First male dancer of Hindi films: Mumtaz Ali

October 9, 2015

Mumtaz Ali_thumb[1]I came to Mumtaz Ali in a very roundabout way. Before the Internet era I was only aware of his name as the father of Mehmood and Minoo Mumtaz etc. Internet made me aware that he was also into films, with the Bombay Talkies. Then a rare chance occurrence gave me a day out with his grandson, Ajaz Ali a.k.a AJ (son of Minoo Mumtaz), and later with his help, with Minoo Mumtaz. What they told me about his early life was most fascinating, which could be straight out of classic tales: How a young boy in Saudi Arabia, run-away from his oppressive elder sister, hid himself in a ship’s hold, and found himself on the shores of Bombay where he started eking out a living with other street children, when a kind-hearted Englishman, BG Horniman, editor of Bombay Chronicle, took a liking for him and brought him up. Mumtaz Ali was a born dancer. Bombay had a large number of theatre groups where he started dancing. Devika Rani took a liking for him and employed him in the Bombay Talkies, where he danced in many films. His dance in the song Main to Dilli se dulhna laya re ae babuji became a roaring hit. You can see the account of my meeting with AJ and his mother in conversation with Minoo Mumtaz.

They did not mention anything more about his professional and personal life, though I tried to probe. The reason is understandable, because references about his deviant personal life, which caused great hardship and misery to his family, are available in public domain. Javed Akhtar, who has been hosting a TV programme ‘Classic Legends’, mentioned in the episode on Mehmood that Mumtaz Ali was once at the peak of glory and wealth, comparable to the topmost stars. He had many cars, and was building a grand mansion called ‘Mumtaz Manzil’, which would have had a separate floor for each of his eight children. Then he turned alcoholic, and suddenly everything collapsed. He lost all his money and possessions and became virtually penniless. That was the time when his landlady got an eviction order against him for arrears of rent, and the family had to shift in the skeleton of the under-construction, and now abandoned Mumtaz Manzil, where they used bed-sheets for doors and windows.

Between his early surreal life and the later descent into self-destruction, there is a huge swathe of his professional and personal life, which is an important part of the history of Hindi films and music. Unfortunately, I do not think much independent writing has been done on him. I believe whatever is available about him in public domain is through the biography of Mehmood, written by Hanif Zaveri (Mehmood: A Man of Many Moods). Its Chapter 1 gives some information about him.

The book does mention the voyage from Mecca to Bombay, in 1921, when Mumtaz Ali was 9 years old (thus he was born in 1912), but varies very substantially in other details from what his family told me. The book states he was born in Hyderabad, and the family traced its roots to the royal nawab of the princely rulers of Hyderabad. The family had moved to Saudi Arabia when he was 3 years old for pilgrimage and for making a better living there. A devastating storm destroyed their home and all possessions, killed his parents; and the older sister, with an eighteen-month old child, became a widow. So they decided to come back to India. This sister, Karimunissa, far from being oppressive, was in fact a very kind-hearted lady, whom Mumtaz Ali looked upon as his mother. She was called Bi Ma and was a major anchor to his children in his bad days.

The book also mentions Mumtaz Ali’s benefactor, and a sort of foster-father, BG Horniman. Horniman Saheb and Bi Ma both existed in parallel in Mumtaz Ali’s life. He started acting and singing in community hall theatres, and established his own ‘Mumtaz Theatrical Company’ in due course. Mr Horniman was none too pleased, but seeing his deep interest, gave him a letter of introduction to Himanshu Rai, who was greatly charmed by the talent and manners of the young Mumtaz, and the first meeting established a long-standing bond between the two.

Back to Bi Ma. She became friends with one Zariwala family, who had four daughters from his first wife. She particularly liked his second daughter, Latifunissa, and proposed her brother’s match with her. Mumtaz Ali and Latifunissa were married in 1929. In due course they had eight children, including the two who became very famous: Mehmood and Minoo Mumtaz.

Mumtaz Ali was among the earliest people who joined the Bombay Talkies, along with celebrated names like Rai Bahadur Chunnilal, Shashdar Mukherjee, Savak Vacha, Ashok Kumar etc. Mehmood was a year and half old when Mumtaz Ali got a job in the production unit of the Bombay Talkies at Rs 75 per month. He worked with the production unit of their first film Jawani Ki Hawa (1935). From Achhut Kanya (1936) onwards, Mumtaz Ali regularly appeared in Bombay Talkies Films as an actor-dancer. His career flourished, going on to earn him Rs 250 per month. His peak coincided with the peak of the Bombay Talkies as borne out by his filmography of the period:

Achhut Kanya (1936)
Janmbhoomi (1936)
Jeevan Naiya (1936)
Izzat (1937)
Jeevan Prabhat (1937)
Prem Kahani (1937)
Savitri (1937)
Nirmala (1938)
Vachan (1938)
Durga (1939)
Navjeevan (1939)
Azaad (1940)
Jhoola (1941)

Thereafter, we find a sudden absence of Mumtaz Ali from films. We can relate this to several events unfolding at the time. The outbreak of the Second World War had created a difficult situation for the film industry. Bombay Talkies’ German director and technicians were detained and later deported. This was compounded by Himanshu Rai’s death in 1940, which unleashed a power struggle between two factions of the studio: one led by his widow and the other by Shashdhar Mukherjee. There followed a period of dual control, which finally ended in snapping of ties, leading to the setting up of Filmistan Studios by Shashdhar Mukherjee.

This was the period when Mumtaz Ali must have started travelling all over the country with  his dance troupe ‘Mumtaz Ali Nites’,  when his children would also accompany him, at times also performing on the stage. A major task of Mehmood was to sit at the box window and sell tickets for the shows.

Mumtaz Ali next appears in Filmistan’s Shehnai (1947) in a major role, and films now start coming to him in regular trickle:

Shehnai (1947)
Padmini (1948)
Jeevan Sathi (1949)
Jiyo Raja (1949)
Rim Jhim (1949)
Roshni (1949)
Apni Chhaya (1949)
Sangeeta (1950)
Sargam (1950)
Nazariya (1952)
Rangeelee (1952)
Shin Shinaki Bubla Boo (1952)

His career seems to have come to a virtual halt after 1952. Somewhere along the way alcohol took over his life, and in spite of all his talents, the industry, and even his close friends started losing faith in him because of his unstable and unpredictable behaviour. Fortunately, Minoo Mumtaz and Mehmood made it big in the films a few years later, and the family gradually stabilized, but some scars of unpleasant memories must have remained.

