I was watching Mirza Ghalib last night, as part of my own little Suraiya festival, and as with Diwana (mentioned in my last post), there was a musical scene that caused me a big delay in getting through the movie, because I had to play it over and over again. But this time the cause was not Suraiya herself, nor was it even Kumkum (who has a very nice debut in this film), nor was it even the splendid voice of Mohammed Rafi… This time, it was a dance by someone I’ve seen in only two films. I watched this dance before, just a few months ago, but I hadn’t had the pleasure yet of being surprised by it in the middle of the movie, and it does appear seemingly out of nowhere and disappear far too soon. I posted it a few months ago also, but here’s a refresher for those who might have missed it:
Of course, that is not the film scene that she’s most known for… And I know I have posted that scene, from Jalsaghar, a couple of times before, including in that post that I did just a few months ago. Moreover, you have probably seen these dances even more recently if you are a regular visitor to Minai’s blog. But on the other hand, where these dances are concerned, I don’t think there is such a thing as seeing them too recently or too often. So, as another “refresher” (meaning an excuse to post and watch it again), here’s that spectacular dance from Satyajit Ray’s Music Room:
The last time I posted these dances, Sophy asked me if I “had a post” about Roshan Kumari or even a bio, and I had to answer that I had nothing more to offer. Once again, it was taking a long time to find information about one of the greatest dancers in Indian films. It’s not as though she’s been underappreciated either – lots of people refer to her as a famous kathak dancer – but it seemed as though it was simply impossible to find a full post or bio or anything like that…
But I did find something during the past day. In fact, a student of hers named Mukta Joshi put up a full biography and tribute, My Guru-Padmashree Dr. Roshan Kumariji. And it is a delightful page!
I also happened to find another page with a bio about her, but it is very short and doesn’t tell us much more. Plus, between them, these pages left me confused regarding some things – especially the identity of Roshan Kumari’s mother, since I couldn’t figure out whether she was (better) known as Zhora Begum (as stated in one post) or Zohra Jan (as mentioned in the other)…
And then I found out that she was best known as Zohrabai Ambalewali! I didn’t believe this at first (although there were enough hints pointing to this fact), but thanks to Vidur Sury (see comments below) for setting me straight that Roshan Kumari was indeed the daughter of Zohrabai! And thanks to posts at Sargam and Cineplot for confirming that too…
So, I am left feeling as though I have to see more… More bios, more photos, and also more dance clips.
And by the way, the longer bio mentions that she also studied bharatanatyam, something I didn’t know. I would love to see her doing that! And the shorter bio mentions other films she’s been in. She was in Waris (1954), and she was in Basant Bahar. If anyone could make the scene(s) with her in those films available, that would be fantastic. (Much as I love those two dances with Roshan Kumari – and because I do love them – two dances are just not enough!)
Roshan Kumari is definitely Zohrabai’s daughter. Her mother was actually named Zohrajaan. I can also prove this as Zohrabai’s husband was a Pakhawaj player, and if you see Roshan Kumari’s dance in Sheesh Mahal (among the medley), you can see that she looks a lot like Zohrabai.
Roshan Kumari also came in Parda (1949) in a song (which I have included in my Kalyani post) but the surprising thing was that although even Zohrabai sang in the film, it was Kalyani who sang for Roshan Kumari!
Thank you, Vidur. You are right, as confirmed by a post at Sargam:
I will now have to change the original post a little so that I don’t look so foolish. :)
And I see that this was also confirmed at a post at Cineplot – where Vidur left a comment too. :)
So nice to see a post on Roshan Kumari! Your post reminded me that I have been meaning to watch Basant Bahar and Jhansi Ki Rani to see if she was indeed in the films as billed. I browsed through them tonight- didn’t see much in Basant Bahar. If she’s in it, she might be the woman in the left in this screencap: http://i51.tinypic.com/rqxf69.jpg If that is her, she has a tiny bit of screentime in the film.
But much more excitingly, when I watched The Tiger and the Flame (what Jhansi Ki Rani is also known as), I am fairly positive Roshan Kumari dances in this song starting at 2:13: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xfu3kg_jhansi-ki-rani-1953-dance-1_creation
It’s very possible she could be the lead dancer in this other song as well: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xfu3rs_jhansi-ki-rani-1953-dance-2_creation
Do you think it’s her? I have the hardest time recognizing her! :)
All the dances including the links of Jhansi Ki Raani are fabulous.
I especially liked the first link of Jhansi Ki rani dance which I found very fluid and graceful.
