‘Natyam’ movie review’: The dance is good, but the film needed a better script

‘Natyam’ has its heart at the right place but falters with a partially engaging narrative

A film that revolves around classical dance, produced by and starring a Kuchipudi dancer, attempts to draw a parallel between a contemporary story and a fictional tale dating back to pre-Independent India. A premise like that is unusual in contemporary Telugu cinema. Debut director Revanth Korukonda and dancer Sandhya Raju deserve appreciation for venturing into a territory not many would dare to. Sandhya leads from the front, accompanied by several actor-dancers, in this film that begins well but loses steam midway.

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The story unfolds in a fictional dance village called Natyam, which serves as a hat tip to the Kuchipudi village in Andhra Pradesh as well as dance-centric schools such as Kalakshetra that are mini universes unto themselves. Sithara (Sandhya Raju) grows up learning dance and is eager to prove herself to be worthy of a rangapravesam in the presence of her guru (Adithya Menon). She believes she is the chosen one to narrate the story of Kadambari, which her guru shared with her when she was a little girl. But she realises that its very presentation might challenge superstitious beliefs and hence invite trouble.Natyam

  • Cast: Sandhya Raju, Kamal Kamaraju
  • Direction: Revanth Korukonda
  • Music: Shravan Bharadwaj

At first, the story appears simple and straightforward. The politics, drama and conflict points emerge gradually. The story of the dance village and its happenings are sometimes over-explained, but it’s possible to overlook this aspect for a while thanks to the aesthetic temple village (filmed in Lepakshi and Hampi among other places) and the skilful choreography of the opening ‘Nama Shivaya’ dance number. The synchronised moves by Sitara and Hari Babu (Kamal Kamaraju as the guru’s son) to Shravan Bharadwaj’s music set the stage for a narrative centred on dance.

The outsider versus purist conflict emerges with the entry of Rohit (Rohit Behal), an urban-bred western dancer who comes to the village looking for a concept that he could use for an international dance contest. Considerable time is devoted to highlight Sithara’s scorn for Rohit, coupled with her naivete to not notice the true nature of Hari Babu. A few hooligans with political muscle are also thrown into this scenario, and stand out like sore thumbs in an aesthetic setting.

The plot has ample scope to explore the politics in this dance village, as an unlikely romance develops. But the writing is never adequate to explore all this well enough.

A dreamy Radha-Krishna dance sequence, with adequate visual effects, changes Sitara’s life once and for all and the drama shifts to Hyderabad. Thereafter, the film loses steam. The opening up of Sitara’s world outside her village happens on expected lines, but the emerging romance between her and Rohit is barely explored. The lacuna on this front appears all the more glaring as Sitara finds herself cornered during the final dance ballet. Had the romance been written better and the performances been better in these portions, the high-pitched climax would have had the required impact.

Sandhya’s skill in Kuchipudi is an obvious asset to the film; she also does not let her facial expressions go overboard. In the opening song, Kamal matches Sandhya’s dancing prowess like a professional, which is no mean task. Mumbai-based dancer Rohit feels like the wild card entrant into this film. While he scores with his easy presence, he has a long way to go as an actor. Adithya Menon and Subhalekha Sudhakar are barely adequate in their parts.

Bhanupriya gets a blink-and-miss screen time. Considering that she was known for her dance skills, perhaps there was a better way of presenting her? Dancer Rukmini Vijayakumar appears in a cameo.

Natyam is an interesting and brave attempt, but required a better script to make it the compelling drama that it could have been.

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