Ravaan Review 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.

I was hoping that Aishwarya Rai Bachchan will dance in the Hindi Ravaan. Well! Dreams never come true. Mani Ratnam gives us one measly dance where her character Ragini is fooling around with her beloved Dev Pratap Sharma (Vikram) at home. I was so devastated when I got home I raided my DVD library and fished out Priyadarshan’s film Bhool Bholaiyaa, where Vidya Balan dances just before the end of the film. Mesmerising! What a performance, definitely storytelling in motion!

Storytelling in dance
Balan’s character Avni is married to Siddarth, whose ancestors used to be kings in a certain part of India. They live in the U.S. and are in India on business. Avni insists that they stay in the family palace. His uncle, Batuk Shankar (Paresh Rawal) renovates it against elders’ wishes who believe that it is haunted by a ghost called Manjulika.

Siddarth’s ancestor King Vibhuti Narayan fell in love with Manjulika but she was in love with the court dancer Shashidhar (Vineeth). The king was furious and hacked him to death in front of everyone during a performance in the castle. The film is about how the cunning ghost enters modern-day Avni, and that beautiful scene represents that fatal night when Manjulika and Shashidhar danced for the last time.

Dance is one of the reasons why I follow Indian cinema, but it seems as if I arrived at the wrong time, when classical dance is out of fashion like sewing and the thimble. I’m still longing for actresses like Hema Malini, Juhi Chawla, Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan who are comfortable with classical Indian dance. Raavan is not set in the usual television station, advertising agency, hotel, a night club or a city. That is why I thought Mani Ratnam will give us some dance scenes. Aishwarya did not dance in Jodhaa Akbar because the story did not have room for that but there were opportunities in Ravaan.

Take the scene where Ragini’s husband Dev comes home and finds her giving dance lessons to little girls. Surely, we could have seen her dance there. I believe in one film at a time, but I cannot help talk about Devdas and Umrao Jaan. I don’t know much about classical Indian dance, but I enjoyed Aishwarya’s dancing in these two movies.

Michael Jackson influence
I was quite disappointed but I remembered that producers know best. Indian dance has been Michael Jacksoned. Audiences want American dance now, break dance, rap and other music art forms that started in African American communities in Atlanta, Chicago and New York and ended on MTV.

The producer is always right, that is why Indian dance skills found in actresses like Malini, Dixit, Chawla and Rai Bachchan are no longer a priority in Hindi cinema. This is bad news for me because I like dance. Mani Ratnam helped me join the dots in Guru, because he linked Turkish dance to Indian dance. Sanjay Leila Bhansali linked Italian dance to Indian dance in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanaam, in that restaurant scene where Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) and Vanraj (Ajay Devgan) are waiting for Sameer (Salman Khan).

Not all song and dance
Critics of Hindi films say it is all song and dance, but there is no reason to throw out the baby with the bath water. Indian classical dance is beautiful. There is no need for words because the whole body is the storyteller, eyes, hands, fingers, even bangles. Maybe critics don’t like the hero and heroine running around trees, mountains and streets in Belgium or north of England but there are songs that are specific to the story.

This is well illustrated in Mukul Anand’s film Khuda Gawah. The first song is a test of wills between Badshah Khan (Amitabh Bachchan) and Benazir (Sridevi) and that is all done in song. It is in the context of the story. In the film Darr, directed by Aziz Mirza, Kiran (Juhi Chawla) and her sister-in-law tell a story in dance just before her wedding.

I suppose it is a matter of supply and demand. If audiences want more MTV dance routines like the song Pain of Disco, in Farah Khan’s film Om Shanti Om, the film Chance Pe Dance and Dhoom, producers will continue financing such films. As for me, I’ll keep screening old movies where words take a break, and let dance tell the story.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness The Novel.
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