Birthday Girl Hema Malini On Her Biggest Passion - Dance
(This piece was first published on The Quint on 10 February, 2016)
Hema Malini has been dancing since she was a little girl and continued to perform on stage when she was a lead star, after marriage and also after having children. In my authorised biography of her, the actor confessed that dancing is her first love and acting comes only second.
A trained Bharatnatyam dancer, Hema over the years learnt other dance forms like Oddisi, Kathak and today specialises in ballets that combine all dance forms. Hema Malini was also in the news in relation to her dream of building a dance school on a land sanctioned by the government.
She looks weighed down and the exhaustion is not out of traveling from Mathura to Mumbai she clarifies. “I have worked double and triple shifts and when we host a new show, we rehearse all day and sometimes nights too. We are used to being on stage for three hours at a stretch. It is a long process after that to remove makeup, costume and drive home, but we are able to do it because we love our art.”
I started learning dance when I was only five-years-old. When my guru first tied the bells around my tiny ankles and demonstrated the adavus and mudras, my feet hurt terribly but I wasn’t allowed to take them off. ‘You will get used to them,’ my mother said and I did. Within a week, I was wearing the heavy anklets, bending, twirling, participating in public performances.
“We lived in Delhi that time and once, I remember, I was dancing at a sabha where Vyjayanthimala was present. She looked so beautiful, so graceful just like an apsara. After the show, she shook hands with me and was very encouraging. That was a special moment for me and more so for my mother.”
When I became an actor, I continued to perform on stage but initially I sensed disapproval from my producers. They told my mother that my dance shows will reduce my stature as a star but my mother was not convinced. She argued that art can ever come in the way of stardom and they had to eventually accept me with my dance shows.
“It was not easy balancing the two worlds, the dance performances and shooting date, both had their share of pressures but we managed somehow and because the shows were always houseful, we felt encouraged. There were many in the audience who came to see Hema Malini, the star, but there was an equal number who came to discover the classical dancer and I derived strength from them to excel myself.”
On my father’s suggestion we gradually ventured into ballets and Meera was Natyavihar Kala Kendra’s debut production choreographed by the renowned Bhushan Lakhandri. It was a good decision because more people prefer ballets to the pure classical dance form. Ramayan adapted from the Ramcharitramanas was our second production. I believe there is more to Ram and Sita than Sita’s trial by fire and our ballet concentrates on the happier times of the couple.
“In the later years we showcased my two favourites Durga and Draupadi, a big hit with the audience, though I have equally enjoyed portraying other women of substance, Savitri and Mahalaxmi. Krishna is my favourite deity and we have have hosted a Krishna festival where we perform Yashoda Krishna, Geet Govind, Radha Krishna and Draupadi over four consecutive days. Music director Ravindra Jain, who passed away recently, has composed music for all my ballets and my voice on stage has always been Kavita Krishnamurthy.”
Dance for me is devotion, meditation and also tradition. I perform Parampara with my daughters Esha and Aahana Deol and that is the most beautiful moment for all of us because it is carrying forward a tradition. My daughters understand that art has to be pursued and nourished. The fulfilment I experience after a dance show cannot be compared to the experience of a film.
“In films, we perform in fragments but on stage, the artiste transforms into the character, which is why my father always wanted me to portray inspiring characters in my ballets...My detractors can say what they want, I will continue with my parampara and for me, my art and dance is a spiritual expression,” she says.
(Bhawana Somaaya has been writing on cinema for over 30 years and is the author of about 12 books.)