My thoughts on "Bollywood song and dance' were penned as a Foreward to Sangita Shreshtova's new book, "Is It All About Hips", highlighting how this unique phenomenon has become a foot-stomping international success.
BOLLYWOOD SONG AND DANCE
by Kabir Bedi
Bollywood is unique in world cinema. What differentiates their films is the way they integrate singing and dancing into stories whatever their genre: romantic, dramatic, comedy, action, even horror. It’s a convention never questioned by anyone other than some westernised Indian critics who think the sun rises in Hollywood. Song and dance is what’s expected, nay demanded, by hundreds of millions of fans across the world, impatient for Bollywood’s highly entertaining razzmatazz. Its creation of sublime, emotional or foot-stomping escapism is unmatched anywhere in the world.
For decades, Bollywood was known as the “the Hindi film industry”, after the language it spoke. It couldn’t be called Indian cinema, because that would include films in 8 regional languages, with six different scripts, seen by over a billion people. However, all Indian films follow the song and dance format of Bollywood, where it all began in the 1930s with the advent of sound. Somewhere in the early 1990s, the word “Bollywood” replaced “Hindi films” and spread fast. It outraged old-fashioned purists who thought it sounded like a bad rip off of “Hollywood”. Right or wrong, “Bollywood” is now a worldwide brand, growing in popularity by the day. British royalty, taxi drivers in Rome or hair dressers in New York, all want to know more about Bollywood, even if they haven’t seen any of its films. And Bollywood dance routines have been its most successful export ever, with dance classes in Kent, fitness routines in Los Angeles, and ”Jai Ho” being performed at the Oscars. “Is It All About Hips?”, Sangita Shresthova’s new book, highlights this phenomenon brilliantly.
India, the biggest film industry in the world ---1000 films a year or more, with almost 6 songs a film --- creates melodies by thousands every year, generally filmed with stars who dance. That’s a prodigious amount of singing and dancing. As a singer, no one has been more prolific than Bollywood’s Lata Mangeshkar, “the nightingale of India”, who has recorded over 40,000 songs over her 50 year career, a Guinness Record unlikely ever to be surpassed. Indian films are unique in another remarkable way. It’s the only film industry in the world that gives a nation almost all its pop music and its modern dance forms.
Sangita Shreshtova, a classical dancer herself, has been an ardent advocate of Bollywood for years. I first met her when invited me to the Prague Bollywood Festival, which she organised brilliantly in 2007, showing some of my Bollywood films, and, as a special honour, my epic Italian TV series, “Sandokan”. She then moved to California but didn’t lose her focus. This brilliant and entertaining book is product of Sangita Shresthova’s twin passions, Bollywood and Dance. It illuminates the unique phenomenon that defines Bollywood films, its spectacular song and dance routines, while giving us a fascinating insight into its incredible international impact.
It’s ironic that I’ve asked to write this introduction since I’m probably the only Bollywood actor who refused to sing or dance. (Psst: I did try it in a few films, but it wasn’t my scene). But I’m delighted to write this because Sangita has written such a fine book. But, I confess, there’s another naughty reason. I love watching and listening to great Bollywood songs. When theatre lights dim, and Bollywood songs and dance numbers begin, I’m in heaven. Never mind the logic of 15 different locations, with 15 costume changes, all in one song. For me, Bollywood songs and dances rock, and all those who create them are real rock stars. Sangita’s book tells us their story as never before.