|Name Earned||Leela Akka Spanda Dance Company - Instagram|
|Profession(s)||• Bharatanatyam Dancer
|Known For||Recreating the Indian classical dance form Bharatanatyam in different versatile compositions
|Physical Stats & More|
|Height (approx.)||in centimeters- 161 cm
in meters- 1.61 m
in feet & inches- 5’ 3”
|Hair Colour||Salt & Pepper|
|Debut||Film (Tamil; as a supporting actor): O Kadhal Kanmani as Bhavani Ganapathy (2015)
Film (Bollywood; as a supporting actor): OK Jaanu as Charu Srivastava (2017)
Film (Telugu; as a supporting actor): Shyam Singha Roy as a psychologist (2021)
Author: Rhythm in Joy: Classical Indian Dance Traditions (1987)
|Key Positions Held||Chairperson
• Chairperson of Sangeet Natak Akademi in New Delhi (August 2010-September 2014)
• Chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) (April 2011-January 2015)
• Director of the Kalakshetra Foundation (April 2005-April 2012)
|Dance Form|| Bharatanatyam
• Dance Teacher: Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, Delhi and Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, Delhi
• Founder: Spanda Dance Company (September 1995)
|Awards, Nominations, Honours, Achievements||• 1982: Sanskriti Award
• 1990: Padma Shri Award, the fourth highest Indian national honour, in recognition of her contribution to the Indian classical dance form Bharatanatyam
• 1997: Nritya Choodamani Award
• 2000: Sangeet Natak Akademi Award
• 2005: Kalaimamani Award by Government of Tamil Nadu
• 2015: Natya Kala Acharya Award from the Music Academy, Chennai
• 2015: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress Award at Filmfare Awards South for the Tamil film O Kadhal Kanmani
• 2015: Best Supporting Actress Award at Norway Tamil Film Festival Awards for the Tamil film O Kadhal Kanmani
|Date of Birth||6 May 1951|
|Age (as of 2022)||71 Years|
|Birthplace||Coonoor, Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu|
|Hometown||Coonoor, Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu|
|School||Besant Theosophical High School, Varanasi, India Leela Samson|
|College/University||Sophia College for Women, Mumbai, Maharashtra|
|Educational Qualification||Bachelor of Arts degree in English|
|Religion||Hinduism The Hindu
|Controversies||• Preferential treatment by the Congress-led UPA government
It was rumoured that Leela held key positions in the Congress led United Progressive Alliance, because she shared close proximity to the Gandhi family. In 1980, Leela gave dance training to Priyanka Gandhi in New Delhi. Within 10 years of the Congress led UPA government, Leela held six key positions like Chairperson of CBFC, Director of Kalakshetra Foundation, and Chairperson of Sangeet Natak Akademi, etc.In an interview, Leela denied the accusation and said,
I have wondered whether every other tutor of the Gandhi children were similarly rewarded! Priyanka came to a little dance class I took in Delhi when she was six years old. I have taught other children who came from other backgrounds. No concession was granted to her. I am not close to the Gandhi family except that I taught their child and that they were normal parents who wanted her, in spite of all the tragedy of their childhoods, to lead as normal a life as they could give them and for her to be involved in the beauty of our arts. They were gracious and I was happy to know their child. I have always had a special feeling for all my students. She is one among them. I have also had, by the way, children of people who were in the BJP and who remain close to the present government. Rediff.com
• Criticized for not worshipping the idol of Lord Ganesha
In 1993, while beginning a dance performance at Siri Fort in New Delhi, Leela Samson did not offer prayer to Lord Ganesha, as it is a Hindu tradition to worship his idol before initiation of any event. Hence, she was criticized. In an interview, on being asked about not performing the ritual, Leela said,
Well I know that it’s a common practice to invoke Ganesha before starting a performance. But it’s optional. It is not codified anywhere that one has to do it.” Trunicle
• Removing idol of Lord Ganesha and the Nataraja murtis from Kalakshetra
In 2008, Leela Samson was appointed as the director of the art and cultural academy, Kalakshetra in Chennai. During her tenure as a director, she got removed the idols of Lord Ganesha and the Nataraj murtis from the campus of Kalakshetra. It was reported that the image of Lord Ganesha was also removed from the logo of Kalakshetra during her tenure. Leela was criticized by the people, and was addressed as anti-Hindu.
