No Dance Film Has Earned the Cult Status of Disco Dancer. Even Street Dancer 3D Won’t

Bollywood

No Dance Film Has Earned the Cult Status of Disco Dancer. Even Street Dancer 3D Won’t

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

There is something about Mithun Chakraborty’s Disco Dancer (1982) that changed Bollywood. It introduced audiences to a new type of hero, who wasn’t cut from the same cloth as the angry young man persona that defined the ’70s. This hero’s machismo was built on swag and the jive of his pelvis; instead of picking up the gun, he usually picked up the guitar and set the dance floor on fire. He was an artist, he was a lover and when there was a need, he was also a fighter. This week’s release, Remo D’souza’s Street Dancer, might belong to those same school of movies that featured dancing heroes but it’s not exactly from the same class.

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Mithun Chakraborty’s Disco Dancer introduced audiences to a new type of hero, who wasn’t cut from the same cloth as the angry young man persona that defined the ’70s.

B. Subhash Movie Unit

Disco films made their inroads into Bollywood in the ’80s. In the same year as Disco Dancer, there was Kumar Gaurav’s ominously titled Star – an instant disaster – that featured a earworm-worthy soundtrack composed by Disco legend Biddu and sung by Nazia Haasan and Zoheb Hassan. In the film, Kumar Gaurav plays Dev Kumar Verma, who wants to become a disco legend and ultimately becomes a star by winning the All Indian Singing Competition. Yet unlike Mithun Chakraborty in Disco Dancer, whose character was bonafide subaltern, Dev Kumar appears to be a brat and is often pampered by his father and brother. The idea of a dancing hero followed a predictable pattern of an underdog, and in the absence of such a rags-to-riches arc, audiences seemed reluctant to relate with him. Both these films, however, inspired a slate of similar outings like Inquilab (1984), Yuddh (1985), and Jaanbaaz (1986) which mainstreamed the idea of a homegrown Hindi dance film. It’d be remiss to not doff my hat to Rishi Kapoor’s Karz (1980) while talking about the Hindi dance films, given that the movie married masala filmmaking with the aesthetics of disco in pleasurable, rewarding ways, paving a blueprint in a sense.

A Hindi disco film was synonymous with its underdog hero, his incurable love for dance, and his undefying spirit to overcome all odds. Imagine Slyvester Stallone’s Rocky setting the stage on fire instead of the boxing ring. The foot-tapping music too added to this mania. The lights, the dance floors, the attire were all about disco and yet it located a melodrama that was distinctly Bollywood. Although dance films have always been around in Hindi cinema, they were largely preoccupied with classical dancing, often featuring courtesans – think  Jhanak Payal Baje (1955), Navrang (1959) Nartaki (1963) or Amrapali (1966). Sure, Shammi Kapoor popularised the dancing hero trope, but it was really the disco movies that brought all these elements together to herald a new genre.

Disco Dancer hero’s machismo was built on swag and the jive of his pelvis.

This era also saw the rise of another star, who would go on to make the idea of a dancing hero a staple in Hindi cinema: Govinda. In Ilzaam (1986), Govinda plays Ajay, a sort of Pied Piper who lures people away from their homes, hypnotising crowds with his singing and dancing while his gang steals from these homes. After this film, Govinda’s career skyrocketed and his filmography boasted of outings like Jung Baaz (1989), Gentleman (1989), Gair Kanooni (1989), Naach Govinda Naach (1992) in which his song and-dance routines became a staple. Even when he switched to comic roles, they were embellished with his dancing prowess and songs like “Pak Chik Pak Raja Babu” from Raja Babu (1994), “Stop That” and “Meri Marzi” from The Gambler (1995) continued to enthral his legion of fans. While Mithun was more of an action hero who could dance, Govinda was more of a dancing hero who could also do action and comedy. It was his flashy, gaudy style, accompanied by controlled and smooth moves that is considered as an inspiration for the current generation of Bollywood actor-dancers, like Varun Dhawan and Tiger Shroff.

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The era of disco movies also saw the rise of another star, who would go on to make the idea of a dancing hero a staple in Hindi cinema: Govinda.

Vishaldeep International

It was Govinda who aced the dancing game in the ’80s and ’90s. Attempts to encroach his space fell short. Take Akshay Kumar’s undercooked Dancer (1991) for instance.  I suppose, one of the main reasons why the ’80s were great for disco movies was because of the fascination with the dance form itself. It was a worldwide phenomenon that Bollywood appropriated it as its own. But with economic reforms of the ’90s, the MTV craze, and boom of the cable TV, Bollywood’s tryst with disco slowly started waning. The new breed of heroes – the three Khans and Akshay Kumar – had little to do with dance. They ushered in the age of the chocolate boy and for any action, Bollywood turned to Kumar or Ajay Devgn.

Yet somehow the fascination with disco did not disappear. Every few years, filmmakers attempted to cash in on the nostalgia of these dance dramas. In 2005, B Subhash’s (of Disco Dancer fame) Classic Dance of Love was perhaps the epitome of Hindi cinema attempting a revival of the dance genre. In the film, Mithun Chakrabarty plays a Godman, madly obsessed with Dolly (Meghna Naidu), a dancer. However, the highlight of the movie is a crazy sequence where Mithun is dancing while being shackled. At some point, he bleeds and yet keeps on dancing. Although, this film felt like a spiritual successor to Disco Dancer, in the sense that the film’s plot is informed by dance, it was marred by its overt campiness. But we’ve come a long way since.

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Street Dance 3D might rule the box-office but I’m not sure whether it’d have any everlasting impact on the legacy of the genre, whether it will become the Disco Dancer of the 2020s.

T-Series

In recent times, Bollywood has adopted a slightly different route. Instead of reviving the genre, it’s attempted to give it a makeover. The results are dance movies that are catered to millennials. Movies like ABCD, ABCD 2, and even Munna Michael tried to recreate the fervour and frenzy of the ’80s disco movies but without the essence of it all. Here dancing is just a part of the story, it never becomes its heart and soul. And probably that’s the reason these films have been largely forgettable. But will Street Dancer 3D, starring Varun Dhawan, Prabhudeva, and Shraddha Kapoor change that? It might rule the box-office but I’m not sure whether it’d have any everlasting impact on the legacy of the genre, whether it will become the Disco Dancer of the 2020s.

When I was growing up, if there was one film that I would miss my tuition classes for, it would undoubtedly be Disco Dancer. Two decades later, I’d do the same. Today’s films just don’t have that.

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