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Dance in Bombay cinema.

Structured in part around long-distance telephone conversations with the choreographer Farah Khan, this essay traces the deployment of dance in popular Bombay cinema, from its relative absence in the early silent days, through its emergence with the talkies, to its incorporation as an essential part of the formula (masala) film. First, it considers the social context of dance in Indian cinema; and moves on to discuss how dance imbues meaning in a film, and how this meaning transforms over time. Thereafter, it explores how dance was embedded in Flindustani cinema, with attention to the different sites for dance. Finally, it reviews the transformation of the body in Indian cinema and its relation to wider cultural politics.

The Road to "Cool"--The Twelfth Rasa in Indian Popular Culture (1)

Farah Khan was born in Bombay in 1965, into a family variously involved with popular cinema and filmmaking. (2) She grew up in the city, where she continues to live and work. Her opening gambit, without any prompting from me, is, "Go to any club, anywhere in the world, and you will see Indian film dance. Indian dance is cool!" The confidence with which she uses the sweeping term "Indian dance" for film dance is notable. It gestures to the cultural hegemony of Bollywood as the new face of "India Shining" in a post-economic liberalization age.

Farah is prominent amongst filmmakers who introduced and shaped a new age of cool, beginning in 2001 with Dil Chahta Hai. A refreshingly spontaneous paean to the masala film, directed by her maternal cousin Farhan Akhtar, the film brings into focus men and women--such as composers Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy, and set designer Suzanne Kaplan Merwanji--who transformed image (mise-en-scene and fashion), sound (dialogue, music, rhythm and lyrics) and the body in space (dance and movement and "Size 0").

There was a time when a section of Indian film critics and filmmakers, particularly from the Indian New Wave or Art Cinema, turned up their noses at the popular song-and-dance masala film. Their dismissal was grounded in views on the ontology of cinema: according to them bursting into song and breaking into dance in the middle of the narrative took cinema away from what they thought was its avowed purpose: realism or to represent the "real". For them, what did not look identical to their perception of the "real" represented a lack--it was the unthinkable outside. This mode of thought fuelled a division of "highbrow" and "lowbrow" aesthetics and cultural practice--with realism representing the former, and Bombay cinema, the latter.

In the 1980s these ideas were imported to a burgeoning academic interest in Indian cinema, at home and abroad. That moment has passed. Critics in India accept the song-and-dance masala on its own terms. Abroad, it has inspired filmmakers from other cinemas to experiment with alternative narrative strategies (as in Baz Luhrman's Moulin Rouge, 2001). Scholars too, are beginning to accept popular South Asian cinemas as different modes of filmmaking without a duty to conform with or live up to standards set by European, Hollywood or even Indian Art House cinemas.

Instead, it is argued here that song and dance in the masala films are rituals that materialize the phantasmagorical in a desire and search for the impossible and the real. They are not ephemeral invocations of the non-self-identical subject of the realist critique, nor interruptions and/or wounds in a unitary field of discourse. Rather, song and dance are parts of (un) stable interpretive practices that lack nothing, and are among multiple inscriptions of several discourses - in the impossible quest for the ever evolving and elusive real. (3)

This essay contends that in the 20th century dance in popular cinema corporealized a phantasmagoria of a mood aesthetic (rasa) exuding sensuality (shringara), in a search for love. In the 21st century this has given way to an aesthetic of "cool" that materializes lifestyles of consumption: here dance items present the male and female body as commodities. The body and the item number circulate disembedded from celluloid, as autonomous goods on sale, in conflated fantasies of sexual desire and consumption.