He was last seen in Mehmood’s home production Kunwara Baap (1974) in the song Saj rahi gali teri ma.

Readers are aware I refer to vintage songs very fondly, and I use the term with a specific connotation, not only to a period (1931 to 1949), but more importantly a different style of singing and orchestration. This would imply ‘other’ female voices, such as Rajkumari, Zohrabai Ambalewali, Amirbai Karnataki, Khursheed etc., and ‘other’ male voices too, such as Surendra, Ashok Kumar, the New Theatres Trinity KL Saigal, Pankaj Mullick and KC Dey. I have come to put Mumtaz Ali’s dance-songs, too, in the same league of my favourite things about ‘vintage’.

Do you recall Sunil Dutt, Ashok Kumar, Surendra or KL Saigal dancing in any film? His family’s claim that Mumtaz Ali was the first male dancer of Hindi films might be correct. Here is my tribute to this great artiste from the vintage era with some dance-songs picturised on him.

1.  Chudiyan le lo anmol re from Achhut Kanya (1936) by Mumataz Ali and Sunita Devi, lyrics JS Kashyap ‘Natwan’, music Saraswati Devi

This seems to be the earliest dance-song of Mumtaz Ali, and what a delight! This takes place in the mela, where all the main characters have gone, some have been set up as a part of conspiracy borne out of jealousy; but oblivious of the game afoot, everyone enjoys this delightful dance. From HFGK listing it appears that Mumtaz Ali and Sunita Devi are singers as well as performers of this dance-song.

2.  Piya aavan kah gaye man nahi dharat dheer by (singers?) from Izzat (1937), lyrics Jamuna Swarup Kashyap ‘Natwan’, music Saraswati Devi

Next year, too, in Bombay Talkies’ Izzat, Mumtaz Ali figures in a dancing role. In this beautiful dance he pairs with Sunita Devi and another lady (?). This is a mujra performance in which the lady is waiting for her lover, lamenting that he had promised to come, but would he come after her body had become emaciated? The other lady now enters with exquisite dancing steps, with a note in her hand conveying he would soon show up. The ladies then dance in unison, and you see Mumtaz Ali making an entry with beautiful dancing steps. Now you know the lady who brought the note is his sister as he addresses her as bahiniya and the first lady as mohaniya or sajaniya (beloved). Both the ladies ask for their gifts. Mumtaz Ali gives a philosophical reply, isn’t it enough that he has come? Jewellery and clothes are ephemeral, but love is eternal. But apparently the ladies are not amused, they pull his ear from each side, and the three dance in beautiful symmetry.

3.  Dekho humre raja ki aaj sagai hai from Jhoola (1941) by Arun Kumar and Rahmat Bano, lyrics Pradeep, music Saraswati Devi

Mumtaz Ali had an important role in this film as Ashok Kumar’s companion and friend in need. Shahnawaz is besotted with Leela Chitnis, caring little that she and his ‘adopted’ brother, Ashok Kumar, like each other deeply. Shahnawaz, being the legal heir of the estate, has his way, and as per protocol Mumtaz Ali celebrates Shahnawaz’s sagaai with the leading lady, who can be seen with sadness writ on her face, fiddling with her sari’s pallu at the turn of the events. Incidentally, Mumtaz Ali would play a major role in the climax of the film in rescuing the leading lady from the villainous Shahnawaz’s hideout and getting her united with Ashok Kumar.

Dekho humre raja ki aaj sagai hai[6]

4.  Main to Dilli se dulhan laya re by Arun Kumar and Rahmat Bano from Jhoola (1941), lyrics Pradeep, music Saraswati Devi

And now the iconic song, which is the best known dance-song of Mumtaz Ali and was a craze those days. Picturised on him and Shahzadi. In spite of the poor video quality, you can’t help being charmed by Mumtaz Ali’s dance and the beautiful song.

Main to Dilli se dulhan laya re[5]

5.  Gori mose Ganga ke paar milnaa by Arun Kumar and Parul Ghosh from Basant (1942), lyrics PL Santoshi, music Anil Biswas

You find many classic vintage films based on stories around theatre. This theatre film gave Mumtaz Ali ample opportunity to show his dancing talent. Enjoy his elegant dance steps in this dance-song with the leading lady, Mumtaz Shanti.

6.  Aya basant sakhi viraha ka ant sakhi ban ban mein chhayi bahaar by Arun Kumar and Parul Ghosh from Basant (1942), lyrics PL Santoshi, music Anil Biswas

While the dances so far had strong folk roots, this one has a distinct classical style. As the readers are aware, Pannalal Ghosh was officially credited as the music director of the film, but it is commonly believed that he did the orchestration and background music, and it was Anil Biswas who was the MD, but could not be credited because of some contractual difficulties. The singers Arun Kumar (Mukherjee?) and Parul Ghosh (sister of Anil Biswas and wife of Pannalal Ghosh), and the director of the film Amiya Chakravarty make it a very strong Bengal association of the film. If I am not mistaken, the dance-steps by Mumtaz Shanti and her sakhis in the beginning are inspired by Vasantotsav, performed at Shantiniketan every year, a tradition started by Gurudev.

7.  Jawani ki rail chali jaye re by Chitalkar, Geeta Dutt and Lata Mangeshkar from Shehnai (1947), lyrics PL Santoshi, music C Ramchandra

Mumataz Ali, in his ‘role’ of a guard of a train is somewhat restrained, and leaves most of the dancing to the girls. Lata Mangeshkar, who would emerge as the female singer for CR in a few years time, makes a minor entry with this film in CR’s music. Readers are aware, this was the year when she debuted as a ‘playback’ singer in Aap Ki Sewa Mein with the song in thumri style – Paanv laagun kar jori re.

