I think I have mentioned before in this blog that I have become quite fond of seeing what dances people have to offer in spaces in their apartments, such as their kitchens or living rooms. There are a number of reasons for that. One is that I get a little weary of the kind of Bollywood dance scene – prevalent especially recently – that involves a huge amount of production and lots of participants and lots of very elaborate costumes, too. Considering what most people picture when they think of Bollywood, it might seem like a huge contradiction for me to be so fond of Hindi films but also so fond of minimal production. But you’ll also notice that I obsess about the Vintage and Golden Age Hindi films, where production – whether out of choice or necessity – often was minimal. Films from that era most commonly feature solo dances or dances with a lead dancer or two and a small chorus. When there is a crowd dance, it seems kind of special because it is an exception. But these days, it seems that almost every prominently featured dance in an Indian film has to be overcrowded.
I have often had a tendency to flee forms that have been invested with a lot of money and production, into something more minimal and homemade. This goes back many years, to the late 1970s, when, as a teenager, I fled the expensively and pompously produced mainstream rock of the day into early manifestations of the genre that would become internationally known as new wave or punk.
Sometimes I like to see performances by people who are not necessarily stars and have not had huge studios invested in them, who are happy simply to practice and exhibit an art that they love. I also think it’s a lot of fun to see people doing classical Indian or Bollywood dances in very ordinary surroundings, in front of objects as incongruous as, say, modern kitchen appliances. I like the contrast, but I also like that the dancers are totally removed from the elaborate sets and surroundings that commonly go with such performances in a contemporary Bollywood movie or, say, a highly promoted theatrical production.
One example of the incongruous appliances that we might see a dancer perform in front of is a refrigerator. Several years ago, my blogging friend Sitaji (of Bollywood Food Club) wrote a delightful post on the “Refrigerator Mujra.” She actually gave me a lot of credit in that post for my supposed expertise about the contemporary Pakistani mujra (which is definitely very different from the classical mujra). But that’s far from the only reason I liked it… I really liked that Sitaji had noticed these refrigerators in so many mujras, especially by two of the most prominent dancers, Nargis and her sister Deedar. I thought that was terrifically observant, and since that moment, I have looked for refrigerators in many of the dances that I’ve watched.
So, finally, after all this time, I have decided to write a post featuring a handful or so of dances done in front of refrigerators, tables, couches, etc., in kitchens, halls, living rooms… But these aren’t contemporary Pakistani mujras – which have their own particular risqué quality and do get some commercial attention for it, being broadcast on TV, sold by DVD companies, and promoted on tours, etc. No, these are dances – whether classical or more loosely improvised “Bollywood,” etc. – that genuinely look like performances that people – or, to be more precise in this case, women – have taken the time to do at home.
Since I have been writing just now about kitchens and refrigerators, I thought we should start out with this “Fast Kathak,” one of several videos posted under the name Jasmin Bieber that take place in front of a refrigerator. I guess we can say that this is at the low end production-wise and this is someone who is just starting to do these kinds of videos. But I couldn’t help but notice how, most of the time, her dance is beautifully framed by the refrigerator behind her. In fact, this is the video that made me think about the “refrigerator mujras” all over again, and as soon as I saw this, I had to contact Sitaji, who also was very impressed. And the dancing is pretty nice, too.
This next dance is much more clearly videoed, and it is very nice to watch. The song comes from a 1972 film Bawarchi, and the dance was done by the actress then known as Jaya Badhuri. It’s not an easy act to follow, but I think this dancer named Akanksha Sharma definitely does it justice . But as you can see, she is dancing in front of a wall that badly needs painting, in a foyer outside of a room that might very well be a kitchen (and if it is not a kitchen, I would welcome any suggestions as to what it is).
I found the following Kuchipudi dance to be quite beautiful, to the point where I definitely could not watch it just once. The channel is in the name of Naga Durga, which must be the name of the dancer and/or her troupe. Other videos show that she does perform in theatrical settings, but I think the homey background in this video actually adds extra charm. I can’t completely tell if it is in a home, though. A couple of times, you can see that on the right there is an area that looks like part of a small beauty salon. Of course, it could be a salon that was set up in someone’s home.
This next one is a classical dance that probably just appeared on YouTube as I was writing an earlier part of this post. It’s a very pretty dance, but I am also impressed by the fully furnished background, including the plush leather couch, the night table, and the home entertainment system. This is a classic living room dance, by Anindita Neogy.
And last for this post – but certainly not least – I am going to include two dances by Shanelle Bell. I think it is fair to say that I would consider Shanelle to be the queen of home-based Bollywood dancing in the U.S. Her dances can have some very funny and risque qualities, so they might be the closest in spirit to the refrigerator mujras that Sitaji posted about. But Shanelle bases most of her dances on classic Bollywood films, and she usually adds English subtitles. (So, I have actually found her dance videos to be very informative, too.) I have been watching her dances for more than a year now, and I think she is getting better and better as time goes on.
This dance below – for everybody’s favorite Nagin song, “Man Dole Tan Dole” – is done entirely in a narrow hallway, leading to what I presume is the front door of the apartment. At some point, especially past the 4:30 mark, you can see a room on the side that may very well be a kitchen. At first I got excited because I thought I saw a refrigerator, but then I realized that it’s probably just a cabinet.
The next dance (based on a song from Hema Malini’s first film) is positively splendid. There isn’t much furniture here, but I imagine it’s a bedroom or the central room in a small apartment. The tiles are very nice.
I have seen quite a few at-home dances that I would consider worthy to post here. (In fact, as I recall, I saw a fantastic classical dance in a bathroom.) Unfortunately, I didn’t bookmark them, and I didn’t have the idea to do a post like this until very recently. When I find – or re-find – a handful more of these dances, I will proabably write a sequel post. I may very well also write a post devoted entirely to Shanelle Bell.
Note on April 6: I have to add another one to the list (I didn’t want to wait for the sequel post). This is Aishu, and I think she is marvelous.
P.S. The title for this post was inspired by Another Music in a Different Kitchen, an album released in 1978 by a British punk rock group called The Buzzcocks.