After being voted off the show Dance India Dance, contestant Kruti Mahesh (from Terence ki Toli) was brought back for one last performance by popular demand. Her chosen dance was not the latest Bollywood thumka and the choreography didn’t involve the hottest hip-hop steps. It was a mesmerising Bharatanatyam performance—Draupadi Vastraharan. The audience was absolutely enraptured. She received a standing ovation.
Events like the Khajuraho dance festival in Madhya Pradesh showcase the beauty of everything from the strong Jathis in Bharatanatyam to the gently swaying dancers in Mohiniattam, and the complex hand gestures of Odissi dancers to the eye-catching costumes of Kathakali artists.
The devadasis of yore were cursed to live mired in shame, but their love for dance has stood the test of time, gifting us with these sublime art forms today.
Unfortunately, this rich tradition is largely ignored when Bollywood decides to make a movie centered around dance.
Bollywood movies today tend to focus largely on suggestive “item numbers” or western dance styles like hip hop and contemporary. Here’s a glimpse at the way Bollywood has danced, over time.
1. Grandma’s Favorites
In the early 60s and 70s, Bollywood made a bunch of dance-centric movies that showcased classical Indian dances.
Take a look at Waheeda Rehman’s performance in the movie Guide. Waheeda is a gifted dancer and was trained in Bharatanatyam from an early age.
Vyjayanthimala, another trained Bharatanatyam dancer, spun wonder with her expressive kohl-lined eyes and divine movements in the song Kaise Samjhaoon Badi Nasamajh Ho.
Jaya Pradha shot to fame in Sargam, as the “Gungi Gudiya”, a deaf and mute dancer who is romanced by the dafli-playing Rishi Kapoor.
The early 80s heralded the era of disco, as Mithun Chakraborty gyrated his way onto the screen and into our hearts. People mimicked Mithun’s moves as the beats of the iconic I Am A Disco Dancer played on every speaker. His trademark steps are still ingrained in the minds of fans.
Any talk of dance in the 80s is not complete without mention of the “Street Dancer”, Govinda. His facial expressions and flamboyant style in Ilzaam further solidified the disco fever that gripped Bollywood in this era, and announced his entry into the industry.
Dialing It up to 90
The 90’s witnessed a complete shift to western dance as choreographers like Shiamak Davar, Terence Lewis, and Remo D’Souza took over the reins of Bollywood dance.
Movies like Taal, Dil toh Pagal hai, Aaja Nachle, and Naach were made during this chapter of Bollywood history. With these movies, the choreographers introduced Indian audiences to contemporary dance, which is a mix of western styles like ballet and Indian styles like kathak.
Kathak, is perhaps one of the few traditional dance forms that has managed to make its way into Bollywood and still enthrals us—Madhuri Dixit in Kaahe Chhed Mohe from Devdas, for example.
Shiamak Davar, the guru of contemporary dance in Bollywood, choreographed the Dance of Envy in Dil toh Pagal Hai with two of the best dancers in Bollywood—Karishma Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit. Dance was never the same again, as we were introduced to a whole new world where colourful skirts gave way to plain leotards and thumkas gave way to pique turns.
A Few Borrowed Moves
Anybody Can Dance (ABCD), one of the recent movies that choreographer Remo D’Souza has worked on, borrows heavily from the Hollywood Step Up franchise. The rain dance in ABCD is heavily inspired by the same setup in Step Up 2: The Streets.
The Hollywood movie is brilliantly made and its choreography is excellent. Every dance enthusiast has already seen the movie a zillion times. ABCD, on the other hand, introduces a new cast that, to anyone who’s watched Step Up, seems to perform the same moves. For a Step Up fan, ABCD was nothing more than a stale copy.
So what would have made ABCD stand apart from Step Up? Perhaps DID contestant, Kruti’s, performance of Draupadi Vastraharan could be used as an inspiration. Maybe treat young moviegoers to something new (or old, as the case may be) and make Bharatanatyam cool again?
Bollywood’s Myriad Dancers
Bollywood, in fact, has plenty of actresses trained in classical dance. In an industry where the fate of a movie is often decided by the popularity of its dance numbers, actors train rigorously to excel at dance.
Some obvious choices are:
- Madhuri Dixit, the “Dhak Dhak girl” is a trained Kathak exponent and has displayed her expertise in this dance form in the romantic saga Devdas.
- Prabhu Deva, the renowned choreographer, is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer. The dance to woo his lady love in the blockbuster movie Kadhalan shows “India's Michael Jackson” at his classical best.
- Aishwarya Rai, whose dancing prowess in Devdas and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, have placed her amongst the top of the Bollywood dancing divas.
- The Bengali beauty, Rani Mukherjee, has learnt Odissi dance for years from Guru Ravindra Atibudhi.
- Sandhya Mridul is well-trained in Bharatanatyam and was recently declared a runner-up in the dance show Jhalak Dikhla Jaa.
- Richa Chadda, the formidable actress of Gangs of Wasseypur fame is a trained Kathak dancer.
- Vineeth, a well-known face in Malayalam movies, displayed his Bharatanatyam moves in Bhool Bhulaiya alongside Vidya Balan. Cousin to the beautiful dancer and actress Shobhana, Vineeth still considers dance to be his first love.
It would be a pleasure to watch these artistes display their skills in a dance-centric movie.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to dig a little deeper into the dance archives and look into possibilities of introducing classical dances like Bharatnatyam from Tamil Nadu, Sattriya from Assam, and Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh? Indian dance is a bottomless treasure chest. If only someone would start looking.