You must have seen the video of the “Dancing Uncle”, one among the many viral waves that sloshed against our timelines in 2018. The video — a middle-aged, balding, mustached, pot-bellied uncle footloose at a wedding function — has about 82 million views as I write this. It is, truly, a relic. The uncle, dancing to ‘Aapke Aa Jane Se’ from Khudgarz, is completely immersed, paying no attention to the men that walk by the camera, or even his wife standing to his left, on the side of the stage. Here is a man performing Govinda nostalgia and excess for himself. The audience is a mere excuse to explode. As the song transitions from the male playback to the female playback, the uncle, forgetting there is actually a woman to play the part, decides to change roles and mime and dance as the woman of the song, loosening his hips. His wife has nothing to do now but clap along. Someone on the side is circumambulating money around them, so nazar na lage. The video is theatrics at its most indulgent, irreverent, and that is why, perhaps, its most endearing. (The Dancing Uncle has made a YouTube channel since, with over 500,000 subscribers.)
Shiladitya Bora, the founder of Platoon One Films (backing films like Sir and Picasso) takes this moment and tries to add interiority to its edges. Were the Dancing Uncle’s children there as well? Were they embarrassed? Did the embarrassment change into pride when he went viral? His short film Aapke Aa Jane Se is, unfortunately, too preoccupied with these questions it completely does away with the magic of the very moment it took as its muse. Manu Rishi Chaddha plays the Dancing Uncle, but that is not how he is introduced. He is a middle-class father to a studious daughter and a notorious son. We only find out the daughter’s name, Kuhu, when she is spoken about by others, while the son’s name, Manu, is peppered throughout his parents’ dialogues, a subtle insinuation of the gender gap among siblings that will erupt into a chasm over time. But the film, quite unsubtly, suggests his “emasculation” — the PR note’s words, not mine — at work, and his growing distance from his friends whose heads are stuck in the Whatsapp wormhole mistaking fiction as fact and fact as farce. Each of these characters in Aap Ke Aa Jane Se is trying to prove a point, embody a dysfunction of our society — either our reliance on Whatsapp or digital shopping.
Shot by Stanley Mudda, behind the still yet immersive Picasso, the film hints at depth without plunging in. His daughter wants him to drop her and her brother off at a distance from the school gate. In a later scene, his wife wants him to drop them off at a distance from the wedding venue. The daughter is embarrassed that they are coming on a bike. The wife needs to straighten her sari so there are no signs that she arrived on a bike. The bike is, thus, a constant insinuation — at his lack of earnings and thus, social status. At the wedding, you see him running in later than the rest, presumably after finding a space to park. Bora’s detailing is life-like, except for when he makes his side characters into caricatures of the modern malaise.
Then comes the dance itself — the centerpiece of the film — which doesn’t have half the burning charisma of the source material. As if Bora is suggesting that this movie is not about the dance but the dancer. But even then, you never sense the man shedding his skin in an uncharacteristic moment of excess. So, its virality in the following scenes feels accidental, undeserving, and the closing moments — one of hope but also doubt of how this virality will feed into their lives — a feeble footnote.