Dance, beyond ‘item’ numbers

A few Kannada films are adopting newer and meaningful choreography, creating avenues for those who can envision dance differently.

Dance in Indian cinema is unfortunately been labelled Bollywood dance. Films in the early nineties evolved with performances from artistes from indigenous art forms. Many actors, dancers and musicians who were bred in regional theatre moved their performances from stage to screen to find a larger audience and explore a new media of expression. 

On the sets of Pancharangi.
Pic: Nritarutya.

In recent times  senseless ‘item’ numbers rule the big screen where it is all about the jhatkas , matkas and the jing chak music that sell the film as a commodity. Seldom does one come across meaningful choreography where intelligent conceptualisation, beautiful lyrics, music and technically trained dancers come together. This is especially true in Kannada cinema.  In a sphere where dancers are considered mere extras almost equal to properties on set, Nritarutya, a Bangalore based Indian Contemporary Dance Company has taken a path breaking initiative to promote Indian Contemporary Dance and propel a change in our perception of dance in cinema. Mayuri Upadhya, the director of Nritarutya is setting a new trend in Kannada cinema with innovative and intelligent choreography.  Her work along with her company dancers in M.S.Sathyu’s  Ijjodu , Agni Shridhar’s Tamassu and most recently Yograj Bhat’s Pancharangi is truly commendable .

Nritarutya ensemble is part of the title song of Ijjodu directed by National Award winning Director, Padmashri M.S.Sathyu . The dancers move gracefully amidst the temples of Belawadi and Halebeedu in the film. The dancers dressed in chiseled costumes play a juxtaposing role in bringing the sculptures to life through acrobatic and sharp movements. The dance deals with the dichotomy between tradition and modernisation giving  a good introduction to the content of film that is centered around the issue of  ‘Devdasis‘  who have become regular sex workers in certain parts of Karnataka even in today’s world.

The title song of Agni Sridhar’s film Tamassu revolves around the concept of blind faith in religion. Nritarutya has been able to execute the idea of tamassu meaning darkness without hurting the sentiments of any faith. The song stars Kannada film hero Shivarajkumar and the male dancers of the company. The dancers are not used as mere ‘extras’ who simply ape the protagonist on screen, instead they move with incredible strength and agility and create a visual spectacle for the audience. In Yograj Bhat’s Pancharangi the only song choreographed by Mayuri Upadhya is Udisuve and is purely a romantic dream sequence. Though there are several other dance companies in the same space, none have managed to make an impression. Nritarutya’s work has a unique sense of choreography that incorporates costumes, colours, set design, music and concept as a whole.

Choreography for films is a completely different category of artistic composition. One has to be well acquainted with elements of cinema like camera work, cinematography and direction to be able to compose a movement sequence on screen. A performance on stage lasts for a few hours but choreography on screen has an immortal life.

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