Of course I’m taking it for granted that it *is* Roshan Kumari. :)
The second one; I feel for certain it is. But what do I know? :)
Zohrabai Ambalewali is a name I have heard. In fact as I was reading the ‘Guru’ article this name kept intruding into my memory, and then you mentioned it.
Watching the first link of Jhansi Ki Rani again and comparing it to the first clip (from Mirza Ghalib), I think it *is* Roshan Kumari.
The cheekbones are very characteristic.
Minai, thank you very much for posting these clips! The dances from Jhansi Ki Rani are a lot of fun, and I agree with Pacifist that Roshan Kumari is most recognizable in the second one. (She does have distinctive cheekbones and, IMO, somewhat like Ragini, a distinctive nose as well. :) )
Pacifist, Zohrabai Ambalewali is one of my favorite playback singers. I’ve posted a bunch of my favorite songs by her over the past couple of years. As a recap, here are a few links (and at least one clip, if WordPress does what it usually does :) ):
Thank you Richard. It seems I’ve heard all the songs on Radio Ceylon (bless them).
Special mention of;.
udan khatole pe ud jaaoon…..
It was just mentioned over at dustedoff’s blog by Johny Walker’s daughter, Tasneem Khan. The little girl in the song is Noor, her mother, and JW’s wife :)
Thanks Richard for all this info. The second Jalsagar clip really is somehting.
Pacifist, thank you for referring me to that interesting point in comments at Dustedoff’s that Johnny Walker’s wife Noor played the little girl in th song “Udhan Kathole Pe…” It’s funny, because this girl actually was named Noor Jehan or Nurjehan, so the actress playing Noor Jehan’s character as a child went by the same name. And by the way, the character’s name is Lata!
I recall that the Zohrabai song from Mela that I linked to was also picturized on an actress named Nurjehan who was not Madam Noor Jehan. Could this be the same girl just a couple of years later?
And Sophy, you are very welcome – thank you for giving me further incentive to find out more about Roshan Kumari!
The girl in the Mela song was Noor Jehan Moti, she sang herself in 30s and early 40s. She also appeared with our Noor Jehan in Mirza Sahiban; Shamshad Begum sang for her!
Thank you for that info! I thought that she must be a bit old to be the second Noor Jehan whom we were talking about, so there must be a third.
I’ve been in conversations before in which people claimed that “our” Noor Jehan was either singing or acting in a movie that she couldn’t possibly have been singing or acting in (possibly because she was in another country separated by a hostile border?)… So I’ve been aware before that there were a few Noor Jehans or Nurjehans out there in the film world. But it’ll take some to sort them out and identify them all. :)
Roshan Kumari has also been credited as the choreographer for Sardari Begum(1996), Lekin(1990), Chaitali(1975) and Gopi(1970) by IMDB
check out http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0474935/
Roshan Kumari’s diciple Aditi Bhagwat is a very talented, up and coming kathak artiste. Several of her performances are on YouTube.
It was a treat to read your article about my guru. I am a former student of roshanji’s (didi’s). I currently reside in Canada. I suggest you make a personal visit to her at her dance studio/residence for an interview which you can include in your publications. She is based in bandra on a famous St know as water field rd. Water field road is a short artery and well known that connects hill road with linking road.
She is a living legacy and it be an honor to sharr her presencevroad. She is a living leroad.
i think roshan kumari did not appear in the hindi film basant bahar (1956) but in the bengali one (1957)—starring sabitri chatterjee (a great comedienne, playing a more serious role here) and basanta choudhury—if she’s the dancer in the segment starting at 1:14 in this clip:
the two films have different plot lines but both are centered around music. the bengali one credits classical singers bade ghulam ali khan (i think he’s the one singing “aaye na balam” in this clip), amir khan, hirabai barodekar, a.t. kanan and manik varma–quite a list!
Just wanted to chime in regarding anon’s last comment – yes, that is Roshan Kumari! I just discovered that clip a couple weeks ago and felt so silly that all this time we had all been thinking she was in the Hindi version. Thanks goodness for Angel! I was planning to publish a post this weekend about that clip and a Doordarshan doc I found her in along with her other known works. Anon – That’s very interesting that the two films have different plot lines. I had assumed the Bengali one was just a remake of the Hindi one. Lovely to see another dance of hers! :) Hope you don’t mind my comment Richard, toodles! :)
Minai, your comment is quite welcome. Actually, I just commented on your Roshan Kumari post, which I saw before I saw your comment here. By the way, great post!
