She took the dance world by storm in the 1980s. Even first-time rasikas of dance were overwhelmed by her dazzling footwork and her clean lines. She came as a breath of fresh air into a phase in the development of the Bharatanatyam performance space when ageing divas were beginning to resort to their superior abhinaya strength to counter the challenge of slowing limbs.

Already a decade or more into her dancing career after her debut at the age of 12, Malavika Sarukkai was at the time perhaps the most exciting pupil of her gurus T.K. Kalyanasundaram Pillai of the Tanjavur school and S.K. Rajaratnam Pillai of the Vazhuvoor school of Bharatanatyam, impressing the critic and the commoner alike. She had by then also been studying the nuances of abhinaya from Kalanidhi Narayanan for some years.