Indian Classical Dance

I am an NRI, translated into: no real Indian. I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears. I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati and other languages.

What also draws me to Hindi films is storytelling in dance. There was none in Jodhaa Akbar, but I enjoyed Aishwarya Rai’s dancing in Umrao Jaan, as Nandini in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanaam, and as troubled Sahiba, in Dhaai Akshar Prem Ke, but I still felt that something was missing. I only found it later in Neel Kamal, where Ram Maheshwary the director has all those statues and Waheeda Rhema dances.

You see, my vision of Indian dance was formed in Lamontiville, an African township in Durban South Africa, next door to Chatsworth. Racial segregation called apartheid said Africans should live in Lamontville and Indians in Chatsworth.

Although we lived separately, I have patches of memory where I saw Indian women dancing. I found it funny initially because of their costumes and fingers and feet writing in the air. I struck gold one day at a mall near Soweto at a music store I frequent for African music. That is where I found Mehbooba. My search for my one dimensional view of Indian dancing was over.

I did not laugh this time. I listened, not only to the sita and the drums, but to the conversation in the dream sequence between Prakash (Rajesh Khanna) and Ratna (Hema Malini). Prakash belongs to the past. He is presently Suraj, a successful modern musician. Ratna’s devious ghost uses a storm to lure him to the palace where they met a long time ago when Ratna was the palace dancer and Prakash the court musician.

The dream sequence starts with chandeliers. The king and queen are in attendance enjoying the performance, but Ratna and Prakash only have eyes for each other. The drum poses a question. Ratna answers with her head, bangles, anklets but her eyes glued on Prakash. He calls to her, his voice in pain. She abandons him for a while and has a marriage of convenience with the drums. Hmmm! Her eyes! They send mixed messages to Rajesh.

However, the best dance scene for me is when Prakash is supposed to marry Jamuna, his father’s friend’s daughter. I don’t speak Hindi but I understand the branches of pain in Ratna’s heart. You are getting married, she dances. I don’t approve of this marriage, she dances breaking her bangles. I’m tearing my clothes in anguish, she dances. I could have made you happy, she dances moving her hips. I beg you to reconsider your marriage, she dances crawling to him, bringing tears to his eyes.

I then realised that her dancing was almost similar to how amaZulu in South Africa dance. It is called ukusina, lifting up your leg to the beat of the drum or dancing to clapping hands. Ratna, Hema Malini’s character did it daintily, not upward like Zulu dancing. I also caught a glimpse of it in Aur Pyar Ho Gaya, when Aashi (Aishwarya Rai) was dancing at her engagement.

Bhool Bhulaiyaa also has the kind of Indian dancing I like. It was the scene where the Bengali dancer Manjulika (Vidya Balan) dances with the court dancer Shashidhar (Vineeth) she was in love with in the dream sequence scene. Their eyes were joined at the hip like the tongue and saliva, not realising that King Vibhuti Narayan was in love with Manjulika.

I nterpreted some of Shashidhar’s dance steps as ukusina, lifting up his foot deftly and holding it in mid-air for a second. Zulu dancers are more furious, because their dance is based on animal moves and enactment of battles.

I briefly saw the upward lifting of the leg in Indian dancing in Dhaai Akshar Prem Ke, in that scene in the desert, where Karan, played by Abhishek Bachchan and Sahiba, played by Aishwarya Rai realised that their love was doomed. Sahiba was wearing black. She lifted her legs up and I was excited at the similarity between that dance step and ukusina.

What I like about my search for at least one million original films in our life time is that I’m always discovering talent. That is how I found Akshay Kumar but unfortunately, what I saw initially were his police roles, which are more or less the same: Khakhee, Tu Chor Main Sipahi, Main Khiladi Tu Anari, to mention but a few.

My perseverance paid off because I stumbled upon movies such as WAQT directed by Vipul Amrutlal Shah. Akshay kept me entertained in the first half of the movie as spoilt Aditya. He ran away and married Pooja (Priyanka Chopra) and told his parents Sumi (Shefali Shah) and Ishwar (Amitabh Bachchan) some sob story about helping a friend get married.

Aditya was work shy even when Pooja was pregnant. When his parents put their foot down and banished him from the main house, he did odd jobs to buy food for his wife. The dance sequence at the Zoom In Zoom Out competition looked like a letter to his estranged father and he mesmerized me with steps that were like ukusina. The judges nearly cried at his painful performance.

It is quite obvious that Indian dance is as wide as the sky. Mani Ratnam had a mountain scene in the film Guru where Guru (Abhishek Bachchan) and Sujata (Aishwarya Rai) were dancing. I don’t know what it is called but I enjoyed it. I also saw it in the mountain scene in Maine Pyar Ki, where Prem (Salman Khan) worked in a quarry.

The character Karan, played by Jimmy Shergill in Mohabbatein was excited when he learnt that Kiran, played by Preeti Jhangiani took lessons in classical dancing. I was too and waited for that scene in anticipation. I was disappointed because Kiran just kept spinning and spinning, not story telling as Ratna in Mehbooba and Manjulika in Bhool Bhulaiyaa.

I suppose I should move with the times, and forget that old-fashioned form of expression. Anil Mehta’s Aaja Nachle explores the plight of open air community theatres that are no more because of advances in technology. Madhuri Dixit dances her heart out, but I cannot compare it to her performance in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas, because there is only one Devdas. Just Devdas!

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness The Novel.
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