8.  Tirchhi topiwale se bach ke rahna ji by Chitalkar and Shamshad Begum from Shehnai (1947), lyrics PL Santoshi, music C Ramchandra

But in this song from the same film, he comes back full blast. Dulari in male costume, Mumtaz Ali in female and the comedian VH Desai on the harmonium make a terrific combination.

9.  Kahnewale sach kah gaye hain by Rafi and Chitalkar from Nirala (1950), lyrics PL Santoshi, music C Ramchandra

C Ramchandra as the singer Chitalkar sang some very nice duets with Rafi. Mumtaz Ali, lip-synching Rafi and his companion Radhakisnan, lip-synching Chitalkar perform this delightful stage song, teasing the village belles led by the leading lady, Madhubala.

10.  Dil mein kisi ke rahna ho to kiski izazat chaahiye by Chitalkar and Shamshad Begum from Nirala (1950)

From the same film. Mumtaz Ali just needs a stage and some girls, with good music, to electrify the audience.

11.  Saj rahi gali teri ma by Rafi from Kunwara Baap (1974), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri, music Rajesh Roshan

The old man without vest, dancing in the beginning, is very clearly Mumtaz Ali, in his son Mehmood’s production. You can see age has not dimmed his talent nor enthusiasm for dancing. Perhaps Mumtaz Ali’s last appearance in films.

{ 62 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anu Warrier October 9, 2015 at 9:12 am

One of my favourite CR songs is picturised on him.

2 AK October 9, 2015 at 10:03 am

Yes, Meri jaan meri jaan Sunday ke Sunday is one of the most well-known CR songs picturised on Mumtaz Ali.

3 Dinesh K Jain October 9, 2015 at 10:05 am

Very interesting, AK; especially the background, of otherwise now a little known yesteryear film personality..

If I am not mistaken, there was an oddity, when Mehmood and Minoo Mumtaz, brother and sister, actually enacted a romantic dance-duet in one of the films, circa 1960?

4 AK October 9, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Yes, Loot liya dil loot liya in Howrah Bridge. Minoo Mumtaz describes the resultant upoar in a very interesting manner.

5 N Venkataraman October 9, 2015 at 4:13 pm

SoY, once again, has proved its distinctiveness. I think no other blog must have devoted an entire post to Mumtaz Ali, the first dancing male actor of Hindi films. Finding clips of the songs for which Mumtaz Ali lent his nimble feet must have been a tough job. Probably you must have posted almost all the songs that you could find in YT. Enjoyed the songs, especially the vintage numbers.
I too came to know of Mumtaz Ali in the Internet era. In fact I came to know more about him form your comments posted in Dances on the footpath, about the same time when you did a post on Minoo Mumtaz. You had posted three of his songs in Richards post on Azurie sometime in 2013 expressing your doubt about the identity of the male dancer in the song O janewale balamwa lout ke and establishing that the dancer in the said song was Shyam Kumar and not Mumtaz Ali.
Thanks you once again for yet another excellent post.

6 gaddeswarup October 9, 2015 at 4:16 pm

AK Ji, Minai has written about dances in early Indiam films. Some of the dancers were male. Many of the links are not workin now but some of them can be found with some effort. She may have some more information in her posts but this one seems somewhat related

7 mumbaikar8 October 9, 2015 at 5:01 pm

It will take a long time to go through it all, I will do it leisurely and get back but I do not waste any time in showering flowers for the excellent article.
This is what you have hooked us to, if you do not give us quality we are addicted to, we get withdrawal symptoms.
Thanks for maintaining the quality.
Will be back, hopefully soon.

8 Ravindra Kelkar October 9, 2015 at 6:12 pm

Very informative & excellent post. I had not much idea about Mumtaz Ali. One can imagine the efforts you must have taken to unearth so much information as well as clippings. The correct words of the song from Howrah Bridge are “Gora Rang Chunariya Kali Motiyon wali Ke Dil Mera Loot Liya”.

9 AK October 9, 2015 at 6:59 pm

Thanks a lot for your high praise. But you also scare me by raising the bar higher and higher.

10 AK October 9, 2015 at 7:40 pm

Ravindra Kelkar,
Thanks a lot for the appreciation.

11 D P Rangan October 9, 2015 at 7:42 pm

I think your apprehensions are unfounded. I know you will rise to the challenge. You are not a one trick pony and will sail over the hurdles however steep they are like a thoroughbred. Song No. 10 is a trademark CR tune. I think it was copied in a Tamil movie. Nirala was not dubbed or retaken in Tamil. Expect Sandanadurai to put on his thinking cap and come out with the plagiarised version. I only hope it will not be a long wait like an expectant lady who had just conceived.

12 ksbhatia October 9, 2015 at 11:25 pm

Very informative and in depth post . I was not aware of Mumtaj Ali as that big a dancing star of that time . Till now i had a limited knowledge of Yakub , Gope and later Bhagwan as only dancing stars of their times; but Mumtaj Ali has surely beaten them all . I will slowly watch each of his dance numbers as they are all new to me.

13 AK October 9, 2015 at 11:33 pm

DP Rangan,
Thanks for your encouragement.

14 AK October 9, 2015 at 11:36 pm

KS Bhatiaji,
Thanks a lot for your appreciation.

15 ksbhatia October 9, 2015 at 11:37 pm

Anu Warrier ;
The Sunday Ke Sunday song is surely one of Mumtaj Ali’s best and most loved one . See how Mahmood sort of copied his style la Charlie chaplin in the song …..Jodi hamari jamega kaise jaani….. Even the get up , costume and hair style matches that of Mumtaj Ali .

16 Ashok M Vaishnav October 10, 2015 at 9:13 am

SoY has, once again, raised its own bar of presenting the non-conventional, consigned to deep recess of memory, less known aspects of the Hindi Film Industry by creating SPVs of the posts on songs quite a few notches.

17 AK October 10, 2015 at 10:00 am

Thanks a lot for appreciation. During one of my long vacations I watched some Bombay Talkies films. You can’t but be hooked to Mumtaz Ali’s dances-songs.

18 dustedoff October 10, 2015 at 11:35 am

Thank you for this post, AK – very informative! Liked the songs a lot, too, but what really grabbed my interest was the story of Mumtaz Ali’s life.

