Bharatanatyam dancer & Guru
June 16, 1934, with a career span of more than five decades on the stage
and three on the silver screen, Kamala, the prime disciple of Natyacharya
Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai, is acknowledged as the foremost exponent of the
'Vazhuvoor Bani', a style characterised by grace, finesse and aesthetic
did you start your dance career?
started learning kathak from Lachu Maharaj, Prof. More and Sunderprasad
when I was 3 and half years old. My first performance was in 1939 in Mumbai
at Astik Samaj when I was 5 years old. I remember it was on Sriramanavami
Day. I also learnt Hindustani music from Shankar Rao Vyas.
did you switch over to Bharatanatyam?
producer Chandulal Shah and his wife Gohar Bai who were pioneers in Indian
films, made me a permanent child artiste for their studios in Mumbai for
a handsome salary of Rs.100.00 per month. But like many other South Indians,
we moved down South in 1942 when world war broke out. I was 7 when we came
to Madanapalli where my guru Kattumannarkovil Muthukumarappa Pillai was
giving classes. He was already nearly 60. I learnt a margam from him and
gave a performance in Mayuram. When it became difficult for him to travel
with me for performances, he recommended his relative Vazhuvoor Ramiah
Pillai who was around 40 years old then.
did you balance your film and dance career?
came to Madras where I trained under Ramiah Pillai and performed in Mylai
Samajam. Sriramulu Naidu saw my performance and booked me for 'Jagatalaprathapam'.
AVM Studios contacted us and I worked for 10-15 films as a child star.
Apart from films, I used to give 4 to 5 dance performances every month.
Since I was already popular in films, there was a lot of demand to see
my dance. Lalitha, Padmini, Ragini came much later..
are famous for your stamina & for holding a pose for a considerable
time. Do you take a special diet, do special exercises for that?
could hold a pose for half a minute. It's an inborn gift to me by God.
People have asked me if I take any special meals for that. I'm a pure vegetarian.
I used to do a lot of stretching and bending exercises. That's how I could
do the Natharmudimel Irukkum Nalla Pambey which is my favorite as well
as a favorite with the audience. Every morning, I used to exercise before
going for make-up or shooting, also in the evening after returning from
shooting if it was not too late. Whenever I found time, I used to work
out for 1 or 2 hours at a stretch. That's how I developed my stamina.
you the first dancer to do ardhanari on screen?
I have danced the Shiva and Parvati dance with Gopi Krishna in the film
'Kathavarayan', In 'Naam Iruvar' I danced both roles with the camera trick.
However, my student Vivek Ramakrishnan has performed the ardhanari role
that I choreographed for him.
people feel you made a mistake in moving to USA, as out of sight is out
of mind. Your comments.
what many people say. During the MGR govt., I did not receive much encouragement.
There was no support from the cultural organisations based in Delhi either,
as the South is entirely ignored by them and despite going to Delhi and
waiting to speak to the beaurocrats, nothing comes of it. Since I am very
hard working and sincere to my art, this lack of encouragement hurt me
deeply. In '78/79, I had gone to the US. There was need for a good teacher.
So I left for the US in 1980. When I lost my husband in 1983, I was left
to fend for myself.
dancers consider you their manasiga guru, even though they never directly
learnt from you, like Chitra Visweswaran & Anita Ratnam.
don't know why but many people like my dance and say that. I feel honored
that they feel that way.
difference do you feel in today's dancers as compared to the old school
- gurukulam style?
be coached by an aged dancer who is experienced in teaching makes a big
difference. The gurukulam system is not feasible now. Many students are
not grateful to teachers nowadays. There are many who learn, open their
own schools and take away some students too along with them. I speak from
experience. I'm still Indian in my thoughts and to find one's own people
doing it is shocking.
you find any difference in approach to dance by foreign students as compared
to Indian students?
students don't get the feeling of devotion. They are sincere in practice,
take their work seriously, don't think 'this is enough'. They are a little
stiff sometimes. Ballet means flexibility, a modern dancer is acrobatic.
