Nepali Times
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Straight from the hip

As a young girl in Kathmandu, Sangita Shresthova used to lock herself up in her room and copy the movements of dance sequences in the Bollywood films she saw. But instead of becoming a Bollywood heroine, she turned her passion for dance into an academic inquiry to understand the connections between the genre and Indian classical dance.

In her book, Is It All About Hips? Around the World with Bollywood Dance, Sangita Shresthova explores how live Bollywood dance is practiced and performed in three cities: Mumbai, Kathmandu, and Los Angeles. She connects the places for a more nuanced understanding of the dance genre we call Bollywood dance.

The English-educated upper middle class in the sub-continent tends to sneer at the commercialisation of dance and its tacky mixture of classical, folk and modern in which erotica is not just a subtext but a dominant theme. Kissing was banned, so choreographers pushed the envelope on wild hip gyrations, pelvic thrusting and throbbing chests as hero and heroine chase each other in exotic locales, preferably in pouring rain.

But Bollywood dance is suddenly becoming popular, moving beyond escapism to a genre with its own artistic merits. It is now appreciated not just in live concerts but has even set off a post-zumba trend in fitness centres. A new breed of Bollywood dance instructors now give dance lessons all over the world.

Is it All About Hips? Around the World with Bollywood Dance by Sangita Shresthova SAGE Publications, 2011 ISBN8132106857 276 pages
'It is not all glamour. Bombay has quite another conotation for tens of thousands of young Nepali women who are trafficked to brothels there every year, often sold into sexual slavery by their own relatives. Shresthova looks at the seedy side of Kathmandu's dance bars and the girls who work there, finding that many of them had willingly joined because they had no other jobs. the book analyses the stereotyping of Nepalis that started with Hare Rama Hare Krishna in the 1970s, and how it persists to this day.

Sangita Shresthova's book is a personalised ethnography of Bollywood dance, and the reader follows her as she follows the trail of "Bollynatyam" from one continent to the other. Sangita explains the term, with "Bolly" meaning the filmic, mediated, mixing of cultures and "natyam" standing for the theatrical dance form, rooted in Indian and South Asian traditions.

Sangita Shresthova's experiences as a dancer and choreographer allow her to observe and describe performances with a nuanced attention to detail, while giving us a larger framework for thinking about what a live performance means in an increasingly global, nevertheless always local, culture,' writes Bollywood actor, Kabir Bedi, in the foreword.

It is probably Sangita's cosmopolitan upbringing and academic rigour that makes such a deeper understanding of this genre possible. As Bollywood is Hollywood-ised and sheds dance sequences, Sangita's book ensures that the musical interludes we still get to see in Bollywood cinema will never be the same again.

Kunda Dixit

Read also:
'Bollynatyam' and the remixing of Indian dance

1. sunita
Am wondering if the commenters on the string on Sangita's interview bothered to read about her book review here? Maybe the two articles should've been more explicitly connected to each other. Some confusion.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)