Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Song of the Day: Abuse of Classical Dance - Yeh Pyar Kya Hai from Gupt (1997)

Ok, so I'm not the biggest Booby Deol fan around. I can't even count myself as a fan, though I'm not a hater either. But I did really love the movie Gupt when it came out in 1997. I had enjoyed the previous Rajiv Rai fare like Tridev, Vishwatma and Mohra, but none of them quite threw me for a loop like Gupt.

Gupt, which starred Booby Deol (I know, it's Bobby, but you know - ever since Stardust made that typo, I can't call him anything else), Kajol and Manisha Koirala, was a surprising murder-mystery that in a time saturated with repetitive storylines was incredibly exciting and refreshing. Booby plays Sahil, who is in love with his childhood sweetheart, Isha, played by Kajol. Sahil has a complicated and problem-laden relationship with his stepfather (Raj Babbar), who wants him to marry Sheetal (Manisha Koirala). When his stepfather surprises him by announcing Sahil's engagement to Sheetal at a party, he goes ballistic on him and threatens to kill him in front of the entire crowd. The next day, his stepfather is found dead, and Sahil is the prime suspect. From there spins a wild web of murder and suspense with Sahil on the trail to find the real killer.

Booby wasn't a revelation or anything, but the ladies made this film fun to watch (Kajol was good, but I particularly liked Manisha's character, who was calm, collected and mature about the fact that the boy she loved was in love with someone else). It's a bit difficult to watch it today because of the amazing 90s styling, but it certainly stuck in my memory all these years - though that is clearly because of the amazing soundtrack by Viju Shah. I mean come on, the guy came up with gems like "Saat Samundar" from Vishwatma, "Tip Tip Barsa Paani" from Mohra and "Aankh Maare" from Tere Mere Sapne!

I adored the soundtrack of Gupt long before the movie came out, particularly "Mere Khwabon Mein Tu" and "Mushkil Bada Yeh Pyar Hai" -- but by FAR my favorite song was "Yeh Pyar Kya Hai" which uses the beautiful flute intro from "Yashomati Maiyya" (Satyam Shivam Sundaram) set to a techno-ish beat. It works. I love it.

What I DON'T love and what drives me crazy about this song's picturization is the total rape and abuse of classical dance. They have a full stage set of dancers in four of the traditional classical dance costumes of India - Kathakali, Manipuri, Kathak and Bharata Natyam. While they are wearing the costumes, the dancing they are doing is anything BUT. I will go so far as to say the dancing is atrocious and an absolute insult to the costumes they are wearing. The Kathakali dancers might use an actual move or two from the dance style, but they are performed so awkwardly that I was cringing. The Kathak and Manipuri dancers are just flailing about, but I am most disturbed by the Bharata Natyam dancers - since I AM a Bharata Natyam dancer, obviously.

First, their costumes are the versions wore by little girls that don't have bosoms yet. Adolescent dancers and older always wear an additional piece called the dhaavani or melaakku across the torso. Seeing adults not wearing that piece is basically vulgar in my eyes. And then the dancing ... oh god, it's awful. Their feet are yards apart, there's absolutely no technique, it's just SO bad. And I just can't understand why people insult the costume, thinking that it just looks cool to wear it and you don't have to have any respect for the actual art itself.

I know I'm getting unnecessarily upset about this, but it's just so representative of how our own people treat classical dance, and traditional arts in general. Why dedicate yourself to 8-10 years of training and discipline? Just throw on a cool looking costume and shake your hips! It's what I see at all these college and community so-called cultural shows, and it pisses me off. Kids think that doing a Bollywood/Hip Hop/Fusion dance means they are in touch with their culture. There's usually 20 of those items, and then one token "classical" dance that usually has very little classical content to it - and everyone applauds them for making classical dance "interesting" by doing it to Western or Bollywood music or doing a few basic classical dance steps (not even truly doing one style, but mixing moves from Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi and Odissi) and then waving their arms around all over the place.