They are trained to speak with their bodies, without moving the muscles
in their faces. So facial expressions are a little difficult for them.
Footwork is also not their strong point. But when foreign students start
learning Indian dance from their teens, these problems are minimal.
many male dancers in the US learn Bharatanatyam from you?
are interested but I have only one male student Vivek Ramakrishnan and
he's good. I have about 30 female students. I have a son who's in the military.
He can play the mridangam, but he does not dance.
do you think of the present day students of dance?
think they are doing very well, are very hard working. There are some who
are sincere and these are the people who excel.
are the dance dramas that were staged in the USA that you like the best?
Jaya Devi' was the best so far. 'Lakshmi Prabhavam' was not that good.
I did not see 'Abhyaasa', so I can't say. I heard it was good. 'Annamacharya'
was a total disappointment.
do you think of the craze Indian dancers in US have for performing in the
December season in Chennai at their own cost?
need good reviews, which they have to submit back in the US in order to
get grants which they use to produce their dance dramas. If you make a
good name in your hometown, you can make it good anywhere.
do you think of the standard of critics in India?
have the best critics in India, especially Chennai. People who know their
stuff and appreciate art. Though many foreign critics also write on Indian
dance, some are knowledgeable, some are not.
do you feel about the awards being given by so many Sabhas nowadays?
a kind of encouragement for the artistes to do more work, but it should
be given only to artistes who deserve it, by people who know about dance,
music and the value of service put in.
it necessary to add one's title before one's name, like Kalaimamani or
not? What's wrong with it? I think it has more weight in the field. Only
those who have not received a title would speak out against using it.
you think the classical styles should not be tampered with?
traditional dance, there are only a few movements. Each school emphasised
on certain movements, like the Vazhuvoor bani, Pandanallur bani. Actually,
Natya Sastra has movements applied in Odissi, belly dance, tap dance, Kathakali,
Kathak and Manipuri also. Each state has adapted according to their language
and way of living. When I sit and watch a dance program, I notice how a
certain movement is different in Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam or Kathak.
do you think of contemporary movements in Indian dance?
use Kalaripayattu, sometimes it is good. I saw "Annamaiyya". The boy who
crawled across the stage like a snake....it was a nice contemporary movement.
Narasimha avataram was a mix of Kathakali, Kuchipudi and kalari. It was
the number of dancers has increased, so have the number of teachers. How
do you rate them?
are qualified, some are not. It's all jumbled up. Adyar Lakshman's group,
K J Sarasa's group, C V Chandrasekhar's group, Sudharani Raghupathy's group,
all are good.There's Padma Subrahmanyam's group too, but her style is good,
only when she dances.
you have your own school in the US, you must be doing very well.
never got any grants despite applying. It's not true that teachers in US
make lots of money by teaching dance alone. When both the husband and wife
go to work, there is no problem and dance classes is an extra income. It's
difficult for a single individual to make both ends meet solely by teaching
you have any health tips for up and coming dancers?
is all in the mind. Accidents happen, they can't be avoided. I feel most
dancers do take care. As parts wear out, problems are bound to arise. No
extremities, never over-exercise any body part to prevent it from being
worn out early.
you have any unfulfilled ambition?
have received many awards like the 'Kalasikhamani' award of Tamil
Nadu State in 1967-1968, the Central 'Sangeet Natak Akademi Award'
in 1968 and the Presidential award of 'Padma Bhushan' in 1970, the
'E.Krishna Iyer Medal' instituted by the Sruti Foundation in 1989,
the 'Nritya Choodamani' by Sree Krishna Gana Sabha in 1989, the
prestigious 'Branta Professorship' in 1975 by the Colgate University,
USA & 'Sangeeta Ratnakara' in 1993 by Bhairavi Fine Arts at
the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana, but I'm yet to get my Padma Vibushan.
Also, I wanted to make a film based on my story. Not like a biography,
but true incidents mixed with fiction. The audience will like that better
as biographies could be boring!