19 Arunkumar Deshmukh October 10, 2015 at 5:25 pm

AK ji,

I join all others in appreciating a highly readable post. Your innovative inclination is most praiseworthy. Trust AK ji for novel posts !
This is the reason,I return here again and again to enjoy, your writtings and others’comments.
It is a grand get together of knowledgeables and enthusiasts to join in whatever you offer the readers,because we are sure it will be the best !

20 AK October 10, 2015 at 7:29 pm

Thanks a lot for your appreciation.

21 Ava October 10, 2015 at 8:11 pm

What a wonderful post. I remember being utterly captivated by Mumtaz Ali after I watched Churi main laya anmol re. I was so captivated, that I actually bought that book on Mehmood just to read all about his father.

What a wonderful collection of his songs. Love Anu’s contribution to it. Meri jaan meri jaan Sunday ke Sunday is a big favorite of mine. I have never ever seen its video though.

22 AK October 10, 2015 at 11:34 pm

Coming from a stalwart like you, it is high praise. Thanks a lot.

23 AK October 10, 2015 at 11:36 pm

Thanks a lot. I am happy you enjoyed it.

24 mumbaikar8 October 11, 2015 at 6:37 am

Enjoyed you post as well the videos, each video is a treat; I have a bad habit of turning the video on for music and moving into another tab to multi task, now I realize what I miss by not watching those videos.
Mumtaz Ali is amazing in Achhut Kanya. Watched it multiple times.
Song # 8, Rafi is not in the credit but he singing for VH Desai at 3.50 to 4.15.
Thanks once again. अल्लाह केरे ज़ोरे शबाब और ज़्यादा

25 SSW October 11, 2015 at 11:47 pm

Nice topic AK and a welcome departure from Emperors and Empresses. Such wonderful compositions by Saraswati Devi in the old films. She really was one of the pioneers. The yaman based “Chudiya anmol le lo” by Saraswati Devi. I can almost hear its echoes in “ja re badra bairi ja” by Madan Mohan.
The second song has me confused on first listening it seems to be based on Hameer but there seems to be some Kedar colouring. There is an odd note .Or I could be completely wrong.
The yaman kalyan based “jai jai janani janmabhoomi” was wonderful.

Mumtaz Ali seems to have been a very competent actor.

26 D P Rangan October 12, 2015 at 3:40 am

Am I correct in assuming that one of the two characters riding on the tonga is the male dancer. Because of song No. 9 and 10, I venture on this. This too is from the same movie.

27 SSW October 12, 2015 at 5:39 am

And of course I added out of context. The “jai jai janmabhoomi” song has nothing to do with Mumtaz Ali . I was just talking about Saraswati Devi.

28 AK October 12, 2015 at 7:12 am

Thanks a lot. That reminds me Achhut Kanya starts with a perfect Malkauns Hari base sakal sansara. It is interesting that this one is quite unknown. It can’t be because of its antiquity, because Main ban ki chidiya remains popular till today. Now Malkaus means Naushad’s Man tadpat Hari darshan ko aaj. And since you mention Hameer, Naushad has again created a signature song Madhuban mein Radhika naache re.

29 AK October 12, 2015 at 2:32 pm

DP Rangan,
You are right. That’s Mumtaz Ali.

30 SSW October 12, 2015 at 7:52 pm

AK it is interesting that you bring in Hari base sakal sansara and bring in Man tarpat hari darshan. You notice that the two tunes are pretty close to each other only in the Baiju Bawra one Rafi starts with Hari Om, and in these two words he spans an entire octave . Was Naushad inspired by Saraswati Devi or did this come from some traditional bandish that was present earlier? My knowledge of Indian music is very sketchy.

31 Hans October 13, 2015 at 1:06 am

I would endorse the sentiment of all others and say that it is a great write up and in the words of SSW a welcome departure. Mumtaz Ali is in the list of actors for Hamari Baat (1943) and Jwar Bhata (1944). So, perhaps he was with Bombay Talkies till about end of 1943 at least. I have seen him in Seema (1955) in a song by Rafi ‘hamen bhi de do sahara’. Another beautiful SWRP from SJ.

I would not support the claim of his family about being the first male dancer. There is a long tradition of Nautanki and other forms of entertainment in which mostly male actors participated. Music and dance being an integral part of these forms of entertainment, there were lot of male dancers and singers. The same pattern was followed in the early films when it was very difficult to find females for the roles of females. So, there must have been a number of male dancers in the early films. It is true that he gained high popularity on the basis of unique presentation of his dances and this popularity perhaps prompted him to organise his own dance troupe.

But, live dancing in such troupes is not as easy as shooting for films. So he must have taken to alcohol there. But, I would not blame him only for his family’s problems. Perhaps he had a very disorganised family which was also large. I have seen many occasional drinkers who were solely blamed for their troubles, though their wives and children were prone to waste the resources more than they wasted on wine.

32 Shalan Lal October 13, 2015 at 5:37 pm

I support the view of Hans @31. Following is my take on Mumtaz Ali and male dancers in the Indian films.
Mumtaz Ali creatively influenced dance in the Hindi films and he could be pioneer of this genre.

Right from its inception Bombay Talkies wanted their films light, unassuming and very little messagesque but more so entertaining. However the stories and scripts needed to be interesting enough for the middleclass audience mainly from Bombay and then all over the country. This policy was deliberately different than the New Theatres and Prabhat two giants who had to have messages boldly spelt in their films.

With this kind of understanding Mumtaz Ali’s insertion in the story line was welcome and he well flourished too. His song and dance routines might have inspire by the Hollywood films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Tap dance routines in the films of the same period.

The story as AK has told of Mumtaz Ali may be true but I see trained Kathak steps in Mumtaz’s routines. Further on I see some influence of Nautanki songs and dance routines of the United Province (which was larger included part of the Bihar than present UP)

Mumtaz has certainly refinement in his performances. Where this comes from is a question? A street singer dancer could not achieve all that without some foundation.

His interlude certainly was an important factor in the success of those films. Later forties films scripts then started this kind of interlude in the films. The film of Ram Rajya (1943) had an interlude of a couple adolescent, a boy and a girl dancing to the song “O Rini, Maharani, Itana To Karo Vichar”.

