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‘Indian Ambassador of Dance’ at Cannes

Sandeep Soparkar

Cannes film festival is the most talked about film festival in the world. It is the place where filmmakers, directors, producers, actors, technicians and everyone who is involved with cinema comes together to celebrate one common interest and that is films. This year 69th Cannes film festival was no less compared to its other years. There were who is who of the world of cinema present at Cannes this year and each person was there for a reason, be it their film promotion, looking for buyer for their upcoming films or representing their country at this most talked about film festival of the world.

I feel humbled to inform you that I was invited at the 69th Cannes film festival as the ‘Indian Dance Ambassador’ to give a talk on ‘Dance in Bollywood and its changing trends’. This was my third outing to the French Rivera and the best one I must admit. I was told that filmmakers and press from world over would be my audience and I should amicably handle their over enthusiastic questions.

Dance has always been the soul of Bollywood films, we are 103 years old now but our movies are completely incomplete without its song and dance routines. Be it birth or death, be it happiness or sadness, we Indians express it through dance and that is why our films are reflexion of who we are. But how this reflexion has changed over the period of time in cinema was a difficult task to put in words. For a dancer it is simple to dance it and show it off but to speak about it and to put words to the change of trends becomes bit difficult.

I would like to thank Ms. Leena Jaisani and her fantastic team of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) for guiding me as to how I should conduct my talk in front of an international audience. Also this talk would not have been possible without two wonderful people who were my panellist for this session; Actress Pooja Batra and Classical dancer Raghunath Mane.

I began my speech by introducing both my lovely co panellist and giving their short background information and how they have been a part of Bollywood for a long time. Then a shot film was shown which took the audience through various dances that have been and are now a part of Bollywood films.

Post the film screening I held the mike talking about how we initially had silent film, and then later the first lady of Indian cinema Devi Rani danced more with her eyes and face, dance was more shown through expression in the film in 1920’s. Most of our films released in 1930’s were either based on social issue or mythology, so a lot of classical dances were a part of cinema. Accomplished dancers like Sitara Devi entered cinema and did bring a few international dance forms on the celluloid. She performed Russian classic Ballet in 1942 film ‘Hulchal’ and Hawaii hula dance in 1951 film ‘Roti’. In 1962 film ‘Half Ticket’ Spanish Paso doble music was used but all these songs and dance numbers were just one of  the pieces to add the western feel to a film.

Actors dancers like Gopi Kishan, Sandhya Shantaram made classical dance a household name with film like Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje. Lead Actors like Prithvi Raj Kapoor, Ashok Kumar never really moved like Hrithik and Shahid. Yet Bhagwan Dada gave hits after hits and was called the first dancing actor of Bollywood. His moves in the song ‘Bholi Surat Manke Khote’ are still performed by one and all. Vyjayanthimala, Hema Malini came into films trained in classical dance and for a long time danced to many classical based and folk based numbers. Songs like ‘Jhumka Gira Re’ ‘Chad gayo papi Bichooa’ made folk dances from various part of India enter Bollywood.

The real transition came in 1970’s with RD Burman, Asha Bhosle  and Helen creating magic in cinema. If Hollywood had Brazilian actor dancer singer Carmen Miranda coming up with hit moves we in Bollywood had Helen who became the first item girl of Indian Cinema. Her Cabaret dance numbers were more or less compulsory in every film in the 1970’s, followed by Bindu, Aruna Irani and Kalpana Iyer making all the international moves and clothes enter the country. Cabaret ruled Bollywood for over a decade and then when John Travolta made Saturday Night Fever, we had our very own Mithun Daa dressed in golden pants and jacket making his pelvic thrusts and introduced Disco as the new age dance into India. Post the Disco dancing, Govinda in late 1980’s brought in Break Dance and then Shah Rukh Khan with his charisma introduced broadway jazz in ‘Dil To Pagal Hai’ in 1990’s. Post that there was no looking back for international dances in Bollywood.

I feel humbled to say that I introduced English Classic Waltz in Karishma Kapoor and Rekha starrer ‘Zubeidaa’ and Amir Khan’s film ‘Mangal Pandey’ and in Hrithik Roshan starrer ‘Kites’ . I brought in Street Dance in Priyanka Chopra starrer ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’ Tango and Russian Folk dance Kozachok was shown to the world. And now with latest films Like ‘ABCD 1 and 2’ hip hop is ruling the dance scene in Bollywood.

This does not mean that classical and folk dances have been left behind or they are not being used in Indian Films. ‘Devdas’, ‘Bajirao Mastani’, ‘Ram Leela’ were all super hit films which had loads of folk and classical dances in them and each dance move till today is remembered.

Pooja Batra further added that for an actress learning dance is very important as most actresses have to dance in Bollywood films. Pooja said, “I have worked with the best choreographers including Saroj Khan and it made me realise how important dance was for me and my career.” She further added that ‘Folk dances were her favourite and she loved to dance to Bhangra and Marathi folk numbers.’

Classical Dancer Raghunath Mane insisted that ‘Study of Nava Rasa is very important for an actress or even for an actor, it helps them to emote well for any song be it Indian classical, folk or western dance. He even said that ‘if choreographers study Bhava and Nava Rasa it will add more value to the dance piece they choreograph in Cinema today.’

After all the intellectual and serious talk about dance, I was closed by talk by saying ‘If you wish to see the world unite and come together on one single platform then one should see a Bollywood film, because our film transcend us to another world, a world which is filled with magnificent dreams. We in Bollywood make dreams come true.’

Pooja, Raghunathan and I thanked the audience and while we were answering their inquisitive question, a French lady got up and said ‘This session can’t be over so fast, its incomplete without us learning some Bollywood moves’ and the crowd requested me to teach them some fun filled latest steps. The dancer in me took over and I played the track ‘Ladki Beautiful Kargaye Chull’ and the crowd danced like there was no tomorrow.

Many international journalists met me post the session and said it was the most interesting, informative, entertaining as well as a fun filled session of 69th Cannes film festival. Apart from the talk I walked the most talked and most scrutinised red Carpet dressed in clothes by Deepak Shah of More Mischief and Jewellery by Dev Balani of Malkish. It makes me feel truly humbled that Cannes film festival in association with FICCI invited me for a talk and gave me an opportunity to be the ‘Indian Ambassador of Dance’ at such a prestigious film festival.

Sandip Soparrkar

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