- This Is How We Dance Now! Performance in the Age of Bollywood and Reality Shows by Pallabi Chakravorty
In this book Pallabi Chakravorty takes on the important work of thinking how reality dance competitions on television changed the way Indians dance and interact with Bollywood in an age of consumerism and cosmopolitan modernity. Coming from a classical dance background and scholarly history she recognizes those forms no longer hold the monopoly on Indian identity and culture, even on a domestic scale. Bollywood dance has always been recognized as a hybrid form (it has long incorporated classical, western, folk, and Latin dance) but its remediation through television since Boogie Woogie debuted in 1996 created new forms and choreographies that she calls "remix aesthetics" in a "copy and paste environment" that pulls from YouTube and other media as well as from Bollywood, forming a true postmodern pastiche full of decentralized and fragmented images.
The book looks closely at the components of the dances themselves as cultural products as well as the "lived reality of a new generation of dancers and choreographers who are among the emergent 'aspirational Indians' in the new global economy" (p. 4). The fieldwork and interviews she conducted with both dancers and choreographers of television and film in Mumbai and Kolkata in their dance halls, studios, sets, and rehearsals brings a personal element to her analyses and illuminates the thinking behind the choices these artists make regarding song selection, costume design, and movement vocabularies. Looking at the bigger picture, Chakravorty's project uses [End Page 528] dance and dancers to elucidate the shift to technological savvy and consumerist modernity in the years following India's economic liberalization in 1991.
After the introduction, the book embarks on a long theoretical discussion of the scholarly conversations surrounding the word "desire" and theories of seeing. Most interesting is the comparison between Indian and western thought, addressing concepts like rasa and darshan alongside Hegel, Freud, Marx, and Mulvey (amongst others). The history of dance in Bollywood film that occupies the next chapter is fairly standard, but provides useful background for the main questions of the book. This chapter highlights the hybridity of the Bollywood dance style and the rise of the item dance for women and far more recently, men. Uday Shankar's film Kalpana and S. S. Vasan's Chandralekha (both 1948) are credited with moving beyond classical dance and rasa aesthetics to embrace hybridity and cinematography. While Chakraborty does not emphasize it, she does note that many reality shows have predominately male contestants (unless they are designed as couples' competitions). She offers new insight into the shaping of an urban and globalized Indian masculinity through Hip-Hop and Bollywood dance aesthetics.
Chapters four and five are the heart of the book where readers learn more about the television shows, their dancers, and choreographers. Although Chakraborty makes a compelling case that these dance reality shows are grounded in Indian visual and sensory culture (and particularly in Bollywood), her exclusive focus on the local neglects the fact that these shows are part of a global phenomenon. After the long discussion of western philosophy in chapter two, it is notable that scholarship on reality dance shows in the rest of the world is absent. While the localized focus does contribute to making her study "culturally meaningful and embodied" (p. 56), it also makes it challenging for readers to identify the unique features of these shows as they manifest in India.
The shows push a desire Chakravorty describes as "aspirational and consumerist," due to the designer clothes and fit bodies that comprise Bollywood dance and enable "the dancer and the viewer alike to produce themselves as individual consumers disconnected from their social class, family, or community" (p. 63). Viewers thus imagine themselves to belong to the cosmopolitan, urban, professional, global Indian middle-class lifestyle depicted in the films, desiring "consumption, brands, sex, and luxury" (p. 96) over the love and devotion coveted in earlier films. She has a sensitive discussion and...