This leads me to the title of AK’s post “First male dancer of Hindi films: Mumtaz Ali”. So now we have to think that male dancers performing dances were not usual in the India of the time. This was due to the Victorian morality which grew up in India with the growth of education and values of British Victorians. While in London and many other English cities there were Victorian Music Halls performances which both Himanshu Roy and Devika Rani were used to and had a longer influence on them artistically.
As soon as Tagore created his Shanti Niketan he introduced a revolutionary and a comprehensive program in his dream institute. He himself studied and explored all dances Indian and those of Indo China etc. and included them in the teaching. The creatively educated dance teachers mainly male started coming out from the Shanti Niketan and used in the Theatres in the big cities in India.
Shantaram’s Padosi (1941) film has a Choral song and dance on a song “Ban Mein Bahar Ayi….” The dance is all male and they dance with burning torches in the hands. This dance was composed by a Bengali dance choreographer graduated from the Shanti Niketan.
Uday Shamkar got the spark from Anna Pavlova and returned to India and did the first audi of the existing dances and also those that were in the temples , Kothis and on the walls of paintings in the caves in the stone sculptures and architects of India.
Credit goes to Rukmini Devi who was in Uday Shankar Troupe who released the temple dance of the South renamed it as Bharat Natyam and we are in new paradigm.
Out of the following list
Bharata Natyam Kathak Kathakali Kuchipudi Manipuri Mohiniyattam Odissi
Kathakali is the only male dominated dance or exclusive male dance.
In the 1981 film “Ek Duje Ke Liye” Kamal Hasan learned how to dance Bharat Natyam and broke the taboo and gave awesome performance. This actor has Phalake Award Quality.
However most of the folk dances have both male and female often work opposite to each other. These dances are very in the culture and formations. The fisher folk-dances from near around Bombay got tremendous demand in Indian films at the end of forties.
The “Barasat” (1949) has Premanath dancing American Smooth in a cabaret with Cukoo and separately moving with agony Nimmi on the song “Tirachhi Nazara Hai , Patali Kamra Hai” I was told this dance was composed by RK himself.
Male dancers arrived in the Hindi films with Shammi K exploding the “Junglee Song” Ya Hoo and the Bhangada dance ran riot in many films, though the Bhangada was earlier introduced by RK in the Jagate Raho (1956) with the male dancers dancing to the tune of the song “Evè Duniya Deve Duhai, Zuta Paundi Shore…”
Shalan Lal

33 AK October 13, 2015 at 6:56 pm

I am not sure if it was a traditional bandish. Many lyrics of film songs based on classical ragas used Awadhi or Brajbhasha giving it a feel of traditional bandish.

As for Naushad being inspired by Saraswati Devi, I have seen his interviews on YT suggesting he was the first to introduce classical music in Baiju Baawra! While this one is patently wrong, his claim of being the first to introduce UP folk in Rattan is now taken as the gospel truth. I have come across several songs prior to that which are clearly UP folk. I think many claims of being the first by great MDs to introduce such and such innovation came to be accepted without question, and the artistes too started believing in their own myths. Therefore, I doubt if we would find any acknowledgement of his being inspired by Saraswati Devi or anyone else, because classical music started with Naushad. 🙂

34 SSW October 13, 2015 at 7:17 pm

Ms.Lal , a correction , Kamalahasan did not learn Bharatanatyam for “Ek duje ke liye”. He’s been dancing since twelve or thereabouts and was taught Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, even Kathak and some elements of Kathakali by his teacher S Thangappan. See this sequence from a Tamil film released in 1978.

35 AK October 13, 2015 at 9:27 pm

Thanks a lot for your appreciation. I would not really like to go into who was responsible for Mumtaz Ali’s descent. In such things one can only express sympathy that someone could descend to this, rather than hold him or his family responsible for this misfortune.

36 AK October 13, 2015 at 10:07 pm

Shalan Lal,
Thanks a lot for your very erudite comments. In some dances Mumtaz Ali shows a very distinct Kathak style. A speculation for your thought – it could be possible for a gifted person pick up some steps of a classical style, which is sufficient for a film song, without going through a formal training. Kathak has an old tradition of male dancers being at the top.

Mumtaz Ali’s dance interludes is a little different from nautanki tradition. In the nautanki or Parsi theatre, the interludes were generally not connected with the story. The purpose was firstly providing some comic relief – they would do it in the most tragic or sombre plays without feeling anything incongruous. But the more practical purpose was changing the setting and props for the next scene behind the curtain while the interlude was going on.

It would be interesting to explore pre-1936 male dances in films (not in chorus). Shammi Kapoor is the path breaker obviously, but it wasn’t until many years before male dancing became mainstream. Among the newer crop of heroes, it is difficult to think of anyone who does not dance in the films. Even Aamir Khan and Ajay Devgun have to do that.

37 SSW October 13, 2015 at 10:46 pm

Thank you AK, unfortunately I think classical music ended the really creative Naushad. 🙂

38 Shalan Lal October 14, 2015 at 2:37 pm

AK @36
Thanks for your reaction tomy comment.I beleive all the dances that were involved Mumtaz were composed by Mumtaz himself. However the producer directors depended on the Box Office returns had to be be watchful what they were going to put in the films. Thee was a very strong campaign from the Bombay Talkies that they would attract people from educated bacground as their films were directed to the middleclass and also of the educated people.

So picking up a street artist was not logical until hehas proved he is of sound artistic background.

Ashok K was a graduate and so was his maternal uncle Shashdhar and both Himansu Roay and Devika Rani had very high educational background.

After reading the tone of the company and looking at the background of the company and comapny people I drew out my statment.

Further more I think his performances in all his songs were very neatly done. Granted that later artist like Johnny Walker did not have educated background and he rose to high height and so did Mehmood and hi ssiter Minoo. But then the story of the historry of the films was different.

39 Shalan Lal October 14, 2015 at 2:47 pm

SSW @ 34

I am very glad that you gave good information about Kamal Hassan. But it is my understanding that Bharat Natyam until him doing it was the field of women only dance.

