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Feet first for face that launched 200 films
- Southern star’s city links

Ask her to choose between films and classical dance, and Shobhana will choose feet over face without batting an enormous eyelash. This, despite winning two national awards for best actress and having starred in more than 200 films.

While not shooting for a handful of films that “really excite and motivate” her, the graceful Malayali actress remains closeted in her Chennai-based dance school with around 80 students, perfecting Bharatanatyam steps for hours.

Connoisseurs in Calcutta will get to sample Shobhana’s artistry in mid-June at a Rhythmscape concert, which she will choreograph to the tune of tabla exponent Bikram Ghosh and drummer Taufeeq Qureshi.

“Earlier, I used to do 22 films a year, but now I have cut it down to at best two a year. Until Revathi’s Mitr: My Friend, I had been on a six-year sabbatical from films to concentrate only on dance,” said the 30-something, in town this weekend to shoot a commercial for a Bangalore-based company and also to rehearse for the Rhythmscape show.

Shobhana had forayed into films as a child artiste in 1979 and bagged the first national award for best actress for Manichitrathaz in 1994.

“I have trained in Bharatanatyam for 18 years and want to pursue it seriously… I participate in classical concerts round the year. And I would like to perform at the Dover Lane Music Conference, too,” Shobhana smiled, tracing her Calcutta connection back to a couple of years ago when she debuted on the city stage under the aegis of Thankamani Kutty.

And the niece of Padmini (one of Raj Kapoor’s heroines) does keep in touch with the Bengali big screen, though from a distance. “I saw Rituparno Ghosh’s Titli in Chennai and liked it very much. Bengali parallel films are very popular among Malayalis. I am also keen on catching up with the latest works of Goutam Ghose,” said the dancer-actress, who speaks a smattering of Hindi.

If Shobhana earned nationwide accolades for Mitr… last year, she had become something of a national enigma earlier, when she played mystery — and magical — muse to Amitabh Bachchan’s labour of love and longing in the remixed music video of Kabhie Kabhie.

Down south, of course, she has remained a rage for well over a decade, balancing the Adoor Gopalakrishnans and Mani Rathnams with the run-around-trees routine.

Shobhana has just finished work on Dance like a Man, a Pamela Rooks adaptation of a Mahesh Dattani play, where she plays an elderly classical-dancer, alongside actor Arif Zakaria. Come June, she will fly off to London to shoot for Pankaj Parashar’s Spice Boys, opposite Naseeruddin Shah, and her third English language film (after Mitr… and Dance like a Man).

“Shobhana did a fabulous performance in the first Rhythmscape show in Mumbai early this year. We hope to repeat the magic in Calcutta,” says Bikram Ghosh.

Some of that magic is being captured on camera by Chennai-based documentary film-maker Sharada Ramanathan, working on the trials and tribulations of Shobhana’s life as an artiste.

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