So You Think You Can Dance? –> Bollywood

Via a tip on our News Tab (thanks, Tanvishah), the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance?” recently had a Bollywood sequence, brilliantly choreographed by Nakul Dev Mahajan. It’s worth a peek:

What do you think? I think Katee and Joshua rock. The first judge made an interesting comment along the lines of “You know, it’s funny how much this ‘Indian cultural dance’ resembles other dance cultures. When they do this [moves his arms], it’s like hip hop. And that thing with the knees, it’s like Russian dance.” What he didn’t realize is that Hindi film choreographers have been happily ripping off other cultures’ dance forms for decades!

59 thoughts on “So You Think You Can Dance? –> Bollywood

  1. I love this show. I’m glad you have a thread on this.

    I thought the number of a little disappiointing. The choreography wasn’t very sohpisticated. But that might be becuase Katee and Joshua aren’t very good and couldn’t master much more than that. Which is OK — it’s hard to learn new dance style in a week.

    What I really didn’t like was Katee’s expression through the whole performance — Bollywood numbers, even the more modern ones, have a particular emotional range, and Katee didn’t really capture the facial expressions of a Bollywood heroine. In other dance styles, like some of the latin dances or the smooth waltz, the judges aklways point out if the contestants captured the mood of the discipline. I really think Katee, and to a lesser extent Joshua, didn’t do that.

    I hate to be so negative (well, maybe I don’t), cause I’m really glad they did a Bllywood number here. I wish they’d done it two years ago — I’d have loved to see Benji Schwimmer do Bollywood!

  2. The dance itself didnt seem that Bollywoodish to me. But that has no bearing on the dance quality itself which seemed pretty good. As Amardeep mentioned, that Russian dance with the knees seemed more prominent. If they wanted to copy Bollywood style, hey about Benny lava style dancing. Here’s what it would look like if a twisted version of Sesame Street attempted a Bollywood style song. Sing it “Grover”.

    There wouldn’t be enough stage space for this Telugu gem.

  3. Yay! I’m so glad you posted this! I liked it, and I’ll repeat what I said in the News thread – it helps that the couple that performed the dance – Joshua and Katee – are really good dancers, one of the better couples on the show, so I’m glad it was them, and say, Kortni and Matt (who got booted anyway).

    What I really didn’t like was Katee’s expression through the whole performance — Bollywood numbers, even the more modern ones, have a particular emotional range, and Katee didn’t really capture the facial expressions of a Bollywood heroine.

    But as you know from watching the show, the lyrics of a song, as well as what the choreographer describes as being his/her emotional goal in the choreography, drives the facial expressions of the dancers, and how they are judged. Given that the lyrics are in Hindi, and no one knew what was being sung, they probably just figured “happy!”, and Katee definitely nailed that. She’s not as annoyingly smiley as Thayne or Kherington can be.

    Ok, I need to take a deep breath. I love this show a little too much. ;-)

  4. 3 · tamasha said

    Maybe much of it is the camera work, but they were awesome. Give them some credit!

    I agree. Some of the camera angles and the MTV style “Tilt it to the left! Now to the right!” definitely makes it hard to appreciate some of the choreography.

  5. There seems to be a few desis on US based reality shows. Caught Papa CJ last night on Last Comic Standing who apparently is from Calcutta. There were some expected stereotypical jokes but overall not bad. Some of it irreverent as in his answer to this interview question:

    What is your worst nightmare as a comic while performing on stage? Has it happened? My worst nightmare as a comic is to have Camilla Parker Bowles (Prince Charles’ wife) and George W. Bush nibble on my nipples while I perform. Fortunately this hasn’t happened on stage yet. I just wish I could say the same for off stage. Power is such an intoxicant/aphrodisiac sometimes.
  6. I have to give them a 10 for effort, energy and mastering the steps but it wasn’t very “bollywood” like. It was very breakdance meets hip hop.

