Based out of Chennai, VP and Shanta Dhananjayans are renowned names in India's dance circles.

Couple in the Vodafone ad Meet the Dhananjayans Padma-winning Bharatnatyam gurusA still from the Goa shoot (L), the Dhananjayans performing (R)
news Media Sunday, May 14, 2017 - 16:48

In April this year, Vodafone launched a series of ads on the theme, ‘Make the most of now,’ which featured an old couple going to Goa for their ‘second honeymoon’. A series of six ads in the campaign feature everyday scenes from their vacation and how they learn to dance at a party, parasail and even get a tattoo.

The couple featured is quite adorable, and their natural, non-dramatic chemistry gives you something to smile about. Ever wonder who they are?

Meet VP Dhananjayan and Shanta Dhananjayan, one of most well-known couples in the Indian dance circles. The Dhananjayans are professional Bharatnatyam dancers and teachers and have performed across the world.

They were also awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2009 for “development, preservation and propagation of the best of Kalakshetra tradition of Bharatanatyam through their dance academy Bharata Kalanjali.”

Courtesy: Bharata Kalanjali

The Dhananjayans founded Bharata Kalanjali in 1968 and have been training students in classical dance forms ever since. Among the numerous places the duo has performed are Rashtrapati Bhavan (1988), the Khajuraho dance festival (1980). They also delivered a special performance for the German president back in 1981.     

The Dhananjayans have also collaborated with international artists and choreographers for various productions. This includes world renowned sitarist Pandit Ravi Shankar, New York dancer Jacques D'Amboise, the Ohio Ballet Co. as well as performances at the India Festival in the Soviet Union and at the Birmingham Touring Opera House of England.

Courtesy: Bharata Kalanjali

So, how did the couple come to act in a series of Vodafone ads?

Turns out, their son Satyajit, a photographer, was approached by someone from Ogilvy & Mather, asking if his parents would star in the campaign. The offer was made in March, the couple said yes, and with spontaneity that would put 20-year-olds to shame, the Dhananjayans flew down to Goa the very next day with the film crew and began shooting.

While Dhananjayan and Shanta have both done a commercial each in the past years, neither of them have shot for anything akin to a film and over a long schedule. It was only after reaching Goa, Dhananjayan says, that they realized just how much work goes into a shoot.

“It was one of my biggest takeaways, seeing everything being managed and coordinated. There were so many people in the ads where we’re at the train station. We had to spend a whole day there to shoot. The way the crew managed the crowd (who were people from different drama companies) was amazing,” 78-year-old Dhananjayan tells TNM.

Goa shoot still. Photo by CP Satyajit

While they have both traveled extensively – for work and for leisure – they had to step out of their comfort zones a few times here. While Dhananjayan had to learn to ride a scooter, Shanta had to parasail!

Dhananjayan says that while he couldn’t master the vehicle, they happened to find a body double at the shoot location, and so they improvised. In Shanta’s case, she couldn’t parasail completely and she was in the air only till the take-off, which is shown in the ad. However, it remains one of their favourite ads among the six.

“There wasn’t enough time to learn. If I had had a day, I could have actually parasailed for real in the ad,” Shanta says. “I’m actually quite adventurous,” the 73-year-old adds confidently.

But acting isn’t entirely new to them. Shanta says that while dance also requires acting, it is more exaggerated. What was required of them in the ads was a much more natural and toned down version of it. “That’s what you see in the ads. We aren’t Dhananjayans the dancers there. We didn’t dub either. The director just told us our lines and asked us to speak them in our own conversational way,” she explains.

The shooting schedules were hectic and sometimes required them to be on the shooting spot for the entire day. However, the Dhananjayans say that they had a great time and could actually visit the tourist spots in Goa. Even the places where they didn’t shoot, they had the chance to go there because in the final ad, they had to show photos of the couple at various tourist spots.

When asked if the trip was actually a ‘second honeymoon’ for them too, Dhananjayan laughs and says that they generally travel a lot for it to be that. However, Dhananjayan believes that this Goa trip is special because it happened at just the right time.

“We will celebrate our 51st wedding anniversary in August and had been thinking of going to Goa, because we’ve never been there! And then this offer came, almost miraculously picking the place we had been thinking of going to. So there was no dilly-dallying!” Dhananjayan says.

Shanta and Dhananjayan have known each other for 65 years, having grown up and performed together in Kalakshetra. Shanta was only eight years old when she met Dhananjayan and only 12 when she secretly decided that he would be her life partner. Shanta was also the first girl that Dhananjayan was introduced to in Kalakshetra, when he was fresh out of his village and knew no language but Malayalam.

Having known each other for the most part of their lives, we asked the Dhananjayans what was the best part about travelling with each other. And while TNM spoke to each of them separately, their answers were almost identical.

“We have the same wavelength and share everything together, including travel,” says Dhananjayan simply. Shanta agrees and adds, “It’s about being on the same page and having the spirit to try different things. I still love trying new food and going to new places with him,” she says.

Photo by CP Satyajit

Show us some love and support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.