Kannum Kannum Kalandhu: The Tale of a Legendary Face Off

-Mani Prabhu

Can a ‘song-and-dance-sequence’ hold you in speechless raptures for a whole of eight minutes, forcing the casual blink to seem like the most arduous of efforts?

This delightful confrontation between two of the most exquisite danseuses of the era is one such sight to behold.

Padmini starts off with a stunning spree of Tavils and Naadhaswarams. The aura she evokes quickly transcends the tedium of technique. Nimble, graceful and fluid, she brings alive the character’s complicated romantic feelings by transfiguring every bit of the mundane into the sublime, with magnificent calm.  And suddenly, it all feels so transcendental.

கண்ணும் கண்ணும் கலந்து
சொந்தம் கொண்டாடுதே…
எண்ணும் போதே
உள்ளம் பந்தாடுதே!

Leela’s celestial voice, and the way Padmini carries it with the most mysterious of smiles, add an ineffable ‘something’ to the magic unfolding on screen.  The moment is almost impossible to capture in words, but in it, music and dance meet in blissful harmony.

கன்னி என்றேனடி கைகளை பிடித்தார்…
காதலி என்றென்னை கொஞ்சியே அழைத்தார்!

It’s a master dancer and a gifted vocalist nailing the portrayal of female agency like nothing the audience had seen before.

But then, in a moment of pure genius, the tables are flamboyantly turned on us.

As Vyjayanthimala joins the party, the track becomes insanely delicious with an unbelievable shift from poetic reverence to indulgent fun.  What started off as a classical purist melody suddenly explodes into this ravishing sensual delight! The audacity of the metamorphosis has to be seen to be believed.

PS Veerapa, in all excitement, goes “சபாஷ் சரியான போட்டி!” In fact he needn’t have. We instinctively hear it inside our heads.

Ramchandra’s orchestration is on a roll here. It’s almost like the song got doped on its way to the charanam. The unbolted vivacity is there to be felt.  In the foot-tapping beats. In the spirited rhythm. In every inch of the animated atmosphere.

ஜிலு ஜிலு ஜிலு ஜிலு வென்று நானே…
ஜெகத்தை மயக்கிடுவேனே!
கல கல கல கல வென்று ஜோராய்…
கையில் வளை பேசும் பாராய்!

And Vyjayanthi, on her part, is on some serious payback mode. With each sway of her head, each twist of her torso, each semi-classical gesture, each movement of her eyes, she weaves a captivating picture of deserving envy. It’s not about unadulterated art anymore. With an unprecedented mastery over the tightrope walk between classical and cinematic facets of the dance form, an unbelievable plasticity, and a unique follow-up crackling with energy from head to toe, she makes sure that her dancing breathes as one with her singer (Jikki)’s exuberant rendering of the showdown.

ஆடுவேன் பாரடி… பாடுவேன் கேளடி…
ஆடுவேன் பாரடி… இனி அனைவரும் மயங்கிட

ஜிலு ஜிலு ஜிலு ஜிலு வென்று நானே
ஜெகத்தை மயக்கிடுவேனே!

The ‘nerve’ had been touched. The game is on.

Padmini gets back with a recital that spills of precision and elegance. Effortlessly combining art with its aesthetic articulation, she breathes, feels and walks the dance. And Leela, singing for her, continues to nail the character’s knack of feigning an air of unmistakable repose.

ஆறு பெருகி வரின் அணை கட்டலாகும்
அன்பின் பாதையில் அணை இடலாமா?

With refined gestures, ethereal foot-work and a dainty flitter of her fingers, Padmini now seems like Bharathanatyam personified. It can’t get any more monumental.

பேதமையாலே மாது இப்போதே
காதலை வென்றிட கனவு காணாதே!

Giving you no time to revel in the shrewd riposte, Vyjayanthimala stages a thandava that erupts out from somewhere deep within. Myriad emotions of prejudice, jealousy and malice reflect in her steps, as she flits across the stage. Its breathtaking, to say the least.

சாதுர்யம் பேசாதடி…
என் சலங்கைக்கு பதில் சொல்லடி!

The tasteful stomp of a heel, the charming shuttle of an eyelid, the way she stretches her arms into space… in Vyjayanthi’s every manoeuvre, a new vocabulary takes birth – a language of form that breaks every single rule of classical dance.

நடுவிலே வந்து நில்லடி…
நடையிலே சொல்லடி!

When you are competing with one of the Travancore sisters, you can never really boast of a sustained advantage. And as awaited, Padmini bounces back in her inimitable style that relentlessly bolsters the aesthetic grammar of Bharatanatyam. But mind you, the first signs of resentment now start creeping up on the lady’s hitherto composed demeanour.

ஆடும் மயில் எந்தன் முன்னே
எந்த ஆணவத்தில் வந்தாயோடி?
பாடும் குயில் கீதத்திலே…
பொறாமை கொண்டு ஆடாதேடி

Even as the bite in her retorts start to sink in, Vyjayanthi takes the game to the next level by bringing in an element of mime to it. The steps start breathing the burning conflict now. Has it become less of a battle of expertise than an unruly ego-trip now? Jikki’s rendering of her narcissistic lines reek of a confidence, almost bordering on arrogance.

இன்னொருத்தி நிகராகுமோ…
எனக்கின்னொருத்தி நிகராகுமோ
இடி இடித்தால் மழை ஆகுமோ!

What follows for the next 120 seconds is an unearthly face-off between one of the best-trained classical dancers of the time, and the one who introduced semi-classical dance to Indian cinema!

Battling out on a complex platform of dramatics and narratives, they enthrall the initiated and the uninitiated alike – by infusing art with their own unique magic – by giving the dance form a whole new delightful dimension.

It’s not without reason that it is regarded as the best dance sequence in Indian cinema, more than six decades hence. Some cite professional rivalry between the leads. I choose to go with sheer passion for the craft.

Here is the Hindi version:


3 thoughts on “Kannum Kannum Kalandhu: The Tale of a Legendary Face Off

  1. I was about to blog on this dance sequence and upon googling landed on this page. Since I can’t do better, I will simply link to this page. Very well written. You should fix a bunch of typos though:

    சொந்தம் கொணடாடுதே => சொந்தம் கொண்டாடுதே
    கையில் வலை பேசும் பாராய்! => கையில் வளை பேசும் பாராய்!
    ஆறு பெருகி வரின் அணை கட்டளாகும் => ஆறு பெருகி வரின் அணை கட்டலாகும்
    பொறாமை கொண்டு ஆடாடேடி => பொறாமை கொண்டு ஆடாதேடி
    எனக்கினொருத்தி நிகராகுமோ => எனக்கின்னொருத்தி நிகராகுமோ


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