The first time we see twins Priyanka and Poonam Shah in Anurag Kashyap‘s Manmarziyaan, they’re watching wordlessly from the terrace of a neighbouring building moments before Vicky (Vicky Kaushal) leaps across to see his girlfriend Rumi (Taapsee Pannu). They pop up minutes later, dancing on the terrace, streets and on the roof while Amit Trivedi‘s “Grey Walaa Shade” plays. Their revelry makes a comeback in “DhayaanChand,” while Rumi angrily storms off after a fight with Vicky, and “Kundali”, where Robbie (Abhishek Bachchan) sees Rumi for the first time. They spend the rest of the film as silent spectators, watching with concern as Robbie drinks away his pain at a local bar and eating golgappe while Rumi watches from across the street. Somewhere along the way, they become a motif for the dual nature of the film’s characters and Rumi’s indecision when it comes to choosing between the two men in her life.
While Manmarziyaan may have introduced the Canada-born 25-year-old twins to a larger audience, they’ve been assembling a devoted fanbase since a video of them dancing to “Ramta Jogi” from Taal (1999) went viral three years ago, hitting 4.5 million views on YouTube – the platform through which Kashyap discovered them. They followed that up with competitive roles on Season 9 of Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa. “You think there’s going to be a moment where you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve made it.’ But the more you go on that journey in the entertainment industry, you realise you’ll never find that moment. It gets moved further and further. There’s a bigger goal and then a bigger one,” says Poonam over the phone from Los Angeles.
Over the course of the conversation – during which they take turns to answer questions, reintroducing themselves each time as it’s impossible to tell their voices apart – the two talk about ‘Bfusion’, the unique style of dance they’ve created, working with Kashyap and how their art helps them stay in touch with their Indian heritage.
WHAT DANCE MEANS TO THEM
Priyanka: Dance is something that we did as a passion, as something that we love. So we basically grew up learning Bharatanatyam and that was our dance base for a long time. We grew up in a small town in Michigan, which is near Chicago, up north so there’s not as many Indian people. There’s more white people, more Americans. We grew up in a town where there wasn’t a lot of Indian influence and my mom wanted us to learn Indian dance. She wanted us to keep in touch with the culture. So that’s how we ended up learning Bharatanatyam for nine years, since we were nine years old. And we ended up getting really good at it. It turned into a passion. Then we found hip-hop and we loved some of its elements. We loved the musicality, we loved the quickness of the steps. We tried to apply that into the Indian foundation we had. I think that’s when a lot of our stuff started going viral.
We’ve been fusing dance styles our entire life because our dance teacher was a huge advocate of mixing styles. She had us do a Bharatanatyam piece to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack while we were growing up.
WHAT ‘BFUSION’ IS
Priyanka: I wasn’t even sure what to call it, but we just called it ‘Bfusion’. The ‘B’ either stands for ‘Bharatanatyam’ or ‘Bollywood’. I think a more accurate term would be ‘urban Indian’. So we kind of combined the elements we liked about hip-hop into Indian classical styles. We’ve been fusing dance styles our entire life because our dance teacher was a huge advocate of mixing styles. She had us do a Bharatanatyam piece to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack while we were growing up. So she was a huge influence with regard to fusing styles and being open-minded.
MEETING ANURAG KASHYAP
Poonam: It’s funny because when he messaged on Facebook all that time ago in 2016, we were like, ‘Hmmm, we don’t know if this email is even real.’ All we had to go off of was this email. So we emailed back on the off-chance that it could be real. We highly doubted that Anurag Kashyap would use Facebook message of all things. So we were doubtful and then we sent a few emails back and forth. We still didn’t know if that person was real or not till we got on the phone with him. We kept in touch with him for two years. A few months ago, he emailed us with an actual opportunity. He wanted us to be in this film. That’s when we finally figured out that he was real. It was indeed him this whole time.
KASHYAP’S BRIEF TO THEM
Poonam: He told us that we were thematic dance characters in the movie, “like in Dev D”. So we went and watched Dev D and saw the thematic characters that he wanted us to be in this movie. He has a unique artistic style, it’s very cool. It’s different from all the other directors in Bollywood for that reason. He has these ideas very all of a sudden. When he was watching us, he had a bunch of more ideas of places where he could insert us. Sometimes he would get inspired and then just put us in three more scenes.
Priyanka: He didn’t tell us that we were going to be in so much of the film. We were pretty surprised. He said that we were going to be in three of the song sequences and we were expecting that. We weren’t expecting to be in the entire movie and that was kinda cool, that he included us. It was cool how the motif worked so well.
ON SHOOTING “GREY WALAA SHADE”
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When @anuragkashyap10 asks you to climb a roof for a shot, you climb the roof!! 😂 Lol BTS from the time @anuragkashyap10 saw us on social media and flew us to Punjab, India to be a part of his movie! A visionary!! 🙏🏽 The movie released worldwide today (ManMarziyaan aka Husband Material), comment below if you saw it!! 👯♂️🎬 tbh, we’re still shook it’s now playing 10 min from us 😆 | 📷 @khamkhaphotoartist
Priyanka: That was a really good memory. Poonam and I were super jet-lagged the entire time. We were there, shooting, for about 10 days, which wasn’t that long of a time. We’re just jet-lagged and picking up black coffee. We had literally 10 minutes before the sun went down, just 10 minutes to make sure we get the roof and the shot during “Grey Walaa Shade”. Anurag gets so excited when a shot is amazing. I remember him jumping up and down from the other side and screaming, “We got the shot! We got the shot!”
WHAT MANMARZIYAAN’S TIFF PREMIERE MEANS TO THEM
Priyanka: Manmarziyaan‘s premiere at Toronto International Film Festival is such an honour because we’ve been hosting YouTube videos for a while, but to see art get recognised on such a huge platform is just a different feeling. I feel like dance in general is usually kept in the background, it’s not at the forefront. It’s there in bits and pieces or just for fun. To actually recognise dance as an art is a really high honour for me and Poonam.