    I’m going to say it’s cause they ain’t brown but the grace of a hip throw that a leggy sexy desi actress can do is something not too many non Indians can emulate. She’s a powerful dancer but that’s what she came across as powerful and masculine. There wasn’t any grace and softness or femininity in her character which is so intregal to the sexy desi female dancer in a Bollywood number.

    He was strong but again he was going thru the motions. It’s hard when you don’t experience the emotion in the song. It made it look like a cheerleading tryout.

    I have to say I’ve seen non desi’s rock the house at Basement Bhangra and Fogana and other competitions but I suppose with more exposure comes more grace and experience. These guys had a week so they did pretty well for a week.

  7. I’m going to say it’s cause they ain’t brown but the grace of a hip throw that a leggy sexy desi actress can do is something not too many non Indians can emulate.

    It’s OK, Bollywood can’t stage a Bhangra sequence to save their lives either.

  8. 9 · Ennis said

    I’m going to say it’s cause they ain’t brown but the grace of a hip throw that a leggy sexy desi actress can do is something not too many non Indians can emulate.
    It’s OK, Bollywood can’t stage a Bhangra sequence to save their lives either.

    Oy.

  9. I am at home for the summer so I have been watching much of my “guilty pleasure” tv with even more extra guilt (errrds the worst being the bachelorette). But as I turned on the tele towards the end of So You Think You Can Dance, as my parents sat in the living room eating and screaming at me for watching random shizzy shows, my parents and I literally screamed in delight as the om shanti om music blasted on and the dancers did their thing. it was freakin’ awesome! joshua and katee are great (joshua more so than katee but that is my bias for non-professional dancers coming out).

    how about nigel’s comment re: “I hear santa claus is coming?” —at the sound of the ghungharoos (ankle bells) of the dancers…Did anyone else think that was annoying? Or his reference to the bollywood number as “traditional indian dance”? I think Mya michaels got it right when she gave kudos to the insane deceptively simple choreography that is bollywood: absolutely n’sync and tightly choreographed with hundreds of background dancers.

  10. I may be wrong, but I do believe that the floor spins are part of some traditional Indian dances. Not denying that Bollywood as a whole is a mesh of various dance styles from around the world. But I know I’ve seen them in more folky type of dance numbers quite a few times.

  11. I’m no expert on either dance or Hindi films, but one thing that struck me about these 2 contestants – no backup dancers. The trend in many Hindi films seems to be to surround the leads with as many backup dancers as possible, which I would image would make choreography and filming an even bigger challenge. So, you have the most of the rapid edit which is the mark of most Hindi films today. What was refreshing about these 2 is that we can just focus on them, and not get distracted with a bunch of other junk on the screen.

  12. 2 · Pravin said

    The dance itself didnt seem that Bollywoodish to me. But that has no bearing on the dance quality itself which seemed pretty good. As Amardeep mentioned, that Russian dance with the knees seemed more prominent. If they wanted to copy Bollywood style, hey about Benny lava style dancing. Here’s what it would look like if a twisted version of Sesame Street attempted a Bollywood style song. Sing it “Grover”. There wouldn’t be enough stage space for this Telugu gem.

    The thing about Bollywood, its not really a style of dance or a genre, its a Film industry. like dances from Dhoom 2 are quite different from the dances from Devdas are quite different from the dances in Om Shanti Om, yet they all come under Bollywood. However the western depiction of the typical “bollywood” dance would include girls and boys in indian clothing with hundreds of background dancers, TYPICALLY a WEDDING or similar type of setting. i.e. Yeh Ladki Hai Allah- Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Mehendi Laga Ke Rakhna – DDLJ, Cham Se – Dus, etc. You would think this is some mix of Bharatnatyam, Bhangra, and Kathak, with a funky hip-hop twist, and not bollywood, but to be honest Bollywood IS a mix of everything.

    South Indian films aren’t usually refered to as Bollywood, they have their own names (Tollywood, etc).

