In the song ‘Paintra’ from Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz, playing currently in theatres, a guy (Ankit Singh) break-dances with abandon in the ghats of Benaras. It is a part of the film’s hero Shravan Kumar’s(Vineet Kumar Singh) training montage scene. It brings to mind the trio of dancers (Twilight Players) from Kashyap’s 2009 film Dev.D. They groove coolly to the song ‘Pardesi’ in a neon-lit pub in Paharganj, Delhi, as Dev(Abhay Deol), the protagonist, in self-destructive mode, downs one tequila shot after another.
The writer-director has always found ways to incorporate song and dance in his films that seem natural — whether it is Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the star singer of a brass band in Dev.D, and Mukkabaaz; or Piyush Mishra as Prithvi Bana, a jester who writes and sings politically charged songs in Gulaal; or the Mithun Chakraborty-impersonator in Gangs of Wasseypur 1. These appearances are more realistic in the sense that they seem to be a part of the place the scenes are set in — a wedding, a funeral, an election campaign.
The “dancing characters” in ‘Pardesi’(they appear later as well in the song ‘Saali Khushi’) and ‘Paintra’ are more otherworldly. They pop up in unexpected places, their roles in the narrative not so obvious: Singh, in T-shirt and track pants, befits a dance studio rather than the banks of the Ganges, and the three brothers from Dev.D, dressed in hats and three-piece suits, seem to have been transported from another place, another era. “Yes, those are spontaneous choices I make not because the film needs them but because I discovered them at last moment and somehow wanted to put them out there and improvise,” says Kashyap.
During the filming of Mukkabaaz, Kashyap had found Singh rehearsing all by himself by the ghats in the evening. He had met The Twilight Players in London, hung out with them, saw their videos and decided to use them in Dev.D. “They just become, kind of, witnesses to the story,” he says.