Sadly I had not much access to the Tamil films. My first experience was “Chandra Lekha” and I was overwhelmed by the Nagara dance and saw it more than ten times just for that dance.

If males are working the Bharat Natyam routines for becoming the actor then it is very very good and it would produce high quality of the acting as good as of Kamal Hassan.

Thanks for your comment


40 SSW October 14, 2015 at 4:01 pm

Ms.Lal I was pointing out that your statement that Kamalahasan learnt Bharatanatyam for a hindi film was not quite accurate. He had learnt Bharatanatyam from a young age, his older sister was trained in the Pandanallur school. About your other statement I cannot comment since I have no great knowledge of male dancers. But Bharatanatyam as we see it today is a relatively modern dance invented in the 20th century. It comes from a much older tradition of sadir which was populated I think by both male and female dancers, it seems most of the teachers were male. The more erotic features , some would say expressive features of sadir , were removed by Rukmini Devi Arundale to conform to perhaps a more austere form of dance which became one style of Bharatanatyam. It is still evolving. There have been some interesting confrontations in the past between the sadir school as practiced by Balasaraswati and the modern Bharatanatyam as presented by Rukmini Devi Arundale. In one such dialogue when Ms.Arundale is supposed to have said that she raised it to an art form , Balasaraswathi is supposed to have retorted , “yes after removing sringara from the dance all we have left is the art”. My quote may be innacurate as I am typing it from memory but you can read about some of the controversy here

41 SSW October 14, 2015 at 4:03 pm

Sorry that should read as “inaccurate”. Sometimes I don’t see what I type.

42 D P Rangan October 14, 2015 at 6:27 pm


I was surprised at your observation that Bharatha Natyam was introduced in 20th century. I beg to disagree. It has been part and parcel of ancient culture of Tamilians. It may have been twisted to suit modern needs. If you visit temples in South India and look at the dance carvings, you will certainly change your mind. I have been to the great Brigadeeswara temple in Thanjavur. They have a gallery running round the sanctum sanctorum. It is not normally open to visitors. When I told the Administrative Officer I was from Delhi and mentioned the name of head of Archeological Survey of India as my friend, he thawed and took me round the gallery. It has all the 64 poses as laid down by Bharat muni. One of the queens of Raja Raja Chola, architect of the temple was a great dancer and she posed for all 64 types of dance. If I had a camera I could have photographed them, of course without flash. Modern day choreographers have drawn from this rich experience and have done nothing to improve. What is shown as dance in modern Hindi and Tamil films is a disgrace. It is a titillating disgraceful performance by hero and heroine with a lot of yokels jumping up and down like monkeys with a vapid expression.

43 SSW October 14, 2015 at 6:55 pm

Mr.Rangan please read my post in its entirety. The word Bharata Natyam and the the dance as danced today is a relatively recent phenomenon. You are talking about Sadir or Natya Shastra.

44 D P Rangan October 14, 2015 at 8:36 pm


There are 64 poses as described by Bharat Muni. Dances today in the southern belt are based on them and hence this is the root. You may name it Bharathanatyam, but the fact remains it is a continuation of what existed more than one thousand years ago. When I next go down south I will try to get photos of those wonderful murals I saw inside the gallery at Thanjavur.

45 SSW October 14, 2015 at 11:12 pm

Mr. Rangan I get what you are saying but you don’t get me so that is that.

46 Anu Warrier October 15, 2015 at 4:50 am

But it is my understanding that Bharat Natyam until him doing it was the field of women only dance.

Ms Lal, male dancers have been present in Bharatanatyam – albeit in much smaller numbers than women – for decades. You can look up the Dhananjayans, for instance, a husband-wife couple who were part of Kalakshetra since the early 50s. VP Dhananjayan was only 14 when he joined in 1953, and his wife , eight when she joined the institution a year earlier. By 1968, they had established their own institution in Madras where, I can assure you, there have been many male students learning dance.
Then, there is Prof. CV Chandrasekhar, one of the senior-most dancers, teachers, academicians, who began his career in Bharatanatyam in 1947, and who, along with his wife, is another ‘dancing couple’ who have made a place for themselves in the firmament of classical dance. They are not the only ones. They are just the most famous.

Kamal Hassan (then Kamalahasan) has been learning the art form since he was 12, and then went on to learn Kuchipudi as well.

47 gaddeswarup October 15, 2015 at 6:42 am

SSW at #40, I think Sadir itself comes from ancient traditions partly codified during Maratha rulers time in Tanjore. Similar transformations also took place in carnatic music including influences from western music via band music, notes music (nattuswara)etc. I have read the Lakshmi Subramanian, Amanda Weidman books on music but only articles (and one book by Davesh Soneji on devadasis) on dance. Various articles like this indicate the influence of ancient traditions on sadir

48 Shalan Lal October 15, 2015 at 3:43 pm

SSW, Anu Warrier, DP Rangan, gaddesswarup

I am extremely obliged to you all for going deeper into the art of classical dance in the South India. SSW in my first comment about Kamal Hassan I should have mentioned that he learned the dance as he has shown in the film “Ek Duje ke Liye”. I did not know tha the had learned it from a male Guru. I am also aware and have seen the work of Dhanajay here in London some thirty year ago. I am also aware of Balsawswati as her dance in Bombay in either thirties or before was seen by my parent and they always wanted me to take some tution when I was young because of her dance that they had seen.
I had taken some tution in both dances Bharat Naytam and Katahk but had injury in my feet and upper legs and had to give it up in my young age.

All the discussion is adding my knowledge and depth of the issues of the temple dancing in the south.

I am also aware that both the Mysore and Tanjore Kings themselves were dancers and wrote dance plays. And I have seen these books or copies of these books in the British Library.

If AK allows I shall say please carry on your most important discussion. It is brilliant and should say AK should be proud about it to facilitate.
I shall come back again if I have to say something interesting

Shalan loves you all

49 AK October 15, 2015 at 4:00 pm

I am also getting educated. Everything is permitted. The only things on which I have some reservations are contentious political issues and personal aspersions on other readers’ knowledge or understanding just because they have different views.

