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.
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.