Natyam (2021) – Change is for Growth

I do love a good dance movie, preferably one with a predictable formula. This has it, but the emotional stakes are strong, even if the plot is one used in so many other films. The dances are beautiful, the music makes you want to dance with the film and the performances are all on point. It is a nice movie that does what it is meant to do. To want you to dance and to appreciate it in all of its forms.


In the village of Natyam classical music and traditional dance is revered. Rohit, a modern dancer from Hyderbad, comes there to better his chances in an dance competition. Sitara is the devout dancer who has loved dancing all her life. She dreams of performing the ‘Kaadambari Katha’ – the dance that is supposedly cursed to bring misfortune to whomever performs is. The dance school is also attacked from highly sensitive temple owners and their goons. Sitara and Rohit both have to learn from each other in order to get what they want.

Spoilers oncoming!

I was aware of Sandhya Raju even before this movie. I saw the Natyam short film on YouTube and it’s Final Dance was one I played often back in 2016. She is a phenomenal Kuchipudi dancer, it is definitely inherited and highly mastered talent, as well as great acting mixed in one. Her character, Sitara, is an eager Kuchipudi dancer. She is strict, disciplined and determined. She needs to loosen up and Rohit brings her out of the shell she has been keeping herself. Guru Ji performed by Adithya Menon is the right amount of fatherly, stern and full of concern.

Rohit Behal as Rohit is kind of a lazy jerk whom you learn to love. The chemistry with Sandhya is great, they are very natural and cute together. He is a great dancer, has great energy and just makes you smile. His group of friends are the same, a diverse group of modern dancers. In contrast is Kamal Kamaraju as Hari Babu, Guru Ji’s son and a strict traditionalist when it comes to dance. He has some feelings for Sitara, but he thinks of him only as a friend and mentor. He both adores and is jealous of the opportunity she is given. Kamal’s performance is effective in making you both sympathise and hate him at the same time. But you end up hating him all the same.

Predictably, there is the fight between traditional vs modern dance in this movie. Coming to the culmination of the two as the modern dance troupe, with classical dancers, creates something all together new. There is a strong emphasis on the British who forbid dance, being the same as the hard-line traditionalists who do not want anything that goes against their beliefs. They are both villains, stifling both creativity and art, for art in all its forms is a change itself. If you try to stop change, it will not ultimately win. To grow we have to create something new. For everything started as new and radical at some point, to stifle that is to hold culture by the throat. It is ultimately the same as destroying it completely.

Humans are the carriers of such arts, we just attribute them to higher powers, because we forget that human hands are the ones that scribed them down. Making a saint out of a human for their deeds is one thing, to completely forget that they were a living, bleeding, human being is another. That is story of Kaadambari, a woman, a human, made a saint. Yet at one point a person exclaims that they thought a Goddess had written those scriptures. Indeed, in the end, they bring out the truth. It is about love between people from different cultures (Rishi in a white person wig works surprisingly well) and the love for the art that is the life blood. Because for stories there are many versions, the temple has one to suit its needs, while the dancers themselves have the real story. Its only curse is the one that the temple people inflict, with the confirmation that they used the death of Guru Ji’s former wife for dancing/telling the true story – a cameo made by the splendid dancer Rukmini Vijayakumar (whom you should all follow on Instagram and YouTube) – as means to control the narrative and to make their temple richer. Not caring for the truth. The curse is intolerance, nothing more, nothing less.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie. I will most likely watch it (and the songs) again. The dances are splendidly choreographed and the music is beautiful. It is a simple story, but it is executed well and is on the comfort movie territory for me. Dance movies are a rare breed, a good one is always an excellent one. This certainly ticks all the boxes in that.

Thank you for reading!

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