Can you believe that Indian cinema has been around for 100 years? In a Jugni Style exclusive, Bollywood choreographer Shiamak Davar shares 10 key changes that have changed dance on film. No more dancing around trees!

Shiamak Davar TOIFA Vancouver

One of the leading choreographers in Bollywood, Shiamak Davar’s work on film includes directing iconic dance numbers for Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit and Karisma Kapoor in Dil To Pagal Haiand Aishwarya Rai in Taal, in addition to stage shows and musicals around the world. Based in Mumbai and Vancouver, Shiamak’s work has been recognized for its fresh originality, blending Indo-contemporary and modern movements that include ballet, yoga, folk and western dance.

Shiamak Davar

Read on for Shiamak’s insider take on Bollywood dance, music and film.

1. Step Together: Bollywood dance is a fusion of various dance forms, with ethnic and western influences. At the time of its inception, classical Indian dance forms ruled the roost and Bollywood moulded itself with classical movements and found a way to connect with the people. As time passed, interest changed with the evolution of music and dance globally. So from the qawwalis and the mujra to rock’n roll and Disco, from folk and regional music to Hip Hop and House influences, Bollywood music and dance has adapted itself to global sounds.

dil to pagal hai

Above Photos: Scenes from Shiamak’s first Bollywood film, Dil To Pagal Hai

2. From trees to technique: For the longest time, dance in Indian cinema was synonymous with lead actors running around trees to express their love. When Shah Rukh Khan, whose wife Gauri used to dance with me, asked me to choreograph Yash Chopra’s Dil To Pagal Hai, I was very apprehensive as my work was very western for Bollywood back then. Little did I know that I’d go on to win a National Award and more importantly, [the film] changed the face of Bollywood with more structure and introduced systematic choreography, fit dancers and a sense of direction to songs. Dance as we see it today, has come a long way.

3. Dress to Dance: From Anarkali suits to floral printed shirts, the white salwar kameez to chiffon sarees, and bell bottom pants to miniskirts – actors and actresses have set trends that the nation has followed and how! The look of a song becomes a style statement. [Editor’s Note: How many of us copied Madhuri Dixit’s outfits from Hum Aapke Hai Koun, Kareena in Jab We Met, or Aishwarya in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanaam?]

Kisna - 1

Above photo: A scene from the film, Kisna, choreographed by Shiamak

4. ‘Item’ girls to ‘item’ boys: Though the reference to stylized dance performances as ‘item’ is not my favourite, over the decades they’ve proved to be the ticket to attracting audiences to films. The quintessential dance queen, Helen, has remained unbeatable, but the newer lot has done justice to the tag as well with their Munnis, Sheilas and Jalebi Bais [character names from different film songs]. Men have caught up with their Dard-e-Disco and Dabaang moves, and Bollywood sees a shift from macho man-based cinema to the metro sexual hero.

5. Music as the Muse: Indian culture is predominantly defined by its music: classical, folk, regional and western. Dance evolved hand-in-hand with developments in music. The entire production of music has seen a 360 degree transformation with the use of quality enhancing technology, which has had a positive impact on dance.

Aishwarya Rai Abhishek Bachchan Amitabh Bachchan IIFA Shiamak

Above Photo: Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai (centre) and Amitabh Bachchan perform a dance choreographed by Shiamak for a special stage show

6. DancEmotions: A wedding celebration, the love between two people, a tragedy, a family feud; there is a dance for everything. The climax of a scene, a turn of events, the emotional quotient; all are defined by a well chalked out dance sequence in Bollywood. Over the last ten decades, Indian Cinema has made its identity through song and dance, and has kept that intact, which is testimony to the cultural importance and inherent attraction towards music and dance in India.

7. Signature Moves: Shammi Kapoor’s shimmy, Mithun’s disco moves, Big B’s style, Govinda’s expressions and Hrithik’s perfect grooves – over the last hundred years there have been some unique dance moves that have become a staple for Bollywood dance.

8. From Daflis to LEDs: The use of properties has also come of age. The plain daflis now have a touch of technology with a string of LED lights. Sets and props have not only become more modern but also bigger, better and grander in terms of quantity and quality.

Shiamak Davar Aishwarya Rai Taal

Above Photo: Shiamak Davar shows Aishwarya Rai a few dance moves on the sets of Taal (1999)

9. Dancing Divas: The first name that comes to everyone’s mind is Madhuri Dixit. With grace, style and the strength of a dancer, she had the entire nation dancing to her tunes. Bollywood has seen a series of actresses who, along with their acting, have proved to be equally natural on the dance floor. Madhubala, Vijayatimala, Rekha, Sridevi and Aishwarya Rai are just a few names on this exhaustive list!

10. Lights, Camera, Action, Cut! If you watch older dance videos, there was a continuity in dance movement, but today, more than choreography, it has become about editing. After each count, there is a cut. Though from a screen perspective the eventual outcome is beautiful, from a creative outlook, this is not a true demonstration of talent as it was!

Thank you Shiamak Davar for sharing your personal perspectives on Bollywood and how it’s changed over the past 100 years. We’re in the mood to watch a movie now!

Photography Courtesy: Shiamak Davar