The Social Context of Dance in Cinema

The expansion of cinema cultures in early 20th-century India converged with a growth of regional and national bourgeoisies who redefined the place of dance in Indian social milieus. Significantly, these developments signpost transformations in the social space and systems of artistic practice and patronage, that include who was dancing, where they were dancing and how they were dancing. Hitherto, dancing and the arts as professions had flourished under the patronage of courts or the jajmani systems, with artists tied to their patrons. There were other models of performance by itinerant artists, but the social status of dancers and musicians remained low, and at best ambiguous. In the 20th century, sections of the Indian bourgeoisie staked a claim, as performers and not merely patrons, to their dance and music traditions, hitherto the preserve of the very wealthy, in courts, or dance and music professionals.

In a world where attitudes towards the performing arts were changing, Uday Shankar and the theosophist Rukmini Devi Arundale stand out for their roles in transforming the place of dance in Indian social milieus. After stunning audiences in Europe, Shankar returned to India, where he set up a dance commune in the hills near Almora. (4) Several young men and women from different parts of India joined him. Among them were Hindus and Muslims, mainly from bourgeois backgrounds. In the context of the cinema, prominent among them were the sisters Zohra and Uzra Segal, from an haute-bourgeois Muslim family. Zohra trained in Germany and returned to India, where she joined Uday Shankar and toured with his troupe in India and abroad. She also worked in theatre with IPTA, and choreographed for the cinema in Lahore and Bombay. (5) The director Guru Dutt also trained as a dancer with Shankar and began his career in cinema as a choreographer. In 1948, Shankar produced and directed Kalpana: a socialist dance-drama on celluloid, it is a stinging critique of capitalism in a technological age. There is more than a trace of Uday Shankar's worldview and choreography in Dutt's oeuvre. Phantasmagoria of love and sensuality are embedded in films such as Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz ke Phool (1959), gesturing to a socialist worldview, in a style of filmmaking that blends the masala and a realist aesthetic.

The British had introduced to India Western dance forms, ballroom dancing and the cabaret. Various Indian bourgeoisies took up ballroom dancing, while local Indian cabaret artistes trained to entertain both Indian and British audiences. Although the social space for dance had expanded, well into the 1960s young men and women who danced anything other than a "classical" Indian repertoire, were considered "modern" and "fast". (6) After Independence, the new state promoted "classical" and "folk" dance troupes in the internal and global circulation of its "idea" of India. It was in the interstices of initiatives by the state and private individuals that Bhangra was born and evolved as we know it today. It is not far-fetched to say that Bhangra and Western disco dancing a la Michael Jackson, and Elvis Presley's pelvic thrusts are the major components of the grammar and vocabulary of Indian film dance today.

The dancing public, as we know it today, began to expand in the 1960s, with discotheques, clubs and parties in the city - all the preserve of the middle classes. There was a simultaneous craze for dance, no doubt fuelled by popular cinema, where young men and women began to dance at weddings and related rituals of sangeet and henna. It is not within the scope of this article, but there is a close enmeshing and exchange in the representation of rituals and dance between the world of cinema and everyday practice.

If the decade 1935-45 was the age of the singing star, the birth of dancing stars had to wait for the 1950s. Such was the box-office allure of dance that it became an integral part of popular films. In the comedies of the 1950s, Bhagwan Dada and Kishore Kumar pioneered the age of the dancing hero. However, as they danced away to jazz-Latino and rock-n-roll numbers, they were exceptions to the rule. They paved the way in the 1960s for dancers such as Shammi Kapoor and Helen. Nevertheless, Bombay cinema heroes and heroines were far away from the field of dance in 21st-century India that has expanded to the extent that Farah laughs as she comments, "Now, everybody dances: in towns, cities and villages--all Indians dance."

The Embedding of Dance in Cinema

There is little evidence of dance in the available footage of Indian silent cinema. Nevertheless, the blocking and movement of protagonists within the frame, particularly in Phalke's films, often seems choreographed. Undoubtedly, the screening of silent films such as D.G. Phalke's Kaliya Mardan (1919) to the accompaniment of music was akin to dance theatre performances. Furthermore, the excessive use of stylized facial expressions (abhinaya), bodily movements (angika abhinaya) and symbolic hand gestures (mudra) point to the occupational roots and performance traditions of the many choreographers, musicians and actors who came to the cinema.

