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26 December 2022

My Favourites: Twin Dances in Hindi Films

Two of my fellow-bloggers recently posted almost-similar themes in quick succession – Madhulika Liddle of Dustedoff had a post on ‘Not-Naachnewali’ Gaanewalis, while Anup of Mehfil Mein Meri posted a ‘One Lady Sings, the OtherDances’ post. The posts were similar in spirit but didn’t overlap in terms of the songs each of them chose. That gave me an idea – though my post is not similar in spirt or theme, but is complementary or perhaps tangential to theirs. I am talking here about two dancers appearing together – whether the song is being sung by one singer or two doesn’t matter here. In fact, the first example on my list doesn’t even have a song, merely musical accompaniment to what’s essentially a dance off. So, without further ado, on to my list. (I have tried to feature as many different combinations as possible.)
1. Vyjayanthimala and Madhavi
Amrapali (1966)
Music: Shankar Jaikishan

The kingdom of Vaishali is choosing its raj nartaki or court dancer. In the audience is Amrapali, who notices that the dancer on stage has made a mistake. Having done so, she must, according to tradition, be able to show the correct steps – a challenge that Amrapali relishes. With a prestigious position and the corresponding social status at stake, the dancer she criticised (Madhavi) is in no mood to tamely submit. And so begins a semi-classical dance off that showcased Vyjayanthimala’s excellent dancing skills.

2. Padmini and Vyjayanthimala
Aaja tu raja aaja
Raj Tilak (1958)
Singers: Asha Bhosle, Sudha Malhotra
Music: C Ramchandra
Lyrics: PL Santoshi
Plotting revenge for the calamities that befell his family, Chander (Gemini Ganeshan) invites the treacherous Senapati Durjay Singh (Pran) and his sister, the Maharani, to his palace to witness the dance of ‘world-renowned dancer’ Padma (Padmini), who is, unbeknownst to the villainous duo, Padma is in reality the daughter of the late king. However, Chander has not foreseen that his plans may be overturned by Princess Mandakini (Vyjayanthimala), the arrogant ruler of a neighbouring kingdom. Assuming that Padma and Chander are lovers, the jealous princess challenges her supposed rival on the dance floor.

The dance, choreographed by famed choreographer, Hiralal, combined pure classical movements (Parmini) with a more free-flowing semi-classical dance (for Vyjayanthimala). The rumours of a feud off-screen between the two actresses added to the element of competition on screen, and the dance off between two acclaimed classical dancers became the stuff of legend, overshadowing a rip-roaring adventure story that comprised murder, treachery and revenge in a world of pomp and splendour. It is interesting that the songs were shot probably at the same time given the costuming and sets, but shot twice – a blogger by name ‘Cinema Nritya’ has done a comparison of both videos
to showcase the differences that suggest they didn’t just reuse the footage from the Kannum kannum kalandhu sequence from Vanjikottai Valipan (the Tamil counterpart of Raj Tilak), even for the instrumental part of the song. 
You can also read a detailed explanation of the similarities and differences here.

3. Padmini and Ragini
Tu hai mera prem devta
Kalpana (1960)
Singers: Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyricist: Qamar Jalalabadi

OP Nayyar moves far away from his signature style to compose an intricate classical ‘dance song’ exquisitely rendered by Manna Dey and Mohammed Rafi. Their jugalbandi is complemented by the on-screen virtuosity of two of the famed Travancore Sisters – Padmini and Ragini in a dance competition to end all dance competitions. At the risk of being an iconoclast, I would rate Padmini as a better dancer than Vyjayanthimala, and Ragini is no mean dancer herself. To have the sisters engage in a duel of sorts, then, means you get to see some exceptional artistry on display.
Filmed as a ‘dream’ sequence of one of the protagonists, the imaginary dance-duel is one of the finest examples of ‘twin dances’ in Hindi films.

Yet another example of the sisters’ dancing together is in As-salam-aleikum babu from the same film.

