Lalitha Shobi describes her work moment by moment, from the early morning vaang (azan) at the nearby mosque to the middle of the day when the light is the brightest. It is about a film for which she did choreography. Lalitha speaks of Sujatha, the heroine in the story, who wakes up hearing the vaang and slides towards the window, which has pigeons perched on them, and then towards the light. Sujatha looks brightest, Lalitha says, when the light falls on her and she twirls in a yellow skirt and red dupatta. The scene is from the Malayalam film Sufiyum Sujathayum. Lalitha has just received the Kerala state award for best choreographer for her work in the film, along with Babu Xavier.
But she and Babu didn’t work together. Lalitha joined the sets when people on the production team – known to her because of her previous work in Malayalam movies and because of Shobi Master, her famous choreographer husband – invited her. They thought of her when the heroine – Sujatha played by Aditi Rao Hydari – needed to perform Kathak. “After they called me, director Shanavas (late Naranipuzha Shanavas) came to meet me in Chennai. I was very touched and impressed by the way he narrated the script. He made me listen to the songs ‘Vaathilkalu’ and ‘Alhamdulillah’,” Lalitha says.
Lalitha Shobi with Sufiyum Sujathayum cast and crew
Lalitha has been active in the south Indian film industries, choreographing for a number of movies, including a few Malayalam ones too – Kalidas Jayaram’s Happy Sardar among them. In Tamil, she worked in Kamal Haasan’s Uttama Villain, and Bigil and 36 Vayadhinile; in Telugu, she worked in Prabhas’s Mr Perfect and films of Junior NTR. “I have worked as an assistant to Prabhu Deva sir and Chinni Prakash and Rekha Chinni Prakash. I became independent with SS Rajamouli sir’s Maryada Ramanna,” Lalitha says.
She is well trained in classical art forms such as Kathak and Bharatanatyam, and perhaps that’s what made the Sufiyum Sujathayum team think of her, she says. It was not just for Sujatha but for the Sufi (played by Dev Mohan) that she choreographed the twirling dance movements. “Aditi was also classically trained, so she picked up very fast,” Lalitha adds.
A scene they all loved was when Lalitha got Aditi to look at the mirror with her bindi on it and wrap her shawl around her head and dance. “It is a Hindu – Muslim relationship, their love comes forth, beyond anything else,” Lalitha says.
She becomes emotional as she speaks of the director Shanavas who died suddenly of a heart attack only months after the OTT release of Sufiyum Sujathayum last year. “He used to tell me about the plans for his next movie. It was going to be a musical and he said he wanted me on board. He once asked if I had plans to direct, the way I’d do my choreography sequences and edit it. I said I do. He was so passionate about cinema. I want to dedicate this award to him, and visit his family,” Lalitha says.