After the advent of the talkies dance emerged as part of the masala for entertainment and spectacle. There is evidence of a process of embedding of dance routines in Indian movies. Plot devices take protagonists to sites that call for a dance routine in this particular kind of filmmaking. This is not a detour or interruption of the narrative but something that both filmmaker and audience have come to expect at that moment in the film. Just as songs enhanced the amorous and the sexual, dance offered audiences an enhanced phantasmagoria of sexuality, using the body to push the boundaries of the transgressive.

The most utilized urban sites for dance include the courtesans' salons (kotha), nightclubs, fairs and theatres. The rural has its own share of sites for dance, in lush valleys, meadows, village squares, fairs and deserts. Most of these sites evolved in association with particular modes of dancing and music. For instance, in several films the plot takes the hero to a dance performance (mujra) by a courtesan (tawa'if) in her kotha. Here the dancer performs a dance closely derived from Kathak, to a film song, usually inspired by a thumri, a song type that revels in playfulness between the sacred and the profane.

In popular cinema, the den of iniquity and transgression was the nightclub and its associated dance form--the cabaret. Invariably, this is where the vamp danced. Free from the need to be good she offered the audience maximum jouissance. The nightclub and cabaret were immensely creative sites for Indian dance and music. In terms of borrowing and mixing unabashedly, the cabaret prefigures the cool item numbers choreographed by Farah Khan and her contemporaries.

The cultural borrowing of early cabaret items, from rock-n-roll, Latin American dance styles and revue items, was not mindless mimicry, but a mimesis mediated by local cultural politics. In the 1930s and '40s, cabaret was often a space where nationalist Indians rehearsed the depravity of the West and poked fun at Westernized, urban Indians (as in Moti Gidwani's classic early talkies film Khazanchi produced from Lahore in 1941). Conversely, the item number borrows more for the sake of "style" and homage to the past than for meaning.

In representations of the rural, filmmakers used dance to enhance the mood of love and materialize a rustic innocence. This is evinced by scenes such as the one with Vyjayanthimala in Madhumati (Bimal Roy, 1957), dancing to "Zulmi sangankh lari re" (I exchanged looks with the cruel one). Festivals and life-cycle rituals such as weddings and birthdays created another space for dance. Holi remains a favourite with filmmakers, with a dual play on the transgression inherent in the social ritual, whereby all rules can be broken, and the cinema's need to push the boundaries of the transgressive.

Dance and Meaning in Popular Indian Cinema

At this point, it is salutary to discuss what dance is doing in Indian cinema. First, dance entertains, but also importantly, it searches for meaning by challenging the boundaries of transgression, in an attempt to materialize phantasmagoria and locate the real. It deploys the body and explores space for what cannot be expressed through words or music. Furthermore, because dance embodies a search for meaning, it can be tapped as an archive of meaning.

In the 20th century, love and romance remained the central trope of popular Indian cinema, imbricated in the wider public discourse and social practice on love. The pervasive mood aesthetic {rasa) of this cinema was fuelled by a phantasmagorical search for "love" as the obscure object of desire. In artistic practice this approximated with a desire to explore a mood of sensual sexuality {shringara). In his poem "Raqs" (Dance) the Urdu poet Josh Malihabadi comes close to describing what dance is doing in 20th-century cinema;

   Jalva-e-mahdud ke dil mein ba aima-e-shabab
   Husn-e-ld mahdud ban jane kd shirin pech-o-tdb (7)
   It is the allure that lies at the heart of partial revelation
   The sweet stratagem that manifests infinite beauty

