The rainbow-riot, choreographed dance song is part of the traditional Hindi film format, and how it is often remembered, and articulated in popular culture. With the movement towards realistic cinema this dance number has been displaced from the narrative towards promotional material, shown while the end credits roll. It was already limping on its last leg, with films opting for digital releases, giving less incentive to write in these mass-songs, which are enjoyed more as theatrical experiences, into the narrative.
Now with COVID19 raging, there is a question of whether this might be the final nail in the coffin of the Big Dance Song. One of the general practices in the 36 page guideline by the Producers Guild of India is to “avoid handshakes, hugs, kisses, and other physical greetings.” Another one notes that a “minimum 2 meters distance between colleagues must be maintained.” And in case extras are required to be less than two meters from each other, they must undergo testing.
This means, for the foreseeable future, we might not see the big-dance numbers, or see far fewer of them, given how most productions are now trying to limit the cast and crew of a film. Therefore, we look back on some of these songs from the past two decades, celebrating their place in cinema, and thinking about how they were used in the narrative.
1. First Class, Kalank
This hero introduction song is a chaotic, yet choreographed ode to Varun Dhawan. All the men swarm toward him, and all the women swoon. The more men and women, the more effective is this swarming and swooning. But now that there’s a trade-off between scale and safety. I wonder how Remo D’Souza will innovate his hero-entry choreography.
2. Chikni Chameli, Agneepath
While in the wake of the #MeToo movement, many producers publicly renounced the item-song, it is nowhere close to becoming extinct. Katrina Kaif burning men’s cigarettes, lurking well below the 2 feet maxim, jugging to Ganesh Acharya’s put-out choreography, from a matchstick swiped on her chest? Good luck getting such moments past the Guild. Perhaps it’s best we stay away from such songs for a long-long time.
3. Azeem-O-Shan Shahenshah, Jodha Akbar
This song was the definitive spectacle of the mid-2000s, with its complex formations, sword dances, and crowded but perfectly synchronized geometric groups, an ode to Akbar (Hrithik Roshan). Chinni Prakash’s choreography, together with the top shots and Rahman’s score, produced awe, the quintessential Bollywood stereotypical awe. When and how do we get this next?
4. Break Up Song, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil
We are in Karan Johar’s silent disco. The DJ is Alia Bhatt in feather earrings, Ranbir Kapoor in denim jacket and pants and Anushka Sharma in a high-cut kurta. By its sheer definition, the club-song is meant to pull you into a crowd, arms interlocking, head on shoulders, hand on hips. Revisiting Tushar Kalia’s choreography of flailing arms and touching faces, a bit of anxiety sets in. If Johar’s next film Takht has a disco song, I hope the Mughals in it are socially distant, doing the macarena in their brocades, 2 feet apart.
5. Ainvayi Ainvayi, Band Baaja Baaraat
Wedding songs are the perfect cocktail of colour and choreography. But Ranveer Singh in the arms of his background dancers? Anushka Sharma pulling him, her neem-ka-pakoda, by the collar? I hope Yashraj is budgeting for the COVID19 tests for all its dancers and actors if they want to make such memorably choreographed songs (Vaibhavi Merchant is the choreographer) in the future.
6. Hudd Hudd Dabangg, Dabangg
The hero-worship introduction song is one thing, and Salman Khan’s Bhai-song is quite another. With the latter, the choreography is simple (Shabina Khan choreographed this one), with barely a few limbs moving rhythmically. (Khan is often taught the choreography on-set before the shot, without much rehearsal) But for this to look good, it is necessary to have a dense crowd doing the same thing, otherwise it will just look odd!
7. Gallan Goodiyan, Dil Dhadakne Do
This one-take song choreographed by Bosco-Caesar begins with all members of a cruise sharing a mic, passing it along, hand to hand till it reaches Priyanka Chopra. When the mic is passed to one of the aunties, she points out she has a bad throat, and refuses to touch the mic. You should have stayed back in your room aunty! (It’s really bothersome that now this movie reminds me of the story of the Diamond Princess cruise, that had COVID19 patients, subjecting the 3,700 odd people in it to the virus.)
8. Deewangi Deewangi, Om Shanti Om
‘Deewangi Deewangi’ was a cherished moment for people clued into the generations of Hindi cinema from Shabana Azmi to Rekha to Tabu to Rani Mukherji to Vidya Balan, all dancing opposite Shah Rukh Khan to Farah Khan’s choreography, hands on hips, kisses on cheeks (I counted five), back scratching (yes, the literal kind), hugs, hugs, hugs. All hot girls put your hands up and stay, Home Shanti Home.
9. Chinnamma Chilakkamma, Meenaxi: A Tale Of Three Cities
This is an MF Hussain film, so like his paintings, you get a colourful orgy of intersecting movement- where one limb ends and the other begins, no one knows. This is a song set in a brothel, and seduction here, or anywhere, cannot happen with social distancing norms in place, right?
10 Balam Pichkari, Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani
Remo D’Souza’s iconic choreography of this song involves Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone touching each other’s faces with colour, resting arms on each other’s shoulders, screaming into one another’s faces, a communal pool cleanse, and a concert. Perhaps like the Catholic Popes squirting water guns from a distance to perform baptisms, the Bollywood Holi song too will be innovated, keeping the Guild in mind.