By Usha Rajaram
When I heard the news of Tamil actress Manorama’s death on Saturday at the age of 78, I suddenly, urgently wanted to share video after video from YouTube with the world – videos from her movies that I’d seen in the 70s and 80s.
Here is an example of her ‘tent koothu’ dances from Thillaana Mohanaambaal, representing the aesthetics of a mass-ier, more inclusive face of Tamil pop culture, different from the Bharathanatyam dances of actress Padmini in the same movie, which represented the interests of the Brahmin middle class.
This ‘tent koothu’ dance scene takes place in a tent with Sivaji Ganeshan and the audience watching. It was lovely to see the way she impersonates both the masculine and feminine in her body language.
I have no memory of watching this scene from Bommalattam, but the song has been stuck in my head for decades. Her usage of male street slang was very exciting for me.
I also want to make everyone I know watch this variation on the item number from Kanne Pappa – called ‘cleb dance’ in Tamil, which is unique because it has a five-year old kid as part of the scene, not to mention Manorama’s brilliant caricature of Bharathanatyam.
Manorama was more than just the protagonist of a subplot in her movies. In her characters, she depicted a kind of daring obscenity and sensuousness. She’s well known mainly for her comic scenes, but to me, she brought a different dimension of Chennai and of womanhood into my life.
Usha Rajaram teaches English in Bangalore. She loves everything to do with film.