  13. Is it just me or has the new trend for bollywood dance numbers become using non-indian (esp. white) background dancers? or is that only when they are shooting in a foreign country?

  14.   |And that thing with the knees, it’s like Russian dance.” What he didn’t realize is that Hindi film choreographers have been happily ripping off other cultures’ dance forms for decades!
    

    Its called Bhangra.

  15. I know Fallen jhumki. But I had to find some excuse to post a link to a fake Grover singing a Tamil song.

  16. I really liked it. Granted it’s hard to express the emotion when you can’t understand the language of the song, but I think they did a great job given the circumstances. I really hope that for tonights show they have the do it again. it would be even better if they did have the backup dancers. It was fun and different and hope that they show brings in other cultural styles. I love going to see Bollywood movies when they show at the Hawaii International Film Festival or some art house in town plays one. The dancing is what makes it unique. Sometimes it’s not about technique, it’s about the performance and the fun!

  17. It looked out of place I guess because I’m used to all those backup dancers from Bollywood. Using a large number of people in a song just makes it much more entertaining. I also thing this song was meant to have backup dancers. A song like “Tujhe dekha” from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge seems much more fitting for this.

  18. Why did the opening sequence put me in the mind of a Draupadi-Vastrapaharan reenactment? I thought the choreography was out of sync with the music. They were too energetic, while the song seemed to call for something more mellow. And, as someone mentioned above, the grace was definitely lacking.

  19. I liked it and it doesn’t matter that it was way too Cossack to be Indian. The good Mumbai filmi dances always rip off many sources. Race had this boring dance copied liberally from the dated macarena (another staple).

  20. I walked into the living room and my wife was watching it. She immediately Tivo’d back to the start of the segment so that I could see it all. I was so surprised to see it on a show like that. I loved it! My wife loved it! The audience went wild and the judges were effusive with their praise. Awesome. I hope we’ll be seeing more of this sort of thing in the coming months and years on American television.

  21. All Indian movie dancing is based substantially either on Kathak in the West or Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi in the South. The classical “dance masters” are all trained in one of these styles. while mudras are a part of the latter two styles, they aren’t for the former. But footwork is a part of all three although in very different ways. And expressions of course in spades. That leaves out the other four classical styles (I don’t like the division of Indian dance into classical and non-classical but will use them just as placeholders) Manipuri, Odissi, Mohinattam, and Kathakali. They are incorporated in parts but pose several difficuluties within hte restricted format of a movie song sequence. For instance in Odissi movement of the body while being in the same place must be learnt with much pain and toil. In Kathakali some of the big leaps and pirouettes would be beyond most of our physically unfir fatsos on screen (except the likes of Kamalahasan and Prabhudeva). Assisting the dance masters are “western dance” specialists some of whom like Vijay Oscar have gone on to become independent dance masters in their own right. Some of the moving around on your knees may not be a Russian thing only. There are other Indian forms such as Chhau that have these vigorous mvements. And if you want some leaping and flying all over the place moves, there’s always KaLaripayattu and Silambam to borrow from.

  22. 15 · fallen jhumki said

    Is it just me or has the new trend for bollywood dance numbers become using non-indian (esp. white) background dancers? or is that only when they are shooting in a foreign country?

    ugh YES. it’s like they hire russian callgirls to dance on their sets. the women usually have fit bodies but their stringy blonde hair and ugly faces are a total eye-sore! i LOVE bollywood but this trend (and the new trend of half-indian newbies) have turned me off from watching my flims. i mean seriously, there’s a billion people in india and they dig up the ugliest white background dancers and semi-goodlooking half-breed actors!

  23. oops i didnt mean half-breed as an insult. excuse the rant :)

    by the way, i thought katee and joshua did an amazing job especially since they have no prior training in it. graceful indian dancing is not easy!

