When Bollywood Dance Was Traditional Indian Dance


bollywood dance numbers
Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in 'Devdas'.

Remember Waheeda Rahman in Guide?  Her impromptu dance on a truck full of hay and on the ramparts of a temple to the tune of “Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai” is one of the most memorable dances in Hindi film music. There was a joyfulness and simplicity to this song and you wanted to join her while she danced with careless abandon.  There were no extra dancers or elaborate sets, just a personification of elation and happiness.


V Shantaram’s films such as “Jhanak Janak Paayal Baaje” and “Navrang” were both dance based films. Both the hero and heroine in these films depicted each emotion with graceful dance movements and even a simple song like “Nain se Nain” was enacted with beautiful hand movements.


Another unforgettable dance performance was in Raj Kapoor’s film Awaara, with the song  “Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi”. This scene probably laid the foundation for the present day elaborate song sequences with many dancers and amazing sets. One of the most beautiful dream sequences of Hindi cinema, it created magic with the lyrics and music and with the enchantment of Raj kapoor and Nargis’s performances.


Saroj Khan, one of Bollywood’s best known choreographers, once said that the best male Bollywood dancer was Shammi Kapoor. He practised all his moves carefully, and yet managed to make them look totally extempore. His rhythmic movements, his ease and relaxed manner hid the preparation and effort which went behind each scene.


Don’t you also miss these forms of dance which were far more sensual and graceful?

Somewhere over the years the audience tastes have become transformed. The sixties brought us a surfeit of dances based on “disco” music, where western dance styles such as Cha Cha and the Tango became the source of the dance steps. There were many films which still followed the old dance forms, but the majority of them began to cater to the changing preferences of the audience and assimilated many new forms of dance in the scenes.

By the seventies and the eighties the dance scenes had been totally transformed. Many dancers, elaborate sets and even more elaborate costumes, pelvic thrusts, aerobic routines and free flowing movements became the order of the day. Somewhere jumping exercises replaced expressive hand movements, and each film began to add the mandatory “item” song .

There were a few films which did not walk the beaten track, but they were few and far between. Devdas had two of our best dancers Aishwarya and Madhuri dancing to Birju Maharaj’s tutelage. Taal, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam , Lagaan, Dil to Pagaal Hai were also among these few films.




I wonder whether I am a small minority of one who misses these movies. There is definitely a large segment of the movie audience which enjoys the new “item” dance sequences, hence they are a part of every film, but they seem to have sacrificed grace and elegance at the altar of box office. One of the best examples of item songs is “Munni Badnaam Hui” in Dabangg which has become one of the most popular songs of this year and was partially responsible for the phenomenal success of this film.


I do not question the merits of these songs and dances; I just feel that they are sounding the death knell of classical Indian traditional dance. Dance has been transformed over the years, whether for the better or not is a personal opinion. I ruefully miss my classical dances and graceful movements, but I also – occasionally – enjoy watching a sexy Malaika Arora dance on top of a train in Dil Se.


Give me a combination of the two – fewer jhatkas and gyrating bums, and more rhythmic movements and expressive eye contacts, and I am sure many others will join me in appreciating the new dance forms of Bollywood films. Let us not totally forget our graceful traditional and folk dances, let us be inspired by them and correlate them with modern moves and music. Transformation is the natural corollary of time, but let us not go so far that we totally forget our roots and

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