For quite a good number of years now, I have been aware that the day when many people observe Christmas Eve is also Mohammed Rafi’s birth anniversary. I have also known about a couple of other Golden Age/Vintage Hindi film music star anniversaries surrounding that: Noor Jehan’s death anniversary (December 23) and Naushad’s birth anniversary (December 25 or the 26th, depending on what source you go to). And I have mentioned and observed all of these anniversaries at some point in this blog’s past. So, obviously, this chunk of a few days can be very significant for people who love Golden Age Indian film music. But it’s only very recently that I found out that December 24 can also be seen as a very significant day for people who love Golden Age Indian film dance – and kathak dance and dance in general. That’s because Roshan Kumari was also born on Christmas Eve! There have been varying opinions regarding what year Roshan Kumari was born, but I think it’s fairly safe to say, based on some articles that I have seen, that she was born in 1937. This means that today, Roshan Kumari turns 84. (And yes, she still is with us, and no, I am not feeling too superstitious about typing that.) And so, it’s about time that I posted a Roshan Kumari birthday tribute.
Of course, I have written a few posts about Roshan Kumari before. If you include the comments under the post, then I think the most comprehensive one is something that I posted 11 years ago, Finally, A Little More Info About Roshan Kumari. But I’m going to keep this post pretty simple, providing clips of seven Roshan Kumari dances, with just a little text for each one. (Although if people would like to complicate things a little in comments again, I am also fine with that.) More than half of these dances have also appeared in this blog before, but since I posted them in a scattered way over a long time period (and also a long time back), I thought it would be especially nice to show them all collected together now. On top of that, just to do something a little different this time, I’m going to rank them. (I don’t know if everyone will agree with the ranks, though I don’t think anyone will disagree with number 1.) But the rank doesn’t matter all that much, because every single one of these dances is very enjoyable.
I should add one more point before I start this list: Because the first two dances below were not as fully confirmed to be Roshan Kumari dances as the higher-ranking ones, there is a very slight chance that the dancer in one of these is not Roshan Kumari. I’ll explain within the description how it was that I/we came to the conclusion that she was in this dance, and how there could be any doubt. But in the slight chance that someone sees that I have misidentified the dancer, please speak up! And in such event, congratulations to the dancer who managed so well to resemble Rosahan Kumari and dance so well on top of that.
7. Jhansi Ki Rani (1953) [revised since this post originally went up]: In comments to my blog from eleven years ago, Cassidy Minai of Cinema Nritya pointed out that Roshan Kumari had been in Jhansi Ki Rani. A conversation ensued in which we were trying to figure out whether she appeared in both of two dances – the only dances in the film, actually, at least in the abbreviated English-language version, The Tiger and the Flame.
When I first put the present post up, I picked out one of the two dances to claim as my choice number 7 on this list. Unfortunately, more recently, I have been alerted to evidence that the lead dancer in the clip that I posted probably wasn’t Roshan Kumari. (This evidence came in the form of a comment below Tom Daniel’s post on YouTube, saying that the dancer was actually someone else.)
So now, I am posting the other dance. I believe there is still a chance that one star of this dance is Roshan Kumari, because I think that a prominent dancer here does look like her (starting at about 2:13). It is also a really nice dance (though I actually do like the next six on this list even more). If anyone knows that this is not Roshan Kumari, please pass that information along. It would be disappointing to find out that this dancer isn’t her either, but it wouldn’t be too terrible, given that this post would still contain six delightful dances by Roshan Kumari.
6. Waris (1954): It took me a little bit of time to feel definite about her presence in the dance in Waris (1954). That’s mostly because the film’s a bit blurry here and she isn’t on the screen for all that long. But the quality of the dance makes it more clear to me that this is Roshan Kumari, and multiple sources confirm that she was in Waris. By the way, the scene in general is a lot of fun, and the music is great. (The music in the whole film is great – which is not surprising since the music director is Anil Biswas.)
5. Basant Bahar (1957): Roshan Kumari does some sweet kathak dancing in this scene in Basant Bahar, but note that I am referring to the Bengali film from 1957, not the Hindi Basant Bahar that we usually refer to (which came out in 1956). I haven’t seen the rest of this film and I don’t know the context of this scene (maybe it’s part of opening credits?), but there are a few tricks being pulled in the visuals here, especially involving the superimposition of images. The clip is not all that clear technically, but it’s certainly interesting to look at. There is a nice emphasis on Roshan Kumari’s chakkars (spins) and then on her footwork at the end, which segues amusingly into a pair of feet with shoes on them walking as the camera tracks them from the front. It’s certainly unique! (By the way, apparently, the video won’t embed, so you are going to have to go to YouTube for this one – but it’s well worth the extra click!)
4. Mirza Ghalib (1954): Roshan Kumari’s dance scene in Mirza Ghalib feels a little like a small dress rehearsal for the scene that I’m giving the number one spot. It certainly does remind me of the dance in Jalsaghar in ways, though Mirza Ghalib was made a few years earlier. I think part of the reason is the music. In both scenes there is a heavy emphasis on that classical Indian drone. And the moves in her kathak dance here kind of match some of her moves in Jalsaghar. But this is just a short performance – it really feels like a snippet – and I would say that it seems relatively light.
3. Kathak (documentary from Films Division) (1970): Of course, this clip is different from the others in that it is from a different time (since all the others that I’m including are from the ‘50s) and is of a different nature, too. It is the Roshan Kumari segment of a kathak documentary put out in 1970 by Films Division, the state-owned/run film and broadcast company. But it’s still as good a clip of Roshan Kumari as almost any, clearly showing her doing the pure kathak dance that she is best known for (and which would also serve her well as a kathak guru later in life).
2. Parineeta (1953): By all indications (at least in searches that I have done), this is the first film dance that Roshan Kumari performed in, when she was barely 15 years old. But it is fantastic. Probably, part of the reason it seems so great is that she’s in a duet with Gopi Krishna, who was, himself, only 18 years old at the time. I could say that it’s just amazing for these dancers to have been so good at such a young age, except that that was not so unusual for the great film dancers of the Golden Age. Anyway, this scene is both fun and funny, but at the same time, it shows some serious skills. How could someone not love the part of the dance that zeros in on both dancers’ footwork? Oh, and look at those spins after that! I’ve watched Parineeta only twice – and it was a pretty good film. But I’ve watched this dance many more times than that.
1. Jalsaghar (1958): It almost seems unnecessary to say anything about Roshan Kumari’s dance in Jalsaghar. I have said a lot before, as have many others. This is the film dance that she’s known for. Her kathak dancing is close to perfection, and it is filmed in the most enchanting way. The camera angles are very unique but also so natural-seeming, and I love the remarkable use of the mirror in the back. Then there is the deliberately mesmerizing footwork close-up near the end… It’s obvious that in addition to performing with such great skill, Roshan Kumari was very lucky to be filmed by the cinematographer named Subrata Mitra in a film directed by Satyajit Ray.
And now that I have finished the list, let me say that it feels very good to have written a birthday tribute to Roshan Kumari that was long overdue. I have been writing about her in this blog for so long; I wish I had known about her birthday years earlier. And I wish that other people did, too. Happy birthday, Roshan Kumari!