50 gaddeswarup October 15, 2015 at 4:47 pm

Disclaimer: My knowledge of music and dance is very limited and mainly confined to some film songs and recently improved by blogs like this. I was reading the above mentioned books and articles mainly with a view of understanding identity politics. Here is a meta-review of some of those books and also of books on North Indian classical music

51 SSW October 15, 2015 at 7:04 pm

Gaddeswarup, sadir attam , dasi attam etc to me these are terms. I suppose the word naach meaning dance descended into the pejorative nautch from which came nautch girl. I agree with D P Rangan that the dance forms derive from each other and stretch back over centuries and there are different schools, especially today, that will push the envelope. I’m not entirely sure about all the documentation, people will push their views and subaltern versions which could come from natuvannars etc might not see the light of day. It is good to push the envelope, otherwise things will remain static and stasis is never good for art.

52 Richard S. October 17, 2015 at 12:19 pm

AK, it was very nice to see this excellent post on Mumtaz Ali with so many clips of his superb dances. Regarding one of them, though, you can find a much more clear version of the dance from Achhut Kanya on Tom Daniel’s channel under the title “Chudi Main Laya Anmol Re.” I especially appreciate this one because it has optional English subtitles:

From your list, I also really enjoyed ” Piya aavan kah gaye man nahi dharat dheer”… I don’t recall seeing that one before.

I also had never seen the last song, “Saj rahi gali teri ma.” He is great in that!

By the way, it’s too bad that everyone identifies him as “Mehmood’s father” but very few people identify him as Minoo Mumtaz’s father. I am one of those few people… I think that I have watched a lot more scenes with Minoo Mumtaz than scenes with Mehmood. The same goes for whole films, actually. But I come from an unusual perspective, I guess.

Like Hans, I also very much enjoyed Mumtaz Ali’s appearance as the street performer in the Seema song, “Hamen bhi de do sahara.” I love that scene, and it is my favorite song in the entire film – one of my favorite Rafi songs altogether. You might know this, but I wanted to point out that this scene also includes Mumtaz Ali’s son Anwar Ali.

It would be great to find more Mumtaz Ali dances on YouTube or other sites. Let’s keep looking for them.

53 AK October 17, 2015 at 3:54 pm

I am happy you enjoyed the post enough to come out of your hibernation. Most of my Naushad this year seems to have passed you buy.

Thanks a lot for Tom Daniel’s link. He is doing a great job

Mumtaz Ali deserves to be known by himself, rather than anyone’s father.

54 Richard S. October 17, 2015 at 10:31 pm

AK, if you think that I have not been looking at the posts at Songs of Yore, then you need to get a good statcounter. 🙂 I doubt there would be anyone else visiting from Bronx, NY via a link at Dances on the Footpath.

I have not commented for a while because I had nothing to add to the long strings of highly informed and detailed comments that usually appear below the posts within a couple of days. Or else, at the very least, I have not had the time to write a comment of similar quality to so many others appearing at this site.

I also have gotten involved recently in a number of discussions that have nothing to do with vintage Hindi film music – on Facebook and that sort of thing. And I have only one “device” with which to access everything , at home. I have no smart phone, so unlike so many other people, I can’t keep my eyes glued to Internet discussions all day. (The positive side to this deprivation is that I am not bumping into other people while walking down the street, getting hit by cars and bicycles, tripping over cracks in the sidewalk, or walking into walls.)

55 AK October 17, 2015 at 10:48 pm

Good to know that you have been following SoY. Thanks a lot. Naushad reminds me of you, because I find there are some readers who are not very excited by him.

56 D P Rangan October 18, 2015 at 2:15 pm

@Richard S

Enjoyed your posts too. I too am no expert in these old songs and merely see through the comments as a spectator constantly getting educated. Not carrying a smart phone. You must belong to a microscopic minority. These days I think girls may insist on the would bes to acquire smart phone operating skills before they venture into matrimony. Fully in consonance with you on advantages of walking down the street without the contraption which has banished social habits from people.

57 Shalan Lal October 19, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Male dancing in the classical dances like Bharat Natyam and Kahtha etc

SSW and Anu Warrier have given examples of male dancers in their comments after my statement in my comment number 32-

“Bharata Natyam Kathak Kathakali Kuchipudi Manipuri Mohiniyattam Odissi Kathakali is the only male dominated dance or exclusive male dance.

In the 1981 film “Ek Duje Ke Liye” Kamal Hasan learned how to dance Bharat Natyam and broke the taboo and gave awesome performance. This actor has Phalake Award Quality.

However most of the folk dances have both male and female often work opposite to each other. These dances vary in the culture and formations. The fisher folk-dances from near around Bombay got tremendous demand in Indian films at the end of forties.”

SSW denoted that Kamal Hassan had training of Bharat Natyam from his male Guru right from his childhood and Anu Warrier joined in and gave a list of other male dancers and teachers of Bharat Natyam. However Anu Warrier mentioned “male dancers have been present in Bharatanatyam – albeit in much smaller numbers than women – for decades” With these hard data it is difficult to negate the presence of the male dancers in the classical dancing.

But does this mean that “ we take it for granted that there is an effective number of dancers’ presence as that of the number of the female dancers in the Bharat Naytam performances and classes? Does the South Indian society accept male dancers, amateurs or professionals in their living? Or is it an anomaly and not the general pattern of the society. I know and had experienced that for the girls doing Bharat Natyam is seen as a very good achievement and adornment in their life but is it the same to males in the South India and elsewhere? After watching “Jhanak, Jhanak Payal Baje” we girls were very much uplifted by it but it did not happen similar to the boys in our school as we watched this film at the Metro as the school visit to see it. The losses of the Mysore kingdom to Haider Ali and that of the Oudh to the British, often are seen, as the indulgences of the monarchs in the dance-art. In this dance art is chastised by the historians and in general censured by the religious zealots. Many Kathak dance workshops I attended here by very famous Indian Gurus male and female who explained the history and origin of the Kathak as classical Indian dance changed to suit the Moghul and Islamic temperament. It grew up fully in the time of the state of Oudh in the last days of the Mogul Empire.

The performances of Bharat Natyam I have seen are done by the female dancers and they hardly had males in their company apart from the musicians. And the singers’ voices are invariably female’s occasionally male singers come in.