• Resigned from the post of chairman of the Censor Board of Film Certification
On 15 January 2015, Leela Samson resigned from the post of chairperson of the Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC). It was rumoured that Leela resigned after the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) cleared the Bollywood film MSG: The Messenger of God for release. Leela was not in favour of the release of the film, which was based on the controversial Dera Sacha Sauda chief, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. India Today Leela even accused the officials appointed by the BJP government of intimidating and interfering in her decisions related to the release of the films. In an interview, she talked about the reason for her resignation and said,
I have not watched PK or MSG. A panel of five members from cross sections of the society watch a movie and decide its certification. I do not know why MSG was not allowed to release. Even the revision committee said ‘no’ to the movie and it does not reflect on me. Fact of the matter is, we were just hanging on there and waiting for a new body to be constituted. As it had been a year since my term ended, I decided to resign." The Hindu
• Remarked as anti-Hindu
During her tenure as the chairperson at Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC), Leela released the Bollywood film Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal in September 2012, after deleting the offensive scenes, which might hurt the sentiments of Catholic community. In the same year, the Malayalam film Pithavinum Putranum was not cleared for release as CBFC claimed that the film contained offensive scenes, which might hurt religious sentiments of the Catholic community. However, protests were made to delete the offensive scenes from the Bollywood film PK, which were against the religious sentiments of Hindus, but the film was released without any cuts in December 2014. Due to her unfair approach, she was addressed as anti-Hindu. In an interview, Leela explained her reason behind releasing the film PK and said,
Every film may hurt religious sentiments of somebody or the other. We can’t remove scenes unnecessarily because there is something called creative endeavour where people present things in their own way. We have already given certificate to PK and we can’t remove anything now because it’s already out for public viewing." The Hindu
• Booked under corruption charges
In December 2019, CBI booked Leela Samson, and four other officials, chief accounts officer TS Murthi, accounts officer S Ramachandran, engineering officer V Srinivasan, and Ravi Neelakantan, proprietor of CARD (Centre for Architectural Research and Design), on account of corruption, irregular appointments, unfair granting of contracts, and financial irregularities. During Leela’s tenure as the director of Kalakshetra Foundation, the Koothambalam auditorium of Kalakshetra was renovated in 2009. In 2016, the Chief Vigilance Officer of the Culture Ministry conducted an inquiry in which he reported that the foundation had spent Rs 62.20 lakh more than the estimated amount on the Rs 7.02 crore project. It was alleged that Leela Samson was responsible for the unproductive expenditure, which was made on the renovation of the Koothambalam auditorium, because dhe did not opt for open tendering. The report also claimed that an irregular appointment of 16 employees was made in the institution by Leela samson, which was not as per the norms prescribed. The Times of India
|Relationships & More|
|Parents||Father- Vice Admiral Benjamin Abraham Samson, former Indian Army officer (died in 2008, at the age of 91)
Mother- Laila Samson
|Siblings||Leela Samson has two brothers and one sister.|
Some Lesser Known Facts About Leela Samson
- Leela Samson is an Indian Bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer, writer, and actress. She is well known for presenting the Indian classical dance form Bharatanatyam in diverse compositions with her dance company, Spanda, founded in September 1995.
- Leela’s father Vice Admiral Benjamin Abraham Samson, was a retired officer. From 8 January 1964 to 31 May 1966, Benjamin served as the Flag Officer Commanding Indian Fleet in the Indian Navy. He was the first Naval Officer to serve as the National Defence Academy’s Commandant in Khadakvasla between 1959 and 1962.
- Leela’s father wanted her to learn and explore Indian classical dance and music. In 1961, when Leela was nine years old, her father sent her to Kalakshetra Foundation, art and cultural academy in Chennai. Leela received her dance training from the founder of Kalakshetra, Rukmini Devi Arundale, who was a renowned Bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer.
- Initially, Leela performed solo at various dance events and occasions. Later, she started performing with dance groups at leading festivals of dance in India and abroad like Europe, Africa, and America.
- Leela revealed that she did not marry because she never found the man of her choice. The Telegraph
- Leela’s father was of Jewish origin, and her mother is of Catholic origin. But, Leela Samson follows Hinduism. In an interview, on being asked about her religious belief, Leela said,
Hinduism is not a religion, but a way of life, a philosophy. I live the life of a Hindu. No one can take that away from me. I did not have to convert to be that way. I simply am. It also does not make me less Christian or less Jewish. Just more appreciative.” Rediff.com
- Leela Samson’s performed her Arangetram ceremony in 1970 in Bombay. (An Arangetram ceremony is the debut of a classical dancer on stage in front of a public audience)
- In May 1985, Leela Samson performed with her guru Rukmini Devi Arundale, while touring in China.
- In August 2003, Leela taught Bharatanatyam to the UK-based dance group, for a show, Past Forward, at the Royal Opera House and Covent Garden, London.
- On 30 April 2012, Leela resigned from the post of director of the Kalakshetra Foundation, because a petition was filed against her by the former Kalakshetra teacher C.S. Thomas in which it was stated that she had crossed the age limit to serve as the director as per the prescribed government norms. In an interview, Leela talked about resigning from the post and said,
Through a PIL, an ex-Kalakshetra teacher had challenged my continuance as director after I turned 60. If I do not have the support of the ministry, chairman and the board in this matter, I see no reason to stay on,” India Today
- In 2010, Leela authored and published ‘Rukmini Devi,’ a biography made on the life of her mentor, Rukmini Devi Arundale, which was based on her letters kept in the Kalakshetra records.
- In 2011, after Leela’s appointment as the chairperson of the Censor Board of Film Certification, people criticized her as she had no connection with the film industry, and was not the right choice for the position. People compared Leela with her predecessor, Sharmila Tagore, a former Indian actress, who was more generous and broad-minded. In an interview, Leela reacted to being compared with Sharmila Tagore and said,
What is the fuss about my taking over the censor board? It is not as if I am going to view every film. I am just there to influence policy and give direction so that fewer people have problems getting certification. There is a capable CEO managing the day-to-day affairs. I can sort out any issue sitting here by talking to a producer on the phone or via email. I am not prudish or conservative. It is absolutely misplaced that Sharmila Tagore is broad-minded, and that if Leela Samson comes in the board will become conservative,”The Telegraph
- Leela Samson appeared in a few Tamil films like America Mappillai as Vasantha (2018), Sillu Karupatti as Yashoda (2019), and Putham Pudhu Kaalai as Bhairavi (2020).
- In 2021, Leela made her Malayalam debut with the film Bhramam in which she played the role of Irene Dicotta.
- In an interview, Leela revealed that she aspired to become a surgeon, but her teachers encouraged her to take dancing as a career. In an interview, Leela talked about her career aspirations and said,
- Two films have been documented on Leela Samson’s life, Sanchari (1991) by Arun Khopkar, and The Flowering Tree by Ein Lall (2020).
- In April 2020, Leela was announced as the jury chair of the 2020 JCB Prize for Literature, an Indian literary award.