The preoccupation with dance is not peculiar to popular cinema in India. Dance is embedded in Indian cosmology and social rituals: it is simultaneously revelatory and a source of jouissance. In Tandava, with Shiva presiding as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja), dance has the power to unlock the secrets of creation and sexuality. In the North Indian dance style Kathak, both Bhakti and Suh traditions converge, to explore through dance the ultimate ecstasy (raqs-e-bismil), where union with the beloved (visal), leads to an infinite void if ana). It was in the field of Kathak and its associated vocal traditions of thumri that Parsi theatre and North Indian popular cinema put down their music and dance roots. (8)

Nevertheless, there is a difference between what song and dance were doing in the cinema of the 20th century, and what the "item numbers" are doing in the cinema of the 21st century. In the previous century, just as songs filled in the blanks for what dialogue could not say to represent love, dance used the body to ooze a phantasmagorical sexuality. In the 21st century dance is no longer a signifier of a cinema with an unbridled phantasmagoria of love. Rather, it is embedded in a bifurcated cinema, where both strands ooze a rasa of "cool".

In India, this discussion must be placed in a social context where arranged marriage continues as a privileged social practice, and romance and love marriage remain social taboos for most Indians--to the extent that in some communities the young are killed for marrying for love. It is not surprising that here artistic and literary practices are preoccupied with the representation of love, particularly at the level of the popular and everyday life.

The impossibility of love fuelled by social constraints was also mirrored in the lifestyles of many filmstars: the tragic love affairs of Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, Dev Anand and Suraiya, and Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rahman evince the dissonance between everyday life and cinematic phantasmagoria. Movies shared a phantasmagorical dream space with most Indians. From the 1960s, while dreams of love did not fade from the movies, a parallel phantasmagoria of consumption and lifestyle was evidenced in a litany of films such as Sangam (Raj Kapoor, 1964).

A new generation of trendy filmmakers has emerged in a world of economic liberalization, the first strand inaugurated by Dil Chahta Hai (Farhan Akhtar, 2001). In these movies, there is existential angst, but no real impediments to heteronormative sexual encounters and love marriage. With fulfilment of sexual desire, young filmmakers veer to an unapologetic representation of cool lifestyles. This cinema is also a riposte to the critics of the song-and-dance masala. It demonstrates a conscious celebration of Bombay cinema, using inter-textuality to pay homage to song-and-dance numbers from the past.

Films such as Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd (Reema Kagti, 2007), Rock On (Abhishek Kapoor, 2008), Luck by Chance! (Zoya Akhtar, 2009) and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (Zoya Akhtar, 2011), with witty one-liners, dance items, fashionista appeal, trendy sets, and a bit of existential angst, are representative of the new cool school of filmmaking. (9) Unlike Guru Dutt, Dev Anand et al., the dreams of love of these young Indians have moved away from the rest of India. For them love is no longer an impossible fantasy, and their phantasmagoria blazes a trail of consumption, empty of emotion, signposting a new banal cinema of a cool lifestyle and India Shining.

The second skein represents filmmakers who stepped into the empty space as Art Cinema fell by the wayside, and the popular cinema of alienation and anger disappeared from view. It comprises films in search of political and social meaning, but with "cool" elan. Going back multifariously - to the 1935 Devdas that installs the anti-hero in Indian cinema, in a searing critique of alienation; to Guru Dutt's oeuvre and to Yash Chopra's angry young man films - this morphs into films such as 3 Idiots (Rajkumar Hirani, 2009), Delhi Belly (Akshat Varma, 2011) and Kahaani (Sujoy Ghosh, 2012), to name but a few. Here too, dance is sometimes deployed, and is both the signifier and signified of anger, frustration and alienation. This is best evidenced in the song-and-dance item, "Ja ChudaiF (Get away, you witch), from Delhi Belly. Choreographed by Farah Khan, it blends Michael Jackson with Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix, with plenty of jouissance for the female gaze (arguably signposting a new feminism, while simultaneously offering the male and female body for consumption) in an explosion of rage.

