A Step Above the Rest: Choreographer Brinda wins heart with her spectacular dance compositions in Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan-1

Choreographer Brinda is winning hearts with her spectacular dance compositions in Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan-1
Brinda; (right) a poster of Ponniyin Selvan-1
Brinda; (right) a poster of Ponniyin Selvan-1

Veteran dance choreographer Brinda might have worked with hordes of filmmakers and on hundreds of songs, but Mani Ratnam’s latest film, Ponniyin Selvan-1, is special for her. Set in a cherished past a thousand years ago, the ace filmmaker’s Tamil epic-drama, with its stellar cast, gorgeous costumes and stunning locations, was an opportunity of a lifetime for her to compose dance sequences that lived up to its grandeur.  

Brinda hadn’t read Tamil writer Kalki Krishnamurthy’s novel on which Ratnam’s film is based, so the first step for her was to familiarise herself with the text.

“After a five-hour narration of the plot of the novel, the song placements in the film fell into place. Mani sir was clear that ‘Ponni Nadhi’ (the introductory song) should invoke the feeling of a character mingling with the crowd during a village festival and not simply introduce the hero. Choreography for such a song isn’t just about the dance moves, it is also about capturing the essence of the character and it helped that Karthi sir (who plays Vanthiyathevan) is a brilliant horse-rider. He even pulled off a hurdle jump on horseback,” she says.

Ponniyin Selvan-1 also stars Vikram, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Trisha and Jayam Ravi.

The film gave the veteran ample scope to experiment with dance styles such as folk for ‘Ponni Nadhi’ and Devaralan Attam, and semi-classical for Ratchasa Maamaney.

She also pitched in for the pathos number, ‘Chola Chola’Brinda, in the past, has showcased dexterity in a variety of dance forms, including folk, classical, contemporary, freestyle and Western in films such as Kaakha Kaakha, Vaaranam Aayiram, PK, Kaatru Veliyidai and Theri.

Choreographing for Ponniyin Selvan-1, however, required additional research. She watched several period films for reference and her knowledge of semi-classical folk came in handy, but the dancer’s key to acing a composition was to play to the actor’s strengths. “My choreography is wholly designed based on the qualities of the performer. Like ‘Chola Chola’ was designed to suit Vikram sir’s body language to showcase the pain of the character. On the other hand, ‘Ratchasa Maamaney’ with Karthi sir had to be interpreted differently, and required dramatic fun steps,” she says.

Brinda’s journey with Ratnam began with Iruvar back in 1997. While the choreographer has worked with several filmmakers over the years, she admits that the liberty she gets on the sets of a Ratnam film is incomparable. 

“He has always given me the freedom to choreograph, something I don’t expect from others. I take over the entire floor, do a few steps and then show him the route I’m taking. Once he gives the nod, I complete the song. This freedom brings out the best in me,” says Brinda, adding that Ratnam is one of the few directors who are experimental with dance styles.

“I remember how we chose to go with tango for ‘Tango Kelaayo’ in Kaatru Veliyidai and fusion for ‘Adiye’ in Kadal. I consider him to be my guru, one who is knowledgeable about everything from lighting to choreography. It is a rush to be appreciated by him,” she says.

As is the norm in this era of social media frenzy, a dance move from ‘Ponni Nadhi’ has gone viral on Instagram, but Brinda is not surprised, given the songs have been composed by A R Rahman. She is thankful to social media for making dance mainstream in everyone’s lives.

“People today are dancing more than ever. Everyone has their own problems to deal with, and if dancing to my steps makes them forget their woes for a brief while, it makes me happy,” Brinda says.

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