Asian Music and Dance

Frame by Frame

Like it or loathe it, you could hardly have missed the huge rise in popularity of Indian, or Bollywood, cinema. For many, like myself, a trip to the cinema was a regular part of extra-curricular activities during my early school years. The music and dance sequences from films like Sholay, Dharam Veer and Bobby have created indelible marks on my consciousness. 

I must say, my interest in the so-called Bollywood cinema has kind of waned so I arrived at the Akademi-organised ‘A symposium on the Dance of Indian Cinema and its transition into Bollywood Dancing’ with a bit of trepidation but tried to keep an open mind. I needn’t have worried. I stayed to the end. It was a trip down memory lane and it was enlightening, entertaining and informative.

Award-winning film producer, Parminder Vir OBE laid out the global canvas on which the Bollywood film industry works. India’s production houses, once inward-looking, are now cutting international deals. And while the Bollywood phenomenon grows and morphs on the world stage, one small detail is overlooked: it is the south Indian film industry or ‘Tollywood’ that is making some 500 films a year, more than twice the number coming out from northern India and many Bollywood films continue to be remakes of their southern counterparts. 

Nasreen Munni Kabir, another eminent film-maker, continued the exploration of songs, music and dance of Indian cinema. A lament, which I related to, ran through her narrative. Once, she said, the dance movements portrayed the song and music or as she said they ‘picturised the song’. Increasingly over the years dance, increasingly hybridised, has been disconnected from the poetry and language of song. 

A chat with feature-film maker Gurinder Chadha provided a welcome change from the talking heads. It was in fact an amusing, anecdotal canter, (or was it promotion?), through the dance and music sequences of her recent film ‘Bride and Prejudice’.

After much-needed refreshments, scholar, film-maker and dancer Sangita Shresthova gave a wonderful presentation of how dance has changed through the last few decades of Indian cinema. Apart from illuminating insights into how the dance form has evolved, morphed, synthesised styles from beyond India, fragmented and created a hybrid form where ‘anything goes’, the presentation was illustrated by old and new dance sequences from film that segued into live dance performances providing an extra-ordinary tour-de-force of the talent from young British dancers working in the Bollywood dance scene. In sum, it was a captivating mixture of academic discourse, fondly-remembered film excerpts and colourful live performances that had the audiences cheering from the balconies. 

Grumbles? Well not many. The day was intense, there could have been more space to breathe and it really should have had an opportunity for the audience to have their say. Finally, Lord Desai who closed the proceedings, could have been given a little more time. Even so, he summed up the day with a wry observation that, for him dance in Indian cinema was really all about sex and he was incredibly thankful for the film dancers that enriched his early years. 



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