Neither strand is confident enough to relinquish the tried and tested box-office appeal of the love track of the narrative. Nevertheless, the emphasis has moved from shringara to "cool". In the first quarter of the 21st century, the song-and-dance formula has morphed into a relentless quest for cool, which arguably is the tenth rasa for popular Indian dramaturgy and aesthetics. (10) Here bodies move on the screen, encased in figure-hugging "Size 0" attire, and protagonists dance in item numbers to a pied piper leading into a hysterical and frenetic fantasy of cool consumption. Inarguably, filmmakers of the 21st century have stretched the aural and visual boundaries of the permissible and transgressive. When asked about the charges of obscenity levelled against her, for numbers such as "Munni badnam huf (Munni's become notorious) and "Sheila kijawanf (Sheilas blossoming), Farah is nor provoked, but states with a calm confidence: "I don't do vulgar. No ho-heaving bosoms. My choreography is very vegetarian!" The item number "Munni badnam huf (Dabangg, Abhinav Kashyap, 2010) frames an older history of 'folk' dance in Bombay cinema, signposting the infusion of cool into mofussil India, and laying bare the mofussil heart of corporate India.

There are other important transformative processes in the narrative strategies of Bombay cinema that shaped the deployment of dance. While Indian talkies had always relied on song, and increasingly on dance, to represent the phantasmagorical, the subject of cinema danced in one location. With the use of cutting and editing, dancers moved from one part of a vista to another: for instance, from a mountain into the valley below, and so on. Nevertheless, there was some visual continuity between the two frames. It was not entirely unknown for the protagonist to move to a different space; but this usually happened in the context of a dreamscape.

In the late 1980s, the director Yash Chopra's change of heart--his decision to stop making angry films, and instead focus on the love element in stories--inaugurated a new trend for dance in Bollywood. Yashji described the mise-en-scene for this new generation of love stories as his "exotic reality". (11) Partly contingent upon his inability to shoot his song-and-dance items in Kashmir, Yash Chopra's new Dream Wave moved seamlessly between different parts of India, Switzerland and the world, creating simultaneous and multiple and exotic "realities"--as audiences dreamed on.

The freedom from continuity or coherence of location opened a space of endless possibilities for the filmmaker and choreographer. In this merger of dreams and reality, the ontology of Indian cinema was redefined. It was this space that choreographers such as Saroj Khan stepped into, with a clutch of new stars - the triad of Khans, Aamir, Salman and Shahrukh, and heroines such as Kajol and, in Farah's words, "the amazingly elastic" Madhuri Dixit who created a global sensation and controversy with her item "Choli ke piche kya haf (What's behind your bodice?) in Subhash Ghai's Khalnayak (1993).

The Body and Who Dances

In the early 1950s and '60s most heroes, including Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor could not dance. The above-mentioned Kishore Kumar and Bhagwan Dada were exceptions to the rule. The first dancing hero was Shammi Kapoor. As Farah reminds me, "In the days when heroes did not dance, he did pelvic thrusts like Elvis Presley." Likewise, most heroines could not dance, but three women stand apart. No account of dance in Bombay cinema can ignore Sitara Devi, Vyjayanthimala and Waheeda Rehman--all trained classical dancers.

Among their contemporaries, Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini are remarkable for their ability to dance. Farah recalls how Amitabh Bachchan, not a naturally gifted dancer, was "the hardest working person on the set. fie reinvented the Bhagwan Dada step for this age." She urges us to "Look at him in From Bombay to Goa\ or 'Shava' or in 'Rock 'n roll soniye." The heroines Sharmila Tagore, Rakhi, Zeenat Aman were not great dancers. The best they could do was run around trees with their male counterparts. Fleroes such as Dharmendra and Rajesh Khanna were equally challenged. Farah describes the latter as having "two left feet".

