RIP, Kumkum. Kumkum is one of my favorite actresses among those who did not typically get the role of heroine, and she is one my favorite dancers of any who appeared in films. She appeared in quite a number of films (probably many more than I will ever even hear about) and she was well-liked, but it seems to me that she was underrated as an actress and a dancer – especially as a dancer. And that is not because there aren’t a lot of people who’ve said she was a good dancer, but because she was great. She should have gotten many famous roles as a starring actress-dancer, on the same plane as Vyjayanthimala.
Kumkum has done wonderfully in everything from classical to cabaret, and she has been fantastic in both solo dances and duets. So, for this post (which, by the way, also marks the eve of this blog’s 13th anniversary), I have decided to undertake the highly enjoyable (if sad) task of posting seven favorite dances by Kumkum. Most of these dances are going to be classical or semi-classical, because, even though she covered such a diverse range, that is the area of dancing where I have been most impressed by her, as well as the kind that I like the most.
I’ll start with the first solo Kumkum dance that I saw, which was also one of the first Kathak dances that I ever saw in Hindi films. (By the way, I am specifying this as the first solo Kumkum dance because I might have seen a Kumkum duet dance before I saw this. To find out what that is, go to the end of this list.) In Kohinoor, Kumkum’s classical dancing skills were unmistakably excellent – which is a great part of the reason that she was the one who most impressed me when I watched that film. As a few people might remember, in the review that I wrote more than eleven years ago, I even said that if I were Dilip Kumar’s character in that film and were given the choice between the adoring attentions of Meena Kumari’s character and those of Kumkum”s, I would definitely have chosen Kumkum (or Rajlakshmi, as her character is named in the film). Beautiful though Meena Kumari might have been – and even though she also was one of the greatest actresses (and is certainly one of my favorites) – Kumkum became far more appealing to me in this movie, especially once she started dancing. In addition to that dancing, I think her character was much more interesting, and even in her acting, she outshone Meena here.
There are a couple of dances from Kohinoor that I’d like to post, and I’ll start with the famous one. I imagine that everyone who knows a little about Golden Age Hindi films knows about this song. Many know “Madhuban Mein Radhika Nache Re” as an excellent Rafi song, but I like to think there are many who also know it as, possibly, Kumkum’s most perfect Kathak dance. And, needless to say, I’ve watched it countless times.
On the other hand, sometimes I like “Dhal Chuki Sham E Gam” even more. This dance strays a bit farther from Kathak, but Kumkum is so incredibly exuberant here, and it’s impressive how much – and how quickly – she can change poses. I particularly like the part where she falls to the floor – which is why I have used a screen cap from that scene as my image header for this blog quite a few times (including now).
Moving beyond Kohinoor – but still very much in a classical and historical setting – I would like to call attention to what I think might be Kumkum’s most adorable dance. I’m not going to say that she outshone Suraiya in Mirza Ghalib (I don’t know if such a feat would have been possible), but I loved the dance that she did to “Ganga Ki Reti Pe Bangla Chhawai De.” I also enjoyed hearing her get playback singing from Sudha Malhorta (someone whom we did not hear enough of in the Golden Age films), and I really enjoyed the transition at the end to Suraiya’s number,”Aah Ko Chahiye Ek Umar Asar Hone Tak.” I think it’s unfortunate that the script required the Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar to look so relatively bored with Kumkum’s performance, but I guess it was necessary because he was not hearing the words of Ghalib during this one (the lyrics in her song were by Shakeel Badayuni), and it was necessary to show a great brightening in his mood when Suraiya came out singing Ghalib. Still, I think he should have appreciated Kumkum for her dance alone!
This next semi-classical dance has been a favorite of mine for a decade. Admittedly, Basant Bahar is one of the two films I am referring to here that I have not actually watched (though I know I really should), but I have been aware of this dance ever since Tommydan posted it ten years ago. (But his post of the dance is on Dailymotion – which is why you get to see another video source here this month. It is difficult to find a quality copy of it, especially on YouTube.) This is a fantastic dance, and it also features some of the best dancing that I have seen by Nimmi, another much-loved Golden Age star who has left us, just a few months ago. But even though Nimmi is very charming here, I think Kumkum clearly shows her greater skill and agility as a dancer. It’s interesting that this dance also draws from Bharatanatyam, which is not usual for Kumkum. And there is a particularly impressive moment in the middle where Kumkum nearly touches the back of her head with the bottom of her foot. At that point, she enters the realm of Sayee-Subbulakshmi and Kamala Lakshman!
In this next song, from Mr. X in Bombay, Kumkum wears some very nice classical attire, though I think the dance is not really very classical but quite recognizably “filmi.” Still, it is a very good dance. I particularly like the part of the number where Kumkum sort of dances with Kishore Kumar, when he gets out of his seat and does a brief quasi-dance, himself. (Of course, Kishore Kumar is singing for himself here, in a very fine duet with Lata Mangeshkar.) I have to say, I am not sure what to think of this film. Mr. X in Bombay is very silly, but it does contain some seriously good song and dance.
For the sixth dance (which is actually the seventh one that I found for this post), I am sort of cheating a little. Let me explain: I had said that Kumkum had done great cabaret dances as well as classical ones, so I wanted to make sure that this list included the perfect Kumkum cabaret dance. I had one in the back of my mind that I had seen before, but it wasn’t from a film that I had watched, and I could not place it. Fortunately, I am not the only one coming out with a Kumkum list this week. (In fact, there are a few.) One day before me, Madhulika of Dustedoff posted her fine Kumkum list, and that’s where I re-found this perfect Kumkum cabaret dance! It’s from the 1960 film Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere. There is not much more I can say about this, except that Kumkum is very lively in this one – a lot of fun to watch!
And now for the final dance, here is one that many of us know and love. This might actually be the first dance I saw that included Kumkumn, before I saw her dances in Kohinoor. For a dozen years, at least, I have positively loved watching this duet dance that Kumkum does with Minoo Mumtaz in Naya Daur. Part of the reason is that I am a big Minoo Mumtaz fan, too. (And by the way, Minoo is alive and well and living in Canada now. But there is a slightly superstitious part of me that says, maybe I should not have just typed that. Stay well, Minoo!) Anyway, there’s also a great dynamic between Minoo and Kumkum here, making this one of the best female “drag”-related dances that I have ever seen. And both these dancers are captivating as well as amusing with what I take to be somewhat exaggerated Punjabi folk dance movements. It’s certainly the funniest out of the dances that I am posting here, but the humorous aspect does not hide the fact that we are looking at a couple of great dancers, with a marvelous sense of timing and rhythm and the best expressions. But did they really wear such blinding colors in this dance? I kind of doubt it – the colorization in this version turned out to be a bit garish. On the other hand, I prefer the colorized version to the black-and-white ones that have been available. The images look clearer, and I find the English subtitles to be very helpful. (When I first watched Naya Daur on DVD about a dozen years ago, it was a black-and-white version with English subtitles. But who knows if one could even find that now?)
As I have mentioned before, the list that I have put together is only one of multiple tributes that I know are being posted this week in honor of Kumkum. And I am glad that so many people have decided to pay tribute to her. She may not have gotten the consistently top billing and appreciation that she should have during her time, but clearly, she is far from forgotten now.