I am a huge fan of dance, and dance in Bollywood movies certainly provides a lot of entertainment. It’s a mixed bag, from the subdued to the extra-extra-EXTRA-OTT, from the traditional to the contemporary, from the solo to the group dances, from the elegant to the wacky, from the talented dancers to the terrible (Rishi Kapoor or Sunny Deol, anyone?) and just about everything in between. There are of course, certain ‘staples’: the ‘item numbers’ (often involving ‘nautch girls’) that show up in a lot of movies, the romantic dances for two in the hills or by fountains, the huge ensemble numbers, the contemplative/introspective numbers that are often used to move the plot along… and so on.
Sometimes I enjoy a particular actor’s dancing because (s)he is simply a good dancer, but this isn’t always true. Sometimes it’s just because the actor is clearly enjoying the number, sometimes it’s the facial expressions, sometimes it’s the emotion, sometimes it’s even the fact that the actor can’t dance to save his/her life (which can be very very amusing).
Anyway, to get to my list… I figure fifteen is a good number – I can probably think of more than fifteen, but I’m just going to put up my very favourite dancers. Also, I think there are going to be, by necessity, waaay more women than men on my list. I’m going to see if I can have at least five males, but it just might be an uphill task.
I should probably also note that choreography is a big factor in a viewer’s perception of a dancer’s skills – in the sense that a really good dancer can’t do very much with really crap choreography, while really good choreography brings the best out of an average dancer.
So, with those caveats, here, in no particular order, are fifteen of my fave Bollywood dancers…
MADHURI DIXIT: Madhuri is a very gifted dancer. Her style is very interpretive and graceful, and she’s very good at using her facial expressions to complement the movements of her body. She can do the more traditional (‘Devdas’) as well as the more contemporary dances (‘Dil to Pagal Hai’) very well. I haven’t seen one of her most famous dances (‘Ek Do Teen’) yet, but I’ve really loved her dancing in just about every one of her movies I’ve seen.
SHAH RUKH KHAN: I think SRK is an excellent dancer. He has such flair for it and seems to look equally good doing just about any type of dance. He also always seems to be enjoying himself. I recently read a Farah Khan interview in which she said that SRK never executes choreography exactly as he’s taught it – he always adds his own style to it and ends up creating a different dance, which the rest of the dancers are then forced to adapt to so that they don’t look out of place dancing with him. I like that.
AISHWARYA RAI: I am not a huge fan of her acting, but Ash can really move. Her dancing is very expressive and elegant, and technically, it’s really hard to fault her. It’s hard to believe that, according to Saroj Khan, Ash was not always a great dancer. She is really good at both traditional (‘Nimbooda’ from ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’) and contemporary (‘Dayya Dayya Dayya Re’ from ‘Dil Ka Rishta’, 'Crazy Kiya Re' from 'Dhoom II') styles, but I personally think she has more of a flair for the more traditional pieces – but maybe that’s just because I always think she looks better in traditional clothing.
AMITABH BACHCHAN: Purists will probably be appalled to find his name on my list, but I LOVE watching Big B dance. It’s not so much the technical ‘correctness’ of his dancing (although I certainly don’t think he’s a bad dancer, he’s definitely not the most flexible or fluid or accurate) – for me, it’s the sheer joy, energy, exhilaration and ‘abandonment’ of his dancing. For him, dancing really is about expression, and he REALLY enjoys expressing himself with his body. It’s palpable when you watch him dance – his energy, his ‘flow’ with the music – I just adore watching it, even when it doesn’t look quite ‘right’. For a really good example of this, two dances from ‘Laawaris’ really stand out in my memory: ‘Jiska Koi Naheen’ in which he really expresses the defiance and anger of his character in his dancing, and another number (the last one in the film, don’t know what it’s called) in which he really lets it rip and does a fun, very enjoyable dance IN DRAG! For anyone who hasn’t seen that dance, it’s well worth a watch.
REKHA: Rekha is a pleasure to watch – I haven’t seen a lot of her work, but she’d make it onto my list purely on the strength of ‘Umrao Jaan’, in which her movements are exquisite and simply beautiful to watch.
HEMA MALINI: While I’m still on the ‘stars from yesteryears’ tip, I should mention Ms. Hema Malini, who is also always a great pleasure to watch. Her dance training is evident in the precision and elegance of her dancing, and I always adore watching her.
HRITHIK ROSHAN: Back to the present day, and here’s one name no-one will be surprised to find on my list. Mr. Roshan is a fantastic dancer – although at first I didn’t get it, I have to say. When, after his debut movie (‘Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai’), Farah Khan went on and on about how great he is and how he should be on Broadway, I was like ‘he dances ok but…’ But watching him dance in ‘Lakshya’ totally convinced me. Hrithik really can move, and his timing is excellent. He says he’s no great dance talent but is just very hard working – I think he’s far too modest, which is rather refreshing, actually.
