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Is It All About Hips - Priya Kanungo - The Sunday Indian
 
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Is It All About Hips

 

PRIYA KANUNGO | New Delhi, December 7, 2011 15:38
Tags : is it all about hips | bollywood dancers | kabir bedi | nepal | united states |
 

Is It All About Hips
Author: Sangita Shresthova
ISBN: 9788132106852
Publisher: Sage Publications:
Pages: 223

The title of the book  - Is It All About Hips - got me curious. The line below the title – Around the World with Bollywood Dance – gave me some clues. But I was  skeptical.

The foreward by well-known actor Kabir Bedi was thoughtful. In fact, astute. Especially the bit where he mentions “it is ironic that I have been asked to write this foreword since I am probably the only Bollywood actor who refused to sing or dance.”

The writer, Sangita Shresthova, has an interesting profile. The product of a Czech-Nepali marriage, she is a dancer and media artist, with a Ph.D from the Department of World Arts and Cultures from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

The book, which zigzags through India, Nepal, the United States, is a fine blend of in depth research, humour, and astute cultural sensitivity. Somewhat academic, parts of the book, I thought, went into history that seemed unnecessary to recount. But perhaps the author thought it created the right backdrop for her observations. This is especially true in the chapters relating to the influence of Bollywood dance in Nepal.

Establishing the hybridisation of Bollywood dance, Shresthova draws on her documentation of activities in dance schools in Mumbai, Kathmandu and Los Angeles to make this point. What she notices is the porous nature of the supposed “boundaries” within which Bollywood dance operates. While dancers at the Shiamak Davar's Institute for the Performing Arts (SDIPA) slave over sculpting their bodies and fashioning their art on very obviously westernised lines (jazz, hip-hop, etc.), those in Los Angeles look for more “desi” (read: classical Indian dance) moves.

In her interviews, the writer discovers that those in the US set on swinging to Bollywood tunes maintain they'd much rather incorporate traditional Indian dance movements  over hip-hop. “If I have to see Bollywood dance with Beyonce movements, I'd much rather see Beyonce herself”; that's the kind of reaction. But the underlying score is that wherever in the world people are dancing to Bollywood  music (and there are a huge number out there) the choreography is adapted to suit local tastes.

Shresthova does a comparison of the time when chorus girls  in Bollywood would be fat and shabbily dressed. They would be the countless faceless dancers behind the hero/heroine that no one would bother looking at. She cuts to the present where dancers are athletic, have gym-toned bodies, and dance “with” the star, instead of “behind”.

All through, the writer talks about societal pressures and sexual exploitation of these dancers. Of course, living off Bollywood dance performances is a question that is often  posed to these practitioners.  There's a true to life account of Kathmandu's Dance Bars where dancers gyrate on a staple of Bollywood music. What's Hollywood connection with Bollywood is also touched upon, but just touched upon. But it's insights into what's Kitsch about Bollywood made me smile the most. It was simplistic, but true.

Is It All About Hips? has a lot more to say besides hip movements and pelvic thrusts.   

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017