4. Cuckoo and Helen
Bechain dil khoyi si nazar
Yahudi (1958)
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Geeta Dutt
Music: Shankar Jaikishan
Lyrics: Shailendra

The mentor and her protégé – Cuckoo and Helen dance up a storm in a ‘magical’ (a magician conjures the two young ladies from two wooden figurines) sequence in this princely tale set in Rome, long, long ago. It is a standard Hindi film dance number, but featuring two such exceptional dancers that one tends to overlook the fact that instead of having one singer for one dancer, both Lata and Geeta were singing for both Cuckoo and Helen (props to Shalini for pointing this out – I was too busy ogling Helen, Cuckoo and Dilip Kumar on screen).
The other song that featured both these dancers was Hum tumhaare hain zara gharse nikal ke dekho from Chalti ka Naam Gaadi.

5. Sai and Subbulaxmi
Aplam chaplam
Azaad (1955)
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Usha Mangeshkar
Music: C Ramchandra
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan

Another pair of sisters who were trained Bharatanatyam dancers, Sai and Subbulaxmi made their first on-screen appearance in Malaikallan (1954), the Tamil original of Azaad. They reprised their roles (they had short cameos apart from two lovely dance duets) in the Hindi version as well. Their flexibility and synchronisation were exceptional even among trained dancers as can be seen in this dance (and in O baliye o baliye). This, coupled with their very expressive faces and their grace, made them a sought-after pair when films needed classical dancers. Another film where they featured is Chori Chori, where they appeared – as usual – for just a song – Man bhavan ke ghar jaaye gori.

6. Padmini and Chanchal
Kya hua ye mujhe kya hua
Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1960)
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle
Music: Shankar Jaikishan
Lyrics: Shailendra

Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai
had a lovely classical dance piece by Padmini towards the end of Ae basanti pavan paagal. This one, folksier in nature, is a joyous celebration of falling in love. Kammo (Padmini), a young woman who belongs to a gang of dacoits, finds herself attracted to the naïve Raja who has been abducted by the gang on suspicion of being an undercover policeman. Unable to contain her happiness, yet uncertain as to what these nascent feelings might mean, she confides in her friend, Bijli (Chanchal), who wants to know the name of the man who has inspired such feelings in her friend. It’s a ‘dance’ of such abandon it is hard not to believe in the healing power of love.

7. Meenu Mumtaz and Kumkum
Reshmi salwar kurta jaali ka
Naya Daur (1957)
Singers: Shamshad Begum, Asha Bhosle
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi

While roadside tamashas typically had men who played the roles of women, there were also cases where women played both roles, especially when the scenes involved romance. Here, in a performance staged to create a diversion, it is Kumkum and Meenu Mumtaz who take the role of a woman and her lover on the makeshift stage. A typical nok-jhonk song, with the ‘man’ avowing ‘his’ love for the woman, and she paying him no heed, Sahir’s lyrics complemented the rustic tune that OP Nayyar composed for the situation.

8. Sheela Vaz and Meena Fernandes
Jaane kaisa jadoo kiya re
Parvarish (1958)
Singers: Sudha Malhotra, Asha Bhosle
Music: Dattaram
Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri

Like tamashas, other genres of music and dance that could feature more than one singer/dancer were the qawwali and the mujra. Here, (Raj Kapoor), has returned to what may be his roots – that of a miraasi, or a singer/musician. As the dancers dance the mujra in the kotha, he accompanies them on the tabla. As interesting as the synchronized dancing is, it is equally interesting to see how well Mr Kapoor plays the tabla.

9. Kalpana and Praveen Choudhary
Hamaare gaaon koi aayega
Professor (1962)
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle
Music: Shankar Jaikishan
Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri

A bevy of young women celebrating the advent of Spring, and in the midst, two young women who await the coming of a stranger and – love. What makes it intriguing is that the two women are not villagers; they are the orphaned nieces of the lady of the manor (Lalita Pawar), forced to relocate from the city after their parents’ death. Hating their aunt and tired of her incessant efforts to discipline them, the girls have escaped their prison for an afternoon of merriment. And lo, in the distance, comes a young man – in quest of a job.