KARISMA KAPOOR: Karisma is a really skilled dancer – she’s particularly good to watch in more energetic numbers. I really enjoyed her work in ‘Dil To Pagal Hai’ (the number in which she and Madhuri do a dance-off is fantastic to watch) and ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’, and have also liked her dancing in several other films.
AAMIR KHAN: I’m kind of ambivalent about this choice, actually, because I don’t really look forward to Aamir’s dancing in the same way as I look forward to other guys on this list – I’m more interested in his acting. Having said that, though, he is a good dancer, technically-speaking, and I guess I do like watching him dance (just not quite as much as I like watching others). What I really like to see him do is gentler, more 'story-telling' numbers, not 'busy' or frenetic ones - he's a very expressive actor so it's good to see him emote through dance. So for that reason, and also because I’m kinda short of menfolk to add to the list (I'm tempted to add Mr. Mithun Chakravarty but he's soooo 80s!), Mr. Khan stays.
HELEN: The actress who’s often regarded as the greatest movie ‘nautch-girl’ ever, Salman Khan’s stepmother (thanks, Carla!), really had the moves in her heyday. She’s great to watch. My favourite Helen numbers so far are ‘Yeh Mera Dil’ (‘Don’) and ‘Mehbooba Mehbooba’ from ‘Sholay’.
RANI MUKHERJEE: Rani is a little bundle of energy, and I think she really does best in energetic, fast-moving numbers. I always enjoy watching her dance.
TABU: Tabu is on my list because she does elegant and graceful very well, and also manages to do totally wacky (I’ve seen her do very very silly numbers in ‘Vijaypath’ and ‘Hera Pheri’) very well too. Very entertaining.
KAJOL: Okay, I guess at this point it looks like I’m just putting my favourite actors on the list – but I guess that’s because I love watching their dancing just as much as their acting. Kajol’s style is less about technical precision and more about interpretation and emotion. Young and funky, dramatic and poignant, she does it all well. I love watching her dance.
SAIF ALI KHAN: I always enjoy watching him dance, he has really nice energy although he isn't great technically-speaking – really enjoyed his dancing in films like ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’, ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ and even (I wasn’t too keen on the choreography) ‘Salaam Namaste’.
So I managed to get my self-imposed minimum of five guys onto my list – which means I am free to have a person of either gender as the fifteenth person on my list.
I choose: Priyanka Chopra and Bipasha Basu (yup, a tie). I chose Juhi Chawla earlier and then realised that I must've been on something when I made that choice, because much as I love Ms. Chawla and think she's the cutest woman ever, she cannot dance at all. So Priyanka and Bipasha win the day - Priyanka for her dancing in films like 'Salaam e Ishq', 'Don', 'Krrish', 'Dosti', 'Waqt' and 'Bluffmaster'; Bipasha for 'Beedi Jaila Le' from 'Omkara' (that performance alone is enough to get her on this list) and for other performances like those in 'Dhoom 2' and 'No Entry'.
So that’s my list… which of your favourite dancers have I missed out? I’m sure I haven’t seen enough Bollywood movies to be able to add some of the best dancers… I’ve heard Govinda is a great dancer, but I’ve never seen a Govinda movie. Same goes for Sridevi.. never seen her dance. I also like other actors’ dancing (examples are Zeenat Aman, Parveen Babi, Sushmita Sen and Sonali Bendre), but haven’t yet seen quite enough of their dancing to add them to my list. And while I haven’t seen Vinod Khanna dance a whole lot, I quite like his showmanship (as in, “look at me, I’m so cool and groovy. I'm not a great dancer but I'm so cool anyway”) in the few numbers I have seen him do. I think I’ve seen quite a bit of Preity Zinta’s dancing, and, while I think she’s good, I don’t REALLY look forward to watching her dance. That might well change though, because I can recall that until I watched her performance in ‘Chori Chori Chupke Chupke’, I didn’t particularly enjoy her acting, either. Of course, some may protest the absence of Urmila Matondkar from my list, but, while I liked her dancing in ‘Rangeela’ (not so hot on the choreography, though), I haven’t seen her in much else.
So, suggestions please! I’m particularly interested in suggestions of really good dancers among the male actors, as well as among older generations of actors (whose films I may have not yet seen).
You know, as I’m typing this, I’m also re-watching (more like listening to) ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun…!’, a film I really love. And (a much younger) Salman dances excellently (IMO) in this film. He also dances well in ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’. But I’ve so hated his dancing in other films (‘Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam’, for example, and ‘Pyaar Kya To Darna Kiya' – in which he made he stop watching ten minutes into the film thanks to one dance number), that I can’t bring myself to add his name to my list…