showcased South Asian dance forms. She never heard anything about India, it wasn’t part of her educational or cultural experience – just like the experience of many other white middle class Americans of her age group. It wasn’t until she attended college that her international roommates and friends introduced her to Bollywood films which soon led to the discovery of dance in Indian cinema. But drawing that connection between Indian cinema and dance started with the Hindi film, Devdas. “One of the main things I noticed in it and in other Hindi films were the distinct, beautiful dance styles of the actresses. Hands gestured in certain ways and postures and movements were defined along a similar plane. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, and it took a while before I discovered the connection of filmi Indian dance with Classical Indian Dance”, she says.
Minai continued researching these dance forms and tried to distinguish between them. She also started looking into other Indian regional language films that featured classical dances or stories that were about classical dancers. “I discovered a subset or subgenre of Indian films made with plot-lines revolving entirely around classical arts such as dance and Carnatic music. They seemed to be more popular down in the south,” she says as she jogged down her memory. She kept reading about K. Vishwanath, an established director in South Indian cinema and on a whim purchased the highly recommended movie Swarnakamalam. “My love affair with South Indian cinema started from there!”, she confirms.
Minai’s insatiable passion to find out more about how Indian dance was presented in Indian cinema kept her wanting to know more. But her research path was challenging as there weren’t any resource that she could go to. The politics and history of Indian dance, and the feeling that the subject was under-researched in dance studies and her belief that it deserved more exposure made her want to do something about it. “As the years passed, I realised that the blog medium was perfect for what seemed to drive me most—a drive to share my finds and thoughts with people. Not a book or an academic study would help me connect with people as a blog would,” she says.
Minai loves searching for hidden gems in the archives and she found the intricacies and complexities of Indian performing artists intriguing. “Dancers with tragic lives, their class struggles, artists who never received recognition that they deserved, suppressed sexualities, the feeling of stigma surrounding artists’ lives and their ancestry, those who pursued their artistic passion at the expense of family and fortune, and not to mention all of the lost and destroyed archival footage and photographs… we have lost a lot of material regarding some incredible artists,” she thinks.
Apart from writing and researching for her blog posts and balancing her work life in higher education, Minai loves reading nonfiction, learning new things, traveling around North America, eating sumptuous food, adoring llamas and alpacas and caring for her pet desert beetles. Minai is still working on writing more for her blog and she is researching on aspects of Kuchipudi in Indian cinema and a lot more. Minai is also involved in a non-profit organisation related to Indian dance performances. “I have seen an inspirational growth in the Indian performing arts scene in Utah in the past few years. I have been lucky to watch some stellar performances like Nrityagram, Janaki Rangarajan, Ananya Dance Theatre, Lavanya Ananth, and a couple others,” she said.
I asked her about her favourite dancers or dance sequences on-screen and she says, “So many! But I think my favorites of all time for nostalgic reasons are three: Bhanupriya’s dances in Swarna Kamalam, mostly ‘Koluvai Yunnade’ and ‘Shiva Poojaku’, the dances in the low-budget Ananda Bhairavi especially the Shiva Tandava competition, and ‘Dola Re’ from Devdas. The great Kamala is among my top favorites of course, and my top favorites of hers are the stunning tandava dance seen the climax scenes of Sivagangai Seemai and “Nan Unnai” in Pavai Villaku. I feel lucky that I have personally met her, interviewed her and wrote about it too…”
But her list doesn’t end there – “Others I love are Sayee-Subbulakshmi’s speedy ‘twin dances’, Roshan Kumari in Jalsaghar, the tandav in Saptapadhi, Vyjayanthimala’s Kathakali segment in ‘Muqabala Hum Se Na Karo’ from Prince and her fiery duo with Padmini in ‘Kannum Kannum Kalandhu’, the Bharatanatyam number in Subba Sastri (Kannada), Shobana in Dance Like a Man and Manichitrathazhu, the Odissi in Hamare Beti, the dances in Sringaram, and the simplicity of Lakshmi Gopalaswamy in ‘Suma Saayaka’……” Her passion for Indian dance forms and cinema is just admirable.
Dancing duo Sayee-Subbulakshmi
-By Swaroopa Prameela Unni
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