  24. Ensure, Indian Producers and directors have been using non-indian background dancers for a while now…..most of the mainstrean hindi movies are shot outside India and they prefer using the local crew rather than fly 50-60 dancers all the way from India. In India, it is pretty common to use indian dancers from Shiamak Davars dance school (remember the hritik roshan dhoom machale number? It featured dancers from shiamak’s school)or from some other school. The Indian background dancers in hindi movies have improved considerably. They are more fitter and well dressed now than say 10-15 years ago.

  25. I find most Bollywood movies unwatchable. They become tolerable only when I fast forward through the songs. Watching Bollywood movies is as torturous for me as watching Step Up or Step Up 2.

  26. Another note to keep in mind that Katee and Joshua are just executing choreography – all the moves, authentically “Bollywood” or no, are ones Nakul Dev Mahajan designed and they are performing under his direction. If it didn’t seem “authentic”, much of that is no doubt due to the choreography, and not just some ineffable “Indianness” that the dancers might not have. I thought those two did marvelously – finger positions, elbows, everything was beautiful and tight and expertly done. (Way better than when Shakira tried to go all Bharatnatyam at the MTV awards some years ago!)

    But hey, this NDM guy is clearly the one bringing Bollywood stylings as far into the mainstream as he can get. More power to him. Let the joyful polyglot morass of the Bollywood dance aesthetic grow and spread! Mia did nail it – she knows Bollywood dance is not Indian classical dance. It’s a cinematic, theatrical blend. Boy, I just love this show to pieces…

  27. What he didn’t realize is that Hindi film choreographers have been happily ripping off other cultures’ dance forms for decades!

    Amardeep, the actions are not protected by any intellectual property form, are they?. Moreover bollywood style dance is nothing but a fusion of many different dance forms. Its not like bharathnatyam or kathak where you can tell the steps apart from each other. I have seen many bhangra steps in western dances. So I don’t really understand what you were trying to say.

    BTW, Joshua got the dance form perfect…..the girl was too stiff. She did’nt get the jhatkas and matkas and the hip movement right. Bollywood dance is also more about facial expressions as it is about physical movements.

  28. 23 · AnjaliToo said

    For all of you that think katee and joshua did such a horible job with their bollywood rendition, perhaps reserve judgement until you see the bollywood routine from So You Think You Can Dance (Australia) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHDPxreDl0A&feature=related

    Wow – I just watched this – talk about choreography and dancing that is barely Bolly! Awful! Borderline offensive – the most Bolly part of that was the pattern on the fabric that girl was wearing. Maybe that’s why I liked Katee and Joshua’s version so much – they danced with real respect for the style, bringing across the real fun but some dignity, too. Just like Joshua said he was trying to.
    Thanks for the tip, AnjaliToo!

  29. Mia did nail it – she knows Bollywood dance is not Indian classical dance. It’s a cinematic, theatrical blend. Boy, I just love this show to pieces…

    I’m luvin’ this show too, Haldiram. did you see Katee and Joshua dance in Mia’s piece?…choked me up. Just last week after seeing all the viennese waltzin’, rumba, tango, etc. I was wondering when they’d get to doing something Bollywood-like. So glad it was these two dancers.

  30. 28 · jaisingh said

    Ensure, Indian Producers and directors have been using non-indian background dancers for a while now…..most of the mainstrean hindi movies are shot outside India and they prefer using the local crew rather than fly 50-60 dancers all the way from India. In India, it is pretty common to use indian dancers from Shiamak Davars dance school (remember the hritik roshan dhoom machale number? It featured dancers from shiamak’s school)or from some other school. The Indian background dancers in hindi movies have improved considerably. They are more fitter and well dressed now than say 10-15 years ago.

    It’s also a question of budgets and trade unions. The supporting cast dancers or junior artistes also need to make a living isn’t it? If professional dancers get these group gigs won’t the juniors suffer? Of course some junior artistes have made it big – think Mumtaz. Prabhudeva although an extra to begin with is hte son of a dance master. Within India tere are elaborate agreements when a movie goes cross-location – say a Telugu movie shot partly in Delhi or a Hindi movie shot partly in Kerala. When that happens a certain number of the staff must be hired locally.

