The changing ways of dance in cinema
Bollywood is over a 100 years old and produces the highest number of films in a year in the world: six-seven movies release every week which means 300-350 movies a year. So can you well imagine if we release so many films in a year, how many of them must we be making because every film that is made might not see a release.
I am sure you will agree with me that almost each film made in India is incomplete without songs and dances. The world outside relates to Bollywood films with musicals. Even we Indians cannot see a Hindi film without the latkas and the jhatkas. Be it a romantic number, a sensual item song or even a dhinchak Bollywood dance, all are an essence of Indian cinema.
I remember, in 2013, when the most talked about film festival in the world, the Cannes Films Festival was celebrating 100 years of Indian Cinema, I was privileged to be the first Indian choreographer to be ever invited representing Bollywood dance industry at the festival in European summer in April where I had the honour of speaking on Dance, the essence of Bollywood to international filmmakers, media and guests.
Every person I met would only talk about the hundreds of coordinated dancers coming out of nowhere and dancing their hearts out behind the hero and the heroine. This happens to be fever of Bollywood on the world. This is the way they look at Indian cinema at large. For people outside India, Bollywood is a riot of colours with people dancing and singing to express their emotions: love, sex, sadness, hope, fear and tears.
I have been a part of Bollywood and Hollywood films as a choreographer for 18 years now but I feel back home, dance, an integral part of films, is always neglected. Directors and producers spend loads of money on getting a hot and sexy item girl, lavish sets, expensive famous designer costumes and all that jazz to make the dance number a memorable but is it all about the look of the song? Is it only about how elaborate the picturisation of the song is? Or is it about the dance that matters? How much of the quality of dance looked at? How much is the purity and the authenticity paid attention too?
I am sure, today, after reading this article, many film directors and producers who have invested million in a song will hate me. And some who happen to be purists will love the topic that I have touched. Well each to his own. But I think as a choreographer who belongs to the industry, it is my responsibility to talk about what is happening in the field of dance in Bollywood.
While surfing the Internet, I happened to view the most talked about film of 2013 — Dhoom 3. I eagerly clicked to see the Tap dance which I heard took very long to plan and choreograph. In fact, Aamir Khan I am told even took special Tap dance training in Australia for the same. As soon I clicked on the song to see the so-called mesmerising number, it was a big disappointment for me. I waited to see Tap dance till the end and all I could see was stomping and dancers banging their feet along with Aamir. Banging one’s feet on the floor like a child who is throwing tantrums with sounds of tapping in the backdrop is not Tap dancing. I was shocked to see that and I know now India is following the trend of stomping as Tap dancing. This is because, fortunately or unfortunately, Bollywood films decide the future of fashion and dance in India.
The aerial acts performed by Katrina Kaif and Aamir were good but as a choreographer and dancer, I would like to warn and tell the readers that it was not dance. Please remember that they were showing a circus scene and in a circus, artistes do perform such acts. Please don’t confuse your mind with it being a dance. It was a simple circus act.
Dance is when a person gets on their feet and moves it in a particular way along with their hands, hanging on a rope or on a ring and doing acrobatics. To me, it is not considered dance.
Knowing the fact that things happening in Bollywood films set a trend world over, it in a way becomes the responsibility for the makers to ensure the best and the most authentic things appear on screen. I remember the mujra scene of Madhuri Dixit choreographed by Pt Birju Maharaj in Devdas or the mujra scenes of Rekha in Umrao Jaan and even the hot and sensual cabaret numbers of Helen in the 70s: all had real and authentic appeal.
If we look back at the dances performed by Sridevi, Meenakshi Seshadari, Hema Malini, Waheeda Rehman, Vyjanthimala, Meena Kumari, Madhubala and many more, choreographed by Sir PL Raj or even Saroj Khan, you will agree with me that they had class, style, elegance and grace along with purity and authenticity too.
Let me ask a question to all of you who love the song and dance sequences in films today. Why is it that nowadays the dance numbers in our films are not pure? I feel they are fake, minus a soul. In Bollywood language, such dances are called chaloo. There is no purity, no clarity and no certainty in movements. Who do we blame for this mediocre work on the big screen? Is it the untrained choreographers or the actors who do not have any prior training or who try to do what is told to them without much rehearsal time at hand? Or the makers who just want to make the act look glam without giving much heed to the quality of dance?
Moved by these questions in my mind, I called the guru of Bollywood dance, Saroj Khan and asked here all the questions which were disturbing and continuously running in my mind. The dancing queen warmly replied, “We cannot blame anyone, Sandip. It is the times, the changing times, which have brought this disaster. We are a country where dance is in our blood. We dance on every occasion, be it a marriage, birth of a child or a festival. Celebration has dance woven into it yet our mindset is that dance is just a filler.”
“The day our actors train in dance like before and directors and producers start paying extreme importance to rehearsals and authenticity of dance, we will see the change in the way dance looks in our films. The joy of dance in a film is not with cuts after every few beats nor with zooming in and zooming out of the camera nor with seeing closeups of lips, ass or boobs of the heroine. The beauty is in the movement of the body with grace, elegance and right expressions,” she further added.
Bollywood cinema has come a long way since its first silent film, Raja Harishchandra. Gone are the days when silence worked. Now is the time to get global and prove to the world that we too can make world class cinema. Our technology in filmmaking, the ability to make millions of people follow us as trendsetters can be proved only if we give equal importance to everything that is involved in the making of a film. And yes dance is an integral part of the Indian cinema and it deserves to get its long due recognition. I am sure you will agree with me if I say, “You can take out the cinema from the dance but you can never take out dance from our cinema.”