10. Helen and Minoo Mumtaz
Aji chale aao
Halaku (1956)
Music: Shankar Jaikishan
Lyrics: Shailendra

When Halaku (Pran), the conqueror (or invader, depending on whose side you are on), decides to discover what the conquered populace really want, he disguises himself as a Persian merchant. As such, he’s in attendance at a dance rehearsal – two young women who are being trained by the resistance movement to offer poisoned chalices to their enemies. And so, we are treated to a lovely synchronized dance number by Helen and Minoo Mumtaz, accompanied by a bevy of female dancers.

11. Madhubala and Chanchal
More salone kaanha
Naata (1955)
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Sudha Malhotra
Music: S Mohinder
Lyrics: Tanveer Naqvi

In this film, a home production of Madhubala’s, real life sisters Madhubala and Chanchal play on-screen sisters as well. In this sequence, they take on the roles of Radha (Madhubala) and Krishna (Chanchal), in what seems to be Janmashtami celebrations. Composed by the underrated S Mohinder, this playful melody encapsulates the relationship between Radha and Krishna. Unfortunately for Madhubala, this poorly scripted and directed film was a box-office disaster.

12. Asha Parekh and Bela Bose
Jab se laagi tose najariya
Shikar (1968)
Singers: Asha Bhosle, Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Shankar Jaikishan
Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri

One way of ensuring a heroine gets to dance (especially if she is a heroine who can dance) is to have one of the dancers persuade/pull her in to dance. (But please don’t ask why there is a perfectly-fitting costume ready for her, or how she knows the choreography so well.) In a reasonably well-made movie, the scene involving the ‘tribals’ were the most cringe-worthy, but it did give us this song – one where Mahua (Bela Bose) pulls a reluctant Kiran to dance with her.

13. Ragini and Helen
Shikari (1963)
Music: GS Kohli
Lyrics: Farooque Qaiser

I must confess that Ragini seems to spend her time dreaming up dance competitions with her rivals in love. As in Kalpana, here, too, Rita (Ragini) is in love with Ajit (Ajit), and suspects that his affections have turned towards Shobha (Helen). And so, in her dream, she has a dance off with Shobha for Ajit's attention. And yes, Ajit looks rather complacent. Luckily for Rita, she is more fortunate here - when she wakes up from this very colourful dream, Ajit is by her side and all is well with the world. 
14. Helen and Madhumati
Ye Raat Phir Na Aayegi (1964)
Singers: Asha Bhosle, Minoo Purushottam
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: Aziz Kashmiri

What's with two women fighting over a man a cat wouldn't drag in? Here, it is Helen fighting with Madhumati for the attentions of Manohar Deepak, who 'plays' the guitar like everyone in Hindi cinema seem to do - badly. I must say that the situation becomes even more weird when he gets the women to [figuratively] shake hands, and then, they are all smiles. In the audience is a quietly moody Biswajeet and a very pretty Mumtaz. 

15. Madhuri Dixit and Aiswarya Rai
Dola re dola re
Devdas (2002)
Singers: Kavita Krishnamoorthy, Shreyas Ghoshal
Music: Ismail Durbar
Lyrics: Nusrat Badr

Never mind that in the original story by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Parvati and Chandramukhi do not meet, much less dance together. This is Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s opulent, overblown, operatic version of the tale. And since he had two exceptional dancers in Ms Dixit and Ms Rai, it must have made sense (to him) to ensure there was a full-blown celebration of sindoor-khela during the Durga Puja celebrations. It is one of the few ‘twin-dancers’ sequences in modern Hindi cinema that was shot spectacularly well. 
It's a shame that this genre of 'dance songs' have disappeared from Hindi films, much like the mujra, the qawwali, the piano songs, etc. What we have these days are overly choreographed 'dances' that seem  more like high-impact calisthenics to show off gym-toned androgynous bodies at their best.  
Which 'twin dance' songs are your favourites? Add them in the comments below.

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