In urban India today, if you own a television, or don’t, or go past a hoarding in Mumbai, or eavesdrop on a water-cooler conversation at work, or stare at the man in the orange sequinned pants striking an odd contortion in the society pages with someone else’s wife, chances are it will all, somehow, relate to dance.
We are now, officially, a nation of dancers. I would estimate that we currently have around 400 million people who are dancing. Many are dancing right now—some to no music, some for no reason. We dance a lot. We don’t dance well or as exploring an art or for yogic relaxation; our bodies are more oblong than, say, a Baryshnikov and Swan Lake isn’t our inspiration. We dance because someone’s put on You Are My Soniya rather loudly and we have hips that demand movement, even if it might look like we are having a seizure. We don’t dance at a particular time or rhythmically, we do it suddenly, as a sporadic gesture, like shooting a man or the urge to go to the bathroom.
An acquaintance mentioned that in a rather conservative arranged marriage negotiation in a small Indian town, a young man got up and broke into a well-known sequence from the popular Nach Baliye TV show to impress the lady he didn’t know. He presumed that a recognizable manoeuvre might win her heart, even though he didn’t know her name. Often, on TV shows that feature unknown couples trying to display a skill, breaking into dance mid-conversation is fairly popular, serving not as an irritant but as motivation. These are shows now where petty ageing celebrities ranging from low-budget film villains and retired chefs, armed with semi-clad young women coach/partners (how I wish I had been to culinary school) compete earnestly to win dance shows (they are often out of breath by the end of it).
Noted choreographer Shiamak Davar tells Mumbai through an advertising campaign that he “believes” (I assume, in line with the mood of the nation, he believes he wants to dance). The posters of his show titled I believe have him striking a magician-esque pose, surrounded by a cluster of shiny Eastern European dancers clad in what appear to be bird costumes. In many dance shows, parents teach their young children to imitate actor and parliamentarian Govinda’s moves (and attire), older siblings compete bitterly with younger siblings, in the North-East there is mayhem, intrigue and violence over an Indian Idol performer.
The judging of these shows is financially attractive, so as to create a plethora of celebrity judges who were otherwise unaware of a profession where much money could be made by just saying “super”. Currently, a show titled My Mother Will Win is being advertised; and a tall American gentleman and part-time Bollywood actor named Alexx (the extra x for numerology, an American tradition perhaps) has found celebrity status locally on TV by dressing like a Rastafarian and twirling his Indian female companion as Shah Rukh Khan (another American celebrity) judged.
The most recent addition to this choreographic mélange is the new mega-studio (Yash Raj Films) release of Aaja Nachle (or simply and appropriately put, “Come Dance”). The movie is being talked about as a comeback vehicle for our Julia Roberts, Madhuri Dixit—where she is asking the nation to dance with her. It marks a departure for the screenwriter of Chak De! India to have written a dance movie, but perhaps there is as much tension as there was in that hockey success in winning a dance competition, maybe in Australia, to equally lofty sporty music.
It is positioned in marketing terms, perhaps accurately, that Dixit was missed from our silver screens (“Madhuri is back”, the hoardings remind us). She was last seen playing a chic prostitute in the spectacle that was also a Sanjay Leela Bansali musical and now it remains to be seen whether the nation will come and dance with a Florida-based mother of two who has spent the last few years in domestic events in the Orange State.
Yes, once we may have been known to the world as Gandhian socialists, Hindu pantheists, software programmers, mystics, princes and colonialists. And we may still be. But inside all of us, is an urging (sometimes DJ Suketu) beat, creeping to our feet, and making us gyrate, put on shiny shoes, on television and in life everyday. It is making us forget the absence of a dance floor because the glorious land between Kashmir and Kanyakumari becomes a dance floor where our obesities are forgotten, our clothing is loud, our bottoms jiggly and our hips don’t lie.
(Anuvab Pal is a playwright and screenwriter. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org)