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Article Hindi

Remembering Chanda Kalrani – A life lived for dance

Chanda or Chandra Kala, as she was sometimes credited, died last week in Mumbai aged 78.

With Meena Kumari in the iconic song from Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962)

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Film buffs would remember the immortal song, 'Piya Aiso Jiya Mein', from the Guru Dutt classic Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), where Chhoti Bahu (Meena Kumari) is getting dressed in anticipation of her husband's (Rehman's) arrival. But few might remember Chhoti Bahu's handmaiden, who is combing her hair and adorning her with fine jewellery.

That handmaiden was Chanda or Chandra Kala, as she was credited in a few films where she appeared as a heroine. A chorus dancer who appeared in more than 1,000 songs, Chanda passed away last week in Mumbai.

Born Chanda Kalrani in Karachi, now in Pakistan, young Chanda and her family came to India after Partition in 1947. At the tender age of four, she discovered a love for dancing and in school would seize any opportunity to start dancing, much to the delight of her classmates!

Recognizing her love for dance, Chanda's parents decided to get her trained. After moving to India, at the suggestion of a friend they introduced her to film dance when she was in her early teens. Choreographers Arjun Desai and Hazarilal recognized Chanda's stunning looks and talent and introduced her to the world of films.

Later, Herman Benjamin, the choreographer known for his Western dance numbers, especially in Shammi Kapoor films like Dil Deke Dekho (1959), Teesri Manzil (1966), and Prince (1969), chose her as a chorus dancer for several of his numbers. With her striking looks, Chanda usually danced in the front row, facing the camera. Later, choreographer Satyanarayan made her his assistant.

Chanda got an opportunity to act in a small role in the first Sindhi film, Abana (1958), directed by Deepak Asha and Arjun Hingorani and featuring Sheela Ramani and Shyam in the lead.

Chanda in a scene from Baghdad Ki Raten (1962)

Subsequently, she appeared in bit roles in Bombay Central (1960), Arab Ka Sitara (1961), Kala Jadoo (1963), and Sakhi Lutera (1969), where she was second lead and paired with Hercules, among many others, but she continued to appear as a chorus dancer alongside her sporadic acting roles, according to film historian and collector Zafar Aabid Balani.

Balani, who knew Chanda since 1968, has been researching chorus dancers in Hindi cinema for some time now. Recalling his interactions with her, Balani said she always encouraged him in his work on chorus dancers and was grateful that he was making the time and effort to chronicle the work of these oft-forgotten artists in the film industry.

Despite her many acting roles and dance numbers, Chanda suffered the fate of innumerable junior artists and chorus dancers, as her name did not appear in the credits of most of her films, and the film world gradually forgot about her.

Some of Chanda’s songs include the beautiful 'Chalte Chalte' from Pakeezah (1972). Pointing out Chanda in the song, Balani said, “If you watch the song, you will notice two girls dancing behind Meenaji. One of them is Meenakshi and the other, more beautiful one, is Chanda.”

Some of the other film songs featuring Chanda as a chorus dancer are 'Main Hoon Mast Madari' from the film Madari (1959), the qawwali 'Nigahein Milane Ko Jee Chahta Hai' from Dil Hi To Hai (1963), 'O Radha Puchhe Teri Sakhiyaan' from Phool Bane Angaare (1963), and 'Bahar Banke Woh Muskuraye' from Apne Huye Paraye (1964), which features Saroj Khan, later to become a renowned choreographer, with Chanda among the chorus dancers.

Chanda's career in the film industry flourished until the 1970s, after which she left Bombay to settle down in Nashik. She did not marry and lived in a women’s hostel there. She had recently come to Mumbai for a knee surgery but while in hospital her condition worsened and she died on 21 January aged 78.

Zafar Aabid Balani is the author of Sadabahar Cinema. He is currently working on a book on chorus girls in the Hindi film industry. Readers can access his articles and collection of film memorabilia on his website http://dastaan-thememoirs.com/