    Although I hought Ikram was being ungenorous, I realise that he could have a point. the original number in OSO is a little slower and more graceful. Katee and Joshua, let’s not forget did the entiire dance without numerous cuts straight out. Good work. They are naturals.

  31. They performed very well considering only one week’s practice.

    It takes more time than that watching Indian cinema to get the desi eyebrow and head movements down, so we can forgive them there.

  32. I enjoyed it, it was better than the attempt on the Aussie SYTYCd and the two dancers had utter commitment. NDM also chose to go with the rowdy village dance feel of Bollywood dance as opposed to a sleeker “Western” hip-hop feel a la Dhoom 2 or an all-out love duet that can come off cheesy without context. So good choices all around. I wish the judges, as nice as they were, had exhibited a bit more knowledge of Bollywood dance. A little Youtubing, even, would have helped them out a lot. Hopefully this wasn’t a one-shot wonder. I’d like to see a Bollywood dance team be invited back as guests so that people cansee what a big production number can look like, whether or not there are lead dancers.

  33. I thought the dance was really good.. teh music was really fast.. and also Katee and Joshua did not know the language so putting it in perspective would have been very difficult.

    Keeping that in mind, it was EXCELLENT. In fact a lot better than a lot of bollywood professionals! Its amazing how talented these guys are on SYTYCD, they can do so many diff. styles. KUDOS to them!!!!

  34. What he didn’t realize is that Hindi film choreographers have been happily ripping off other cultures’ dance forms for decades!

    Whoa! Whoa!! Hold on there, pardner. Bollywood hasn’t ripped off Hip-Hop for decades. Hip-Hop has been ripping off Bollywood for alteast a decade. Hand movements are an integral part of indian classical dance

  35. thanks for posting this! i used to watch this show when i had time and loved it, their execution was so stiff! it really makes you appreciate the bollywood dancers and actors more. i agree with the person above who said the girl didn’t have enough emotion. the choreography was nice and tasteful, but the execution would’ve been better with hrithik and rani :) i thought it was particularly interesting that neither dancer had heard of bollywood… with the sheer number of non-indian dancers in recent films, i would think that professional dancers MUST know about bollywood… i mean, where else will there be an endless demand for dancers?? strange!

  36. 23 · AnjaliToo said

    For all of you that think katee and joshua did such a horible job with their bollywood rendition, perhaps reserve judgement until you see the bollywood routine from So You Think You Can Dance (Australia) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHDPxreDl0A&feature=related

    Ok, one more post. ha! This was soooo bad, but I think it was the choreography.

    Watching these videos makes me realize two things: I’ve seen way too many dance sequences in my life (part of the deal when you’re desi I think) and second, I never realized how poorly executed they could be because I’ve only seen professionals do it!!

  37. When they do this [moves his arms], it’s like hip hop. And that thing with the knees, it’s like Russian dance.” What he didn’t realize is that Hindi film choreographers have been happily ripping off other cultures’ dance forms for decades!

    It’s true that mainstream Hindi films rip of dance styles from around the world; from Shammi Kapoor doing the twist in the 60s to Mithun disco-dancing his way through the 80s, and I could go on and on. But, the two dances you mentioned should not be considered examples of that trend. Some have already mentioned that the “hip-hop” dancing they performed is really Bhangra. But as a Bharatanatyam student I also want to point out that the knee spins(not to mention all the hand gestures) are integral to Indian classical dance. The dance they performed was very much Indian. Unfortunately the Hindi film industry now seems to be tossing such dance forms aside for dull, over-simplified western boy-band-era pop moves.

  38. One of the judges mentioned that the bollywood number was reminiscent of african dance, and all the judges mentioned the similarity to black-american hip hop. Someone should have also pointed out that the choreographer Mahajan looks like he could be Joshua’s cousin….