From the 1980s, a new generation of stars enthralled audiences in India and across the globe. This era converged with Yash Chopra's Dream Wave and the entry of Saroj Khan, as the first prominent woman choreographer. It marked the passing of the age of the relatively anonymous male choreographers seeking the stamp of approval from classical dance traditions or gharanas. Saroj Khan essayed a new, "in your face" style of choreography, that coincided with the dawn of the age of Bollywood abroad. In the early phase of this dancing era, Govinda and Madhuri stand apart for the sheer flair of dancing. Arguably, he was the Bhagwan Dada of his generation, while she was the Vyjayanthimala.'2 As mentioned earlier, these dancers inspire contemporary choreographers. Talking about her own creative process, Farah says, "I try to avoid cliches, but I do get inspired by dancers I have liked."

Nevertheless, the bodies of the dancers choreographed by Saroj Khan bear little or no resemblance to the new sculpted reincarnations in the age of cool, choreographed by Farah Khan and her contemporaries, such as Vaibhavi Merchant. Shahrukh Khan's chubby avatar of the 1990s presents an interesting comparison with King Khan of the 21st century, or the relatively plump Juhi Chawla in comparison with any of today's heroines.

In the 20th century some actors were able to dance. In today's generation cool, dance is a sine qua non - the contemporary hero and heroine must dance, and they do so relentlessly. Today's Bollywood would have little use for the lithe Sharmila Tagore or buxom Mumtaz wafting around trees, or for the awkward Rajesh Khanna - unless trained by Farah Khan and Vaibhavi Merchant.

Now, dance is a prerequisite and part of the vocabulary of acting in Indian cinema, I ask Farah how this has transformed the body of the actor and who dances in a film, suggesting that she has been part of the processes. Farah explains how film dance is embedded in wider cultures of consumption: "It started with the dance troupes. I insisted that people dancing in dance troupes should be fit. There is no point in forty-year-olds playing college students. So I brought young people into the troupe. Naturally, in comparison actresses had to look good as well. It is also to do with how India has changed. Many more people work-out and go to the gym now. I mean, who had ever heard of "Size 0"? It is nice to have bodies in shape."


This essay has traced the transformation of how dance is deployed in Bombay cinema. It has argued that dance was embedded in the narrative, as filmmakers had stock moments where it was deployed: these ranged from the courtesan's salon, cabaret, village scenes and religious rituals such as Holi. In all these instances dance was used to enhance the emotional aesthetic (rasa). A shift has occurred in the first quarter of the 21st century, and dance no longer fills an emotional void, or materializes a sensual fantasy that signifies love. Rather, with reference to a conversation with Farah Khan, this essay shows how dance becomes a distinct commodity or an item, inserted into the him. The director relinquishes agency to the choreographer to create a new aesthetic universe--not imbued with an "excess" of emotion, but a phantasmagoria of lifestyle and consumption, materialized by "Size 0" bodies gyrating across the screen in search of "cool".


When I choreograph, that entire piece is mine. First, I try to understand how the song fits into the film situation or an item. I discuss it with the director. Yes, and keep the actor in mind. There is no point in expecting the actor or actress to do things they cannot do. The challenge is to make them dance.

I got Shabana to dance in Luck by Chance! Then, I work with the set designer, costumes. And, I direct that piece. It is like a four to five minute short film within the film. ..I go and choreograph the whole piece. So, it is good, in the middle of their film, they can take four to five days off, as I direct the whole sequence.


(1) For centuries Indian performance traditions have relied upon a theory of mood aesthetics {rasa). In Indian aesthetic theory there are generally nine rasas. The Natyashastra (2nd century bce) mentions eight rasas: sringara (sensual); hasya (comic), raudra (anger), karuna (compassion), bibhatsa (disgust), bhayanaka (horror), vira (heroic) and adbhuta (wonder). By the 10th century three others appear--shanta (peace), which is the ninth rasa, vatsalya (parental love) and bhakti (spiritual devotion). Rasa theory is not static, cf. note 10.

