When I think back to my movie-watching experience as a child, I realize that I unconsciously distinguished Bollywood movies from every other movie that I grew up seeing. I had frequent Bollywood movie nights with my family, but never with friends (specifically, non-Indian friends). For some reason, I always kept my Bollywood films separate from my other DVDs, reaching for a different pile depending on the friends who were visiting. I think it was because I believed that Bollywood was a completely different cinematic experience from the other movies.

Dance Sequence from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. Picture from Google Images.

Dance Sequence from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. Picture from Google Images.

And that’s true, to some extent. Most Bollywood movies have several things in common: a hero pursuing a love interest, random song-and-dance sequences in the middle of a scene, of which at least one is required to take place in a gorgeous landscape that is someplace in Switzerland (or some other green, mountainous country). And at the rate that the Hindi Film Industry churns out movies each year, many of them do share the same themes and basic plotlines.

However, that’s not to say that Bollywood is any less of a movie-watching experience, as filmmaker Suraj Das told me in a recent interview. “I always thought it was unfortunate that Indian films get a bad reputation–especially in academia, when you’re studying filmmaking and cinema studies,” he said.

“People tend to think of Indian movies as silly distractions. People don’t realy think there’s a lot of artistic merit to them at all.”

Mr. Das, who directed and produced the film “Arranged” for his senior film thesis, explained that the musical sequences in Indian films are actually very difficult to film, as actors and directors have to work to make sure the choreography aligns with the camera angles. For Mr. Das, the filming was particularly difficult as he and his choreographer had to try to create their own Bollywood sequences by picking up on elements from other Bollywood films. Mr. Das’ film in particular is an homage to both Hollywood and Bollywood, as the early musical sequences are reminiscent of Saturday Night Fever and Singing in the Rain, both iconic musical sequences in Western filmmaking.

Perhaps it’s time I joined my Bollywood-Hollywood DVD collections into one pile, after all.


In my previous post, I talked about the Bollywood-style laundromat dance scene filmed for “Arranged”, a graduate thesis film by NYU Tisch grad Suraj Das. Well, I had the opportunity to speak to Melissa Briggs, the choreographer of the dance scene!

When I asked Melissa (who is mostly experienced in Broadway choreography) about how much experience she had with choreographing Bollywood-style dances, her answer surprised me: “Not much at all,” she said. “It was a totally new thing for me.”

Melissa did do a lot of research to prepare for the scene. “I’d seen a lot of Bollywood movies,” she said, adding that she revisited footage from the film Bombay Dreams. She also said she borrowed elements from a Masala Bhangra cardio dance class.

“It was definitely a learning experience for me,” she said. “Usually I’m an actor/dancer so I was on the other side of the table this time. Bollywood is a very unique genre.”

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the laundromat dance sequence on YouTube. But our conversation reminded me that I have yet to upload the Bollywood compilation dance that my friends and I performed for the NYU Monsoon show! So here it is, see if you can spot yours truly.

For those interested, the song selection is as follows:

  • “Aye Hip Hopper” by IshQ Bector
  • “Pappu Can’t Dance” Film: Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na
  • “Muqabala Muqabla” by A.R. Rehman
  • “Dance Pe Chance” Film: Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi
  • “Baawre” Film: Luck By Chance
  • “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom” Film: Jhoom Barabar Jhoom
  • “Aai Paapi” Film: Kismat Konnection

Bollywood, not Ballet?

April 19, 2009

Today I had the chance to speak to Anni Weisband, a sophomore at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Anni participated in a Bollywood music video of sorts last year when she was hired as a backup dancer for a particular dance sequence that took place in a laundromat in Alphabet City. The film was “Arranged”, the thesis film of Suraj Das, a graduate of NYU Tisch.

I was interested in how Anni picked up Bollywood dance, having had no prior experience in the dance form. “I guess my training in jazz and ballet and modern dance made it easy to pick up on,” she said. “I just went in and learned the choreography and did it.”

Anni did pick up on various differences in Bollywood dance as compared to the dance styles she was used to. “It has a lot of arm movement isolation and it’s a lot about the hands, too,” she said. “There are specific ways to hold your hands. That’s something I found different as compared to ballet, where the fingers and hands stay still. So that was something different I had to get used to.”

Still, Anni said that the Bollywood music was so infectious that she couldn’t help but want to dance. “I wouldn’t say Bollywood dance is easy, but it helps when you become really excited about something and then it starts to come naturally.”

The conversation we had started me thinking on whether there were any other Bollywood dance studios in the New York area that could possibly make learning Bollywood dance easier for newcomers. I came across the Dhoonya Dance School, which has introduction to Bollywood dance workshops. The studio is located at 219 W 19th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues.

And for those interested, I did manage to find the teaser trailer to the student film Anni danced in. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the laundromat scene, but the trailer does seem to promise a lot of Bollywood talent!

The Rise of Bollywood

April 6, 2009

So I’ve noticed that recently, Bollywood has been garnering more attention in mainstream American media. Last summer, the American-Idol counterpart dance reality show  So You Think You Can Dance showcased its first Bollywood routines. For those who have grown up watching Bollywood films, I thought that the dance choreography was alright in comparison to some of the Bollywood routines I’ve seen at cultural festivals, but as far as the entertainment factor goes the audiences seemed to love it:

For me, some of the best choreography came from the movie Devdas. Although the film came out in 2002, I still think that it’s one of the best representatives of Hindi cinema. All the dance items in Devdas are excellent, but this one was the pinnacle of the movie. The year it came out I saw dozens of girls replicating the same dance moves for the same cultural shows for the next 5 months:

A more recent Bollywood film is Luck By Chance, a movie about Bollywood actors struggling to make a break in an industry where the lead roles are dominated by a handful of established actors, as well as the children of established directors and producers. Farhan Akhtar and Konkona Sen Sharma are fresh faces playing the lead roles of the movie, but the film’s marketing appeals by using star power:

Who wouldn’t rush to see Hrithik Roshan dance in a veritable Aladdin-costume replica while surrounded by a vibrant circus? The man is the best dancer in Bollywood! (Sharukh Khan fangirls, please don’t kill me.)

If you are  interested in learning Bollywood dance, the Bollywood Funk NYC Dance School and BAX, or Bollywood Axion, are a couple places in New York where you can take lessons. For those who are more economically-minded, just pick up the moves by renting a few Bollywood films! Either way, you’re guaranteed to have a lot of fun.