Thank you also to the anonymous poster who corrected the error regarding Basant Bahar, and I appreciate the messages from and about a couple of her students, whose dancing I will have to check out (hoping there is enough to go by on YouTube?)… There have been many good comments in response to this post, and I have fallen behind in responding – but I am happy to see all the information here!
Now I hope there will be at least a few more comments at Minai’s current post…
does someone know who roshan kumari’s guru was?
Vinay, sorry that I am answering your question close to a year later :)… but her first guru was K.S. Moray. There is a list of some of her other gurus in the bio page set up by Mukta Joshi, which I linked to in my post above.
Richard and Vinai,
When looking for K. S. Moray, I found this nice bio published in 1959:
MARG Vol. 12 Issue no. 4; September 1959, Page 66 (http://fr.scribd.com/doc/35167359/Marg-A-Magazine-of-the-Arts-September-1959-Vol-12-XII-Number-4-Kathak):
Roshan Kumari is the daughter of Fakir Mohammed, a noted tabla player, and Zohra Jan of Ambala, a famous playback singer, who worked for a long time in Bombay. Thus, she was brought up in an atmosphere of music and rhythm. She received her training in Kathak, first from K. S. Moray and then from Sunder Prasad. She also learnt Bharata Natyam for some time, from Govindaraj Pillai and Mahalingam Pillai of Bombay, but she did this only to understand the technique of that art, not to perform it. She has presented Kathak at numerous conferences in all parts of the country. She has often been asked to dance for important dignitaries who have, from time to time, come to India from various foreign countries. She has also danced in a number of Hindi and Bengali films, including “Jhansi Ki Rani”, “Mirza Ghalib”, “Waris”, “Parineeta”, “Basant Bahar” and “Jalsaghar”. She is now in Calcutta, where her parents have settled down.
I could not find when she was born. Several sources, including the 2002 Who’s Who, indicate 1941 as her birth year, but it is obviously an error. Looking at her dances in movies and her picture with Danny Kay on Cineplot, around 1934 seems much more plausible. But this opens another question regarding when her mother Zohrabai was born. I’ve seen two dates: 1918 (Wikipedia for instance) and 1922 (Atul’s blog). 1918 or maybe even before seems more likely…
Mel, thanks to the link to the issue of Marg magazine. I will have to look at it more thoroughly another time (maybe enlarging this one somehow, too).
The part that you excerpted is pretty good…
By the way, looking at the older comments above, I saw that Vidur Sury referred to a dance that Roshan Kumari did in Parda (1949)… And this obviously is someone who was born a while before 1941. :) (It’s a beautiful song, too – with vocals done by Kalyani, and music by Khayyam.)
The differences regarding Zohrabai’s actual date of birth don’t seem like as big a problem, for obvious reasons. But the post in Sargam that I referred to in the main post above also indicates 1918, and I think I’ve seen that date elsewhere, too, so I think it’s safe for us to accept that one rather than the one in Atul’s blog.
I am looking back at this post that I wrote almost seven years ago and the comments going up to the end of 2014 because I have found a little more information since then. I recently wrote a post about the footwork of three major Kathak dancers, including Roshan Kumari (as well as Gopi Krishna and Sitara Devi), and I was able to convey a little more information there. Most recently, I have found an interesting documentary that sheds more light on Roshan Kumari, her gurus, her style, and her students. I will soon be writing a post about that (mainly) which will be the real follow-up post to this one.
Regarding Roshan Kumari’s film appearances and age… As I wrote in my recent post that included her, it seems from Wikipedia and other sources that Parineeta was her film debut. I think this may be so. I am not actually convinced that the dancer in the clip from Parda (1949) is Roshan Kumari. I cannot completely recognize her there, and I have not seen any references to this film appearance outside of the mention by Vidur Sury. So, for now, I am accepting that her film debut was four years later, in Parineeta.
A recent documentary that I will be posting about shows clips of Roshan Kumari at a performance with her student Mukta Joshi. I am assuming that they are somewhat contemporary (although I will try to double-check the dates), and Roshan Kumari does not look all that elderly in these. I would guess that she is probably the same age as Vyjayanthimala or actually younger. (By the way, Vyjayanthimala’s age is also in dispute but within a small range, being either 1936 or 1933.) In Parineeta, Roshan Kumari could be a similar age to Gopi Krishna, who was born in 1935. So, 1934 (suggested in a comment above) might be a good estimate, though she could have been born a year or two later.