That aside, I love the song. I LOVE the crazy, totally 90s dance moves Booby, Kajol and Manisha are trying so hard to do. I dig the weird hairstyle on Manisha and I really want to know if Kajol's wig is attached to the beret. I love how Manisha can't dance to save her life (can you say HOT MESS?) and Booby almost falls over doing some of these moves in his tight jeans, while Kajol just looks awkward and uncomfortable but is still trying to rock it out (you go girl).

And I do give credit for the concept! If they had REAL classical dancers doing ACTUAL dance steps, I think I would have found it quite beautiful and interesting. The classical dance costumes are incredibly fascinating (particularly Kathakali, with those elaborate masks, makeup, crowns and dresses) and the idea of all the classical dances presented on one stage is very exciting. If they had just taken the time and effort to hire real dancers and choreographers, I would have absolutely loved the final effect.

Image of Kathakali costuming by Rahul Sadagopan
All in all and my personal issues aside, it's a great song from a movie I really enjoyed when I saw it!

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  1. You're right, the song started out interesting. It was great to see the Kathakali costumes, and the first few moves when it seemed like they might be about to do the dances. But I could only watch it halfway, because I just felt so embarrassed for everyone involved--the dancers for the bad choreography, Manisha for her outfit, Bobby for his hair.

  2. Manisha and Kajol, two of my favorite girls... Need to watch :)

  3. I just...I couldn't. All I could stare at was Booby's hair flying back and forth and my fit of giggles made it impossible to watch the rest of the song.

    There are some actors who should just never try to dance, ever.

  4. Hi Amaluu! You know I'm drawn to posts like this like bees to honey, or whatever that saying is. :) I love your hilarious comments- Never seen this song before (maybe I should be glad!) and just... wow. The parts don't fit together as a whole. I mean, Booby (hehe) doing pelvic thrusts in the same frame as Kathakali dancers? What was the concept behind this mix of 90s kitsch and classical dance I'd like to know! I agree that Kathakali costumes are always fascinating - I did like the few closeups of the dancers moving their facial muscles. I'm interested in the point you made about the BN dancers tops being more appropriate for pre-adolescent girls. I've always wondered about this because I've noticed in pictures from dancers back in the 70s or so (like Yamini Krishnamurthy), I would often see the dhavani-less costume on adult women. I wonder why that was- perhaps the costume has evolved? Anywho, love your post!

    Last - If you want to see a really awesome song with the same four styles of dance but done properly, check out the Thillana from the Kannada/Telugu movie Ananda Bhairavi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hT4F9Ix5djU (they dance together at the end). Maybe you've already seen it - I just love it!

  5. Hello!! I just found your blog while searching for info on mujra style dancing. Crazy as it sounds I'm a black lady in the DC area who discovered Bollywood (via Veer-Zara and Kal Ho Naa Ho) a few years ago and fell in love.

    The classical dances are just so fascinating! I love to watch Rekha's precise movements and was trying to find a school or at the very least a good video. No such luck.

    Anyway, I look forward to reading more of your blog and hopefully one day I can make my dream come true and dance to Rekha's Dil cheez kya hai or In aankoh ki masti ke or Ash's Nimura (she's nowhere near as good as Rekha, though.)BTW, this clip is the first time I'd ever seen Kajol try to dance. I'm in stitches, what a mess! But I adore her as an actress.

  6. Minai - the costume in the olden days was indeed different, but then, I think that gets us into a larger discussion about Devadasis and Sadir and the other implications of Classical Dance during that period. For modern day purposes, the dhaavani or melaaku is absolutely part of the costume. As for Yamini Aunty, who is roughly my mom's age, I think she perhaps just got "creative" with the costume, because during her days the dhaavani was definitely part of the costume. OH! And I love the Ananda Bhairavi songs (have never actually seen the full movie).

    Dreamlvr - welcome to the blog and thanks for checking it out! It's funny you mention dancing and the DC area -- a good friend of mine is involved with Dhoonya Dance - a Bollywood Dance School and Performance Team in DC. Though they aren't necessarily classically-based, many of their dancers & teachers have classical dance background and they DO do workshops that fuse elements of Kathak. And something like Rekha's dancing is a definitely possibility with them. I did their DhoonyaFIT class in NYC this weekend and WHEW! It was killer! Check out dhoonyadance.com.

    Thanks everyone for checking out this post!