I have noticed that the female performed the part of male and female if the dance. The stories often are religious and dances of Shiva, Krishna, Vishnu, Mohini, Radha etc are done by the same performer or other female performers.

Now a second point:
A dancer’s body changes when the training starts. This particularly is saliently seen in the Kathak dancers. The changes in the female bodies are adornments as seen by the society but similar changes become effeminate in males and are not accepted by the “Baradari” or the broad family.

I know from my experience in Bombay ages ago; after the dance class, walking with the dance teacher on the pavement or waiting for the bus was very obnoxious experience. The street urchins and riffraff would call our Guruji “Chhaka” in the slang language meant impotent and wink (Ankh Mari, is a peculiar Indian gesture with sexual innuendo) at him etc and many other harassments.

I had similar experience here in England in seventies also. After the training of Jazz dancing class a few of us with our Jazz dance teacher were about entering into a pub which was a haunt of the Bowler Hats , Pinstripe Suits, and Folded umbrella carrying bankers and the city men who made exactly similar kind of the gestures and noises as the Indian riffraff did. Our Tutor expressly agitated and annoyed and we had to go to another civil drink house.

Sachin Tendulkar created a desire in ordinary boy to play cricket because he was a street cricket player reached to the very high height and it is now so much expanded but sadly there are no proper training available for those boys who play in the streets. The new female cricket/football now encouraged the girls also to play cricket/football but there again they have no much facility.

I wonder did Kamal Hassan’s childhood training and the achievement in the Bharat Natyam created similar craze among the young boys. Is Bharat Natyam seen by the males as something as the young girls see it?

My answer is no. On the other hand plays and films like “Billy Elliot” created a good craze in the British boys to go for training for the balletic dance that is not seen any more as a sissy activity that the boys should not pursue.

Here in the west there is now a good tolerance for all kinds of males and females with whatever their sexual ways are in their personal life. Has something like that occurred in India? On the other hand I see an ill wind of extreme intolerance is blowing in India started by the lose mouth politicians and religious advocates.

I hold the view that apart from the entertainment; art has another role as well as to create a balanced view for the broad social understanding, progress and laissez-faire.

We see from the films “Hum Log, Awara etc” onwards that dances are used for creating understanding of other problems than just the entertainment that perhaps started by the dances of Mumtaz Ali. I am talking “Hum Log, Awara etc” not as the well studied landmarks but think as those films created so much social consciousness apart from the film’s primary function as a vehicle for the entertainment. So if some knowledgeable readers find other examples of the films older than “Hum Log, Awara etc” just pat your back and jump for the joy. The point here is not who or what comes first. Does the film-art makes us change in our understanding and the way of our life and that is the crux of the matter, or does it make us to wallow in certain alcoholic stupor of the ecstasies?

Shalan Lal

58 Gaddeswarup October 21, 2015 at 12:49 pm

Here is a male dancer , choreographer, director from early Telugu films. The 1937 dance does not seem to be available, but the 1938 dance is posted by Minai in the link I mentioned earlier. I think Kuchipudi dances were entirely done by males those days.

59 SSW October 21, 2015 at 7:58 pm

I am not sure what your are trying to say and I have no great knowledge of the sphere but I am not sure that “Billy Elliot” started a dance craze in England. There is still a paucity of men dancers in ballet even considering that men in ballet dance differently from the women. On the taboo for male dancers in India again it is probably regional. Kerala has a wide variety of dances for men and while Kathakali is more famous there is Theyam, Thullal etc which are considered folk but are still as complex as art forms. So there is no taboo per se for men dancing though you will never see them doing Mohiniyattam which is essentially a female dance after all it is the dance of the seductress.
Bharatanatyam as we know it today was promoted and conceived by a woman so it might take time to have men add a new dimension to what was essentially a female dance.
In addition in I have seen dance dramas in India where modern dances or synthesis of dance forms have come about. The late Veenapani Chawla was one person who was very good at this. Many years ago we saw her depiction of Aurobindo’s Savitri where she used elements of classical dance and the Kerala martial art form of Kallari to fuse a new direction. The person who played Yama in the drama , Manavendranath was trained in the Kerala Kalamandalam and the movements were very powerful and masculine. Veenapani Chawla herself immersed herself in Kallari to learn the new movements.
Perhaps modern movements like this will create a new dance which is uniquely Indian and has both male and female sensibilities.
For example there is a theatre here in Cambdridge MA, run by Aparna Sindhoor dedicated to Indian dance that does push the frontiers. This too is based on a mixture of Kallari , Bharatanatyam etc. Here is a sample of one production.

While this may not satisfy purists, again stasis is death.

60 gaddeswarup October 23, 2015 at 9:59 am

Ms. Shalan Lal, While searching for some thing else, I cams across an article ; I do not have complte access to the article. It appeared in a book ” When men dance: Choreographing masculinities across borders” Edited by Jennifer Fisher and Anthony Shay. Here is an abstract
If I come across any thing again accidentally I will inform.

61 Shalan Lal October 30, 2015 at 5:09 pm

SSW @59
Thanks for your comment. It is very scholarly as if a Harvard or Boston Brahmin has written it. And I shall find it difficult to wrangle with it. So I take it as it is and be happy with it except making some remarks about my position.
I held the position that in general in India male dancing is not much accepted as it is accepted in the women.
The classical dancing classes are crowded by the young girls and a male dancer in it is seen as a nonconformist. And even some dances have good presence of the male dancers it is not a general norm.
A few years back it was similar position. I had given two examples of my experiences one in Bombay and one in London.
While the situation in London is changed I am not sure about if the changes occurred in India. Chances are things might have worsened due to extremeness in socio-political situation.
But we are dwelling on this subject too long and time to wrap up has arrived as the last verse in the poem of American Poet Robert Frost suggests:
“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” written in June 1922 at his house in Shaftsbury, Vermont by Robert Frost. This poem is much quoted by many famous and un-famous people.
Shalan Lal

62 Shalan Lal October 30, 2015 at 5:14 pm

gaddeswarup @60

Sir I am very much obliged to you for giving so much good information. It is excellent.

You are a vital asset to all the readers of SoY and in this case to me as well.

Thank you very much again

Shalan Lal

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