Nepali Times
'Bollynatyam' and the remixing of Indian dance

Born to a Czech mother and a Nepali father, Sangita Shresthova (right) was interested in dance as an art form from a young age. She spoke to Nepali Times recently about her new book, Is It All About Hips?

Nepali Times: Where did your interest in Bollywood dance forms come from?
Sangita Shresthova:
When I was growing up in Kathmandu, my cousin owned a video rental store, and I became the passive consumer of whatever Hindi film he was copying. I enjoyed the song-and-dance sequences the most and was soon trying to copy the movements when I was alone. No one in my family danced, and I really credit Hindi cinema with giving me initial courage to even think about dance seriously. Several years later, I was a somewhat lonely and horribly homesick freshman at Princeton University. This is when Bollywood became a way for me to keep the semblance of a connection to a region of the world I missed terribly. But, it was really at MIT in the Comparative Media Studies program where I finally realised that my apparently disparate interests in dance, media, South Asia and globalisation all connected through Bollywood dance. There was no looking back after that.

And where is the Czech connection in all this?
Well, my mother is Czech, so that was probably the first connection. Beyond that, I was lucky to be in Prague when a renewed interest in Hindi cinema was just beginning to take shape. My friends and I started the Prague Bollywood Festival, later renamed as Prague Indian Film Festival, in 2002. The festival really became a place where I could reflect on what Bollywood means to the largely non-South Asian fans and audiences in the Central Europe. I also got to observe how these meanings changed over time. These observations led me to question what Bollywood means in other geographies.

As a dancer yourself, what for you is the most inspiring part of Bollynatyam as a genre?
Bollynatyam is a term I use to describe my approach to Indian dance. It is not a technique, it is also not a set vocabulary of movements and gestures. Rather, it is an approach that situates Indian classical and Bollywood dances within a historical and cultural continuum to recognise contemporary trends while respecting past events that contributed to their existence. For example, a gesture is laden with meaning in Indian classical dance. When it is "borrowed" in a Bollywood sequence this meaning should be considered carefully. This does not mean that this gesture should not be borrowed at all. It just means that the borrowing should be done with respect and awareness. Similarly, the translation of Indian dance across media forms, into film and new media, can and in my opinion should be informed by the visual cultures of these dance forms. So, in effect, Bollynatyam is a contemporary and culturally sensitive approach to remixing Indian dance.

But there are now more and more Bollywood films without dance numbers, is the dance form going to be extinct?
I think that we are going to see a further segmentation of the Bollywood film genre. Some films will continue to feature dances as integral narrative elements of the tried-and-tested blockbuster. Others will delve into different narrative conventions, including those that do not include dance. In many ways, this is not new. There have always been Hindi films without song-and-dance sequences. Who knows? The current trend toward segmentation may even allow dance to re-emerge as a central and well thought through and choreographed theme in some films.

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Straight from the hip

1. Sagar
Another Nepali turned Indian.. So why is this being reported by Nepali Times? She is Nepali born to Czec mother and representing Indian Culture.. Huh? This explains why Nepalese never have their own idnetity..

2. ram
I agree with  sagar that why is it important for us to someone who represents and promoting  the hindi culture?? Are you going to intrepret the fact that indian cultures are also Nepali ? where is Nepali independant identity now? That's reason Nepali are being disparaged by indian in first place. I'm quite happy here in america that I dont have to listen Hindi songs while traveling in buses. Her interview has to be published in some indian news paper not in Nepali times.  

3. Nkafle
I hope Nepal Times takes the reviews positively just like I did. At least you could have asked her, "Why this kind of crap while there are lot to be influenced from the Nepali artistic origins?". 

Not many people may like it as the mass excitement has been to dance to bollywood items most of which are crappy and noisy, I really don't enjoy parties or any gatherings with such songs being played from start to finish. It's hell (esp. during the wedding season) if you live near a party venue for instance (these guys are so indifferent to the neighbors' misery, they should have a soundproof area for these things. It's a torture. 

There are large number of people like me who don't like everything Bollywood makes for some cheap and easy popularity. I hope everyone realizes that. And also hope that Nepali filmmakers, composers and other artists do not see imitating these craps as a only way to express themselves. We have originality if we can or try to see a little deeper.

4. B2B
You both bear Indian names! Do you discard yourselves? When there is very few jam left you spread more on the toast!!

Never give suckers an even break!?!

5. Dawa
Some people just like to pontificate on things that they do not know about. I think this Nepali has actually gone out of Nepal and promoted its 'real' culture. Why don't YOU read about her documentary film about classical Nepali dance and the plight of Nepal's dancers. This film was shown, and is still shown from Seattle to Seoul and places in between.  The comments prove that, Nepalis, are still having issues with their modern identities shadowed by India.  Bollywood music is played all over the world, I don't see many things from Nepali represented all over the world except mountains. Get off your ass, stop taking aid money, and go create something yourself...then critique.

6. Sunita
I am having a good laugh reading this string. I am right in the middle of reading Sangita's book and don't know if any of you realize that one of the chapters is actually about Nepal and Bollywood and how Nepalis both love and hate it. Ha ha, your comments just totally proved her right. Too funny!

7. nkafle
...having said everything, nothing should stop you from what you genuinely love to do and want to become. I hope all you anykindofhindisong fanatics will never be let down.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)