(2) Farah's mother Menaka is from a Parsi family with links with the cinema. Farah's maternal aunt Honey Irani is a screenwriter and mother of Farhan Akhtar and Zoya Akhtar. Another aunt was the child actor Daisy Irani. Farah's late father Kamran Khan was a stunt filmmaker.

(3) Here I refer to a Lacanian reading of the real, which is impossible to glimpse, except in the realm of dreams and the imaginary. It resists symbolization, and morphs into phantasmagoria. In popular cinema, and in dance, this exudes a tension that heightens jouissance, because the imaginary relates to the subject's image of the body and subjectivity.

(4) Mohan Khokar, His Dance His Life: A Portrait of Uday Shankar, Delhi: Himalayan Books, 1983.

(5) Zohra Segal and Joan Landy Erdman, The Art and Adventures of Zohra Segal, New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1997.

(6) Tahira Mazhar Ali (TMA), 1960 interview: TMA is a Pakistani Marxist.

(7) Josh Malihabadi, "Raqs" (Dance) in Fikr-o-Nishdt, Delhi: Kutub Khana-e-Rashidiya, 1939, p. 12, v. 15.

(8) Although, with dancers such as Vyjayanthimala and Hema Malini elements of South Indian Bharata Natyam and Kuchipudi are evident in Bombay cinema.

(9) Ranjani Mazumdar in her critique of Bombay cinema perspicaciously compares the experience of this cinema with Benjamin's flaneur in a shopping arcade. See her Bombay Cinema: An Archive of the City, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

(10) For a discussion on rasa in Indian aesthetics see Mukund Lath, "Bharata and the Fine Art of Mixing Structures", paper read at the workshop on System and Discourse at the Department of Sociology University of Delhi, 1984. Lath describes rasa theory as "fluid", which raises interesting questions for an analysis of cultural production in light of Bauman's conception of liquid modernity. See, Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity, Cambridge: Polity, 2000.

(11) Yash Chopra: conversations.

(12) M.F. Husain: conversation. As the artist M.F. Husain's muse, Madhuri transcended the boundaries between art and cinema. Husain Sahib explained that he was so inspired by her dancing, "specially, the turn of her ankles", "I created a film set simply to watch Madhuri dance within my creation." The result was the exceptional Gajagamini (M.F. Husain, 2000): perhaps the only such collaboration between a painter and dancer.


All illustrations courtesy Osian's--Connoisseurs of Art Archive.

Caption: 1 Sitara Devi and Sheikh Mukhtar in Mehboob Khan's Roti (1941). From a family of kathakars (itinerant storytellers), Sitara straddled the worlds of classical, film and modernist dance, pioneered by the likes of Uday Shankar: she embodies the heterogeneous cartography of culture in Nehruvian India.

Caption: 2 The first agent provocateur in a move to get everyone dancing - Bhagwan Dada in the selfdirected Albela (1951).

Caption: 3 The grand summation of the relationship between Kathak, the kotha, the mujra and Bombay cinema--Kamal Amrohi's Pakeezab (1972).

Caption: 4 Helen--the greatest vamp in the history of cinema; the embodiment of transgressive relays for generations of modern Indians.

Caption: 5 Raqs-e-bismil in contemporary Bombay cinema--Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas (2001).

Caption: 6 Zoya Akh tar's Luck by Chance! (2009): Dance becomes a "cool" hyper-choreographed affair, as young Indians ransack Bollywood and global dance practices as chic lifestyle choices.

Caption: 7 Dancing in "exotic realities" across the globe, in Darr (Yash Chopra, 1993).

Caption: 8 Shammi Kapoor (Kashmir ki Kali, Shakti Samanta, 1964) made dance respectable and cool for the young of 1960s India.

Caption: 9 Farah Khan's Om Shanti Om (2007) pays homage to the tradition of Bombay film dance. It traces the proliferation of collective dancing in India--on and off screen.


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Title Annotation:Conversation Essay
Author:Rehman, Nasreen; Khan, Farah
Publication:Marg, A Magazine of the Arts
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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