There was a time when Bollywood dance was anything but a dance. It went on to use classical dance and then western steps. But, now, creativity is seen in lesser movies today. Creativity in the dance may sound passe and over the years, the dance has developed into a very energetic exercise routine. But, there is hope as we will see in this article.
Black and White Era: Initially, dance was a territory of only the ladies in the movie and it would be performed without any special choreography. The delicate ladies would move their wrists with a little feet movements. Then came, Chandralekha (1948) and its drum dance. This dance swiped people off their feet and gathered classic acclaim in the year it was released.
Slowly, men, particularly, comic artists like Kishore Kumar took on the task of performing dance steps. Who will forget his Eena Meena Deeka… from the movie Asha (1957)? Yet another example is Ik pardesi mera dil le gaya…. from Phagun (1958) where late Bharat Bhushan and late Madhubala shared the attention of the viewers with this dance.
Then, Mera naam Chin Chin Chu… came with a lot of fanfare. Later, some choreographers used steps from classical dances like Pavan diwani na mane… from Dr. Vidhya (1962). The 1950s and 60s also saw dances of large groups with the lead dancer/s performing with them and folk music influencing them like Tum sang preet lagayi Sajna… and Ude jab jab zulfen teri….
Initial Color Stages: Color film rolls came around the 1960s. One of the famous color film rolls of that time is Eastman Color. With the advent of color, lots of experiments in the color and style of costumes began. Experiments on the style of dancing were also begun. Still, people were fans of classical and semi-classical dances. Thus, Raat ka sama… and Koi matwala aaya mere dware… were admired a lot.
Advanced Color Galore: Disco had already come to Bollywood since the 1950s. But, by 1970s these western dances had come to stay. Often, westerns dance was combined with Indian classical or folk like Gentleman gentleman gentleman…. Cabaret got a special place in the movies in 1970s. But, disco replaced it later. Soon, there came a freestyle movement, which was called dance. 1980s saw heavy influence of western dances like Dekhta hoon koi ladki haseen... Even break dance came along, soon. Some Bollywood dances are still being influenced by breakdance.
Often we get some relief from the standard type of dances beginning the 1980s, with some originality and folk music and dance coming our way. Mere hathon mein nau nau choodiyan hain… and Morni bagan ma bole aadhi raat ma… from Lamhe (1991).
Bollywood Dance Today: I happen to remember Mere angane mein tumhara kya kaam hai… had created a big issue in my class when I was in school. One boy began to sing this song and the teacher put a stop to it saying this song degrades women. This was 1981. A big ruckus was also created by the family audience regarding the Saroj Khan choreographed dance Ankhiyan milaon kabhi ankhiyan… (Raja – 1995) with the kind of jhatkas and matkas she had made Madhuri do in the song. The “letters to the editor” page in the print magazine I was writing for was smeared with such mails.
Today’s dances make that dance look like baby steps, with item numbers galore. Another aspect of Bollywood dance, which began around the 1970s, were changes in dresses and locations during a single dance number. I have heard people ridicule this aspect of Bollywood dance, several times. Allowing cinematic liberty, we can say that the changes of dresses and location mean that the lead pair meets each other on different days.
The audience, which did not accept Saroj Khan’s choreography in the Raja song, almost 20 years later is tolerant of songs like Chikni Chameli…. (Agneepath – 2011). Children get influenced by such songs. One little girl sang a such a song during the auditions in Indian Idol Junior. The judges were highly embarrassed at that time and rejected the girl.
Choreographer Imran Sayed has to say this about this issue, “Well, that time was different and the Indian audiences did not have that much of exposure the way we have now, for e.g. back then the word “sexy” was unacceptable in society. Political issues were raised when Karishma Kapoor sang onscreen Sexy sexy sexy mujhe log bole… (Khuddar – 1994)”
I remember clearly Alisha Chinoy was irritated when she was compelled to sing the song again with the word baby.
Imran Sayed continued, “But now as you see, even a teenager or a parent or anybody for that matter uses the word ‘sexy’ very casually. So it was just a matter of that time.”
I find this ridiculous. I would like to know, which decent family uses the word ‘sexy’ in front of their children today.
Imran Sayed added, “When we speak about today’s generation, we say that the current generation is more highly advanced than the previous ones. In the same way, the modern dance steps of today will make yesteryears steps seem like babies. Plus filmmakers today, have become more adventurous and we as an audience, more mature and accepting. So the item songs nowadays are bolder, hence the dance steps are intensely worked on to compliment the songs.
“But one must bear in mind, that it is those very same baby steps that have taken Bollywood to where it is now, nothing happens overnight. As I said above, people are more open to ideas and are exposed to much more than before, children are influenced by everything in society. As a matter of fact, parents are the ones who applaud their children when they pick any such movement or a song. What children see is what they end up doing, generally.”
Doesn’t that give us the responsibility to restrict what the children hear or see?
Choreographer Palden Lama Mawroh is of the opinion, “As far as masterji (Saroj Khan) is concerned in my opinion she is one the finest choreographer that we have in the film industry. I think the song was shot very well. However, the audience being very subjective of their choices there will always be a chunk of people who would love it and a chunk who wouldn’t so that doesn’t take away from how well the song was shot.”
Palden Lama Mawroh said, “Today dances in dance videos and movies is all about getting a hook step that is easily remembered and enjoyed by all – something that an ordinary person can get a hang of and something that becomes a signature of the song. So even if people don’t remember what song it is they would remember the signature step. I don’t think it makes it look like baby step but something that is catchy at the same time fun to do.
“People evolve with time and so does their way of thinking. People now are more open-minded and have a different approach and view to things. I don’t think it was wrong then nor is it now to have such songs. I am sure there will be a lot of people that wouldn’t accept the songs shot these days however there will be much fewer people that would be against it compared to 20 years back. It’s just people’s perspectives and views change with time and things become more acceptable.”
We requested to know, “Why does the girl always have to wear a short dress and during the dance ample amounts of her thighs and cleavage are shown? Is all this necessary for a movie to appeal to the audience?”
Imran Sayed replied, “This isn’t necessary, but as filmmakers, we tend to follow the West a lot. But to make a point here, unless there is a glimpse of the human frame or physique the song isn’t considered to be visually attractive. And it’s not only girls who have to display their body, but men have to do the same, equally.”
We finally asked, “Where are we headed now as far as the Bollywood dance scene is concerned?”
Imran Sayed said, “I think we are headed really far, in fact, around the globe. People have happily accepted Bollywood songs and dance. For instance, there was a wedding in Paris where the bride was dancing gracefully to a Bollywood song Chunari chunari… (Biwi no. 1 – 1999) a Salman Khan song and that wasn’t an Indian wedding at all. Another instance is, when I met few Belgium citizens, who had come down for a high profile wedding I had choreographed, they wholeheartedly enjoyed dancing on the song Lungi dance…. So, yes, Bollywood dance is taking over people’s minds, body, and soul across the globe.”
Palden Lama Mawroh wanted to say, “As far as Bollywood dance scene is concerned I think things will evolve even more with time considering the fact that a lot of young choreographers with new ideas and concept take over the industry. Bollywood will remain Bollywood but with a little twist that individual choreographers have to offer.”
But, there is hope. For every Lungi dance… and Chikni Chameli… there is Gallan goodiyan…, Nache farrate mar ke… and Selfie le le re…