    I thought the pure quality of Joshua and Katee’s dancing was greatly superior to anything from Bollywood.

  39. But hey, this NDM guy is clearly the one bringing Bollywood stylings as far into the mainstream as he can get. More power to him. Let the joyful polyglot morass of the Bollywood dance aesthetic grow and spread!

    I enjoyed the performance insofar as they were good dancers performing well (and I kinda really like that song). But maybe it would have sat better with me if a non-desi had choreographed the same performance. For a supposedly Bollywood professional choreographer putting together a dance for dancers that are better than many desi heros and heroines, I was a little disappointed in the choreography itself.

    The dancers don’t know Hindi, it’s true – but this Nakul fellow should have told them what the song meant and explained the emotions in the song. I also was hoping for some hip action a la Madhuri. I teach Bhangra and Gidha to people who either don’t speak Punjabi well or don’t speak it at all – I always make sure that I go through the words in the song with them. A common thread among Indian dances, both folk and classical, is that they are more often than not choreographed to express the words and emotion of the song, either through the steps themselves acting out the lyrics or through facial expressions.

    I don’t want to be a hater or pick it all apart. My hateration is directed more to the choreographer and not the dancers. They did well. :) Did anyone notice the crystal studded du-rag? Ill.

  40. They were too energetic, while the song seemed to call for something more mellow.

    Did you watch Om Shanti Om? :)

  41. 45 · Fuerza Dulce said

    Did you watch Om Shanti Om? :)

    The original is slower and mellow. Check out the clip on YouTube.

  42. The dance, the song and the choreography were excellent. The dance did not seem very bollywoodish because there was some classical Indian dance steps added. Nothing wrong with that. Had it been entirely Bollywood, it would not be so much cultural.

  43. Aside from the dancing, I thought the costumes could’ve been better thought out. The girl’s was ok, but it seemed to be a western impression of a bollywood outfit rather than being genuine. Having said that, I realise that these days anything goes in bollywood dance numbers. Now the poor guy, I can’t believe they couldn’t come up with something more sparky/bollywoodish. His costume looked really dull compared to the girls. Overall they seemed to get a little confused with arabian & indian in terms of the costume.

  44. I Thought the dance was great! It takes a lot of stamina and practice to hit each and every beat of the song with movements at that speed. They did alot of bhangra combined with some bharatanatyam. Yes I agree the choreographer should have done a better job with translating and expressing the very few lines of the song which they performed in order for them to feel the emotions necessary to make it more “bollywood” As previously mentioned, Bollywood is the indian film industry . The dances done in these films are musicals describing the event taking place at that point in the film. The actors/actresses express what they feel and depending on the genre of the music also have their bodies move to the beat at the same time. The style of dancing in films has evolved ever since the days of Mughal-E-Azam where it was more Kathak and classical dance based, leading into the disco era which was when the choreographers and music directors began looking to the east for ideas and were influenced (even today). Then were the days of the parks and “trees” (the trees I lovingly remember to be the censor board ). Then we came into the Hrithik Roshan days where Hip Hop and Jazz kicked into full gear and before you realized we had salsa, ballroom, etc you name it! There you have it, Bollywood Dancing is a combination of All world dances with Classical Indian and classical folk dances like Bhangra, Kathak, Bharatanatyam, etc. I Don’t agree that Mr. Nakul is the only one to bring this to mainstream america, NYC’s Pooja Narang of http://www.bollywoodaxion.com has done a far greater job in representing all forms of Bollywood and Bhangra to america and has been around for alot longer. She was on CBS early show a few weeks back and has an impressive resume!

  45. the dance wasn’t that good and wasn’t very indian. the girl was a bit awkward and robotic in her movements. its should have been a bit delicate & precise & the eye and the expressions all have to match it. but then again-classical indian dancing takes years of training abd they don’t actually have an understanding of indian dance, so i should probably cut them some slack.