Has Marathi cinema evolved over the years

Dance in Bollywood cinema

Table of Contents


The Bollywood film genre

The roots of dance in Bollywood film

The historical development of the “song and dance scenes” in Indian film

The term "dance"

Dance in its narrative function in Bollywood cinema

Film sample

Closing word





When Tom Cruise in the film "The Last Samurai" goes into a final, hopeless fight with his warriors, he is the only one to survive the enemy machine gun salvos. A medallion - the gift of his loved one - catches the deadly ball and makes the union of the lovers, which has already been considered impossible, possible. As utopian as some happy endings may be, it is an essential ingredient in a successful Hollywood film menu that is suitable for the masses and therefore profitable. The viewer accepts this "miracle", he is happy with Tom Cruise and leaves the theater satisfied.

However, when Shahrukh Khan with his film partner in the Indian film Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Ghum ("Sometimes happiness, sometimes sadness, 2001) suddenly leave the established place of the action and first on the beach, then in the Egyptian desert in constantly changing costumes, hot love confessions in song and Performing dance seems strange to viewers who are used to Hollywood films. Especially since in this not infrequently occurring case the dancing lovers have not yet found each other at this point in the action; there is therefore an anticipation of future events.

Contrary to the narrative continuity and stringency favored in the USA and Europe, the stylistic peculiarity of popular Indian cinema lies in the combination of relatively independent high points[1]. The break in the plot, be it, as in this case, in the form of anticipation of the later plot, or - and this is sometimes difficult to separate from each other - the fantasy of a film hero captured in image and sound, seems incomprehensible to the viewer of Western film culture, exotic and irritating. It is noticeable that the breaks in the film plot almost always and mostly exclusively in the so-called “song and dance scenes”. It is also those "song and dance scenes" which, according to Dorothee Wenner, excite the critics of the popular Indian film the most, but on the other hand "precisely those genre specifics which, in addition to the obligatory star cast, are the main attraction of going to the cinema for the Indian audience"[2]

In my work I will concentrate on the dance in the films of the so-called “Bollywood cinema”. The “Bollywood cinema” (B- for Bombay and based on Hollywood) has the advantage over the numerous other Indian production facilities that it enjoys the greatest media attention and meets the taste of all Indians. Incidentally, the Bollywood productions are not only most successful on the subcontinent, but are more popular in large parts of Asia and Africa than their American counterparts from Hollywood.

First of all, I will be concerned with the cultural-historical roots of dance in Indian cinema, followed by the fundamental question of what “dance” or dance in film actually is, in order to then examine dance as a special form of narration in Bollywood cinema in the analytical part of my work.

The genre of Bollywood film

Following up on the effect of strangeness described in the introduction as a reaction of a western viewer to the “song and dance scenes” in Bollywood film, I would like to briefly address the concept of the genre. When talking about the popular Indian film or the American mainstream film, the term "genre" is generally not used, on the other hand, in my opinion, it is quite possible to speak of a "super-genre" H / Bollywood mainstream film, because the structure corresponds to that of the genre, it is only more broadly defined[3]. In his book “Filmanalyse und Psychologie”, Peter Wuss describes “genres” as film categories with specific forms that are based on tried and tested strategies. Genre films move in a defined “space” in which topics, person constellations and style are given to such an extent that the recognition value for the viewer is unmistakable. In terms of cognitive psychology, the genre with its structure-function relationships can generally be assumed to be a process of stereotype formation.[4] Because, according to Wuss, "these are design phenomena that build up intertextual series of homologous forms and thereby define rigid sub-programs of psychological behavior that have arisen in a cultural learning process."[5] The genre always dictates certain general processes or key points in the film. Georg Seeßlen comments on this: “It [the genre] consists of a number of basic layers, narrative building blocks and an iconography: images that everything must come down to. The showdown in a western, the endless road in a road movie or the hysterical mass exodus in a disaster movie. "[6] However, a genre is not a rigidly conceived interaction pattern, but is subject to deviations and changes due to cultural history. There is a "process of differentiation with its form and function change, of course a very specific one and, for science, extremely confusing."[7]

Two insights into the term “genre” can now be transferred to the topic of dance in Bollywood films. On the one hand, the component “song and dance scenes” in western film culture only exists in musical films, but in a completely different form. The characters of the Indian film do not fit the well-known stereotypes and this explains the difficulties of the western viewer to classify what they have seen and the feeling of alienation arises in them. In addition, Wuss speaks of a cultural learning process that is subject to constant change, but which ultimately created the narrative building blocks and the iconography of a genre culture. The component “song and dance scene”, which is alien to the Western audience, arose from a film culture that is based on a culture that is different from the West and has developed independently, or has been able to retain its peculiarities over the course of this still young art form of film . I will now devote myself to the cultural roots of dance in Indian film culture, but first I would like to point out that not only society and its culture have shaped film, but that film has a lasting effect, especially in India with such a cinema-crazy people exerts on society, i.e. there is a dialectical relationship. Excerpts from a statement by Daynita Singh, an important Indian photographer: “The cinema is our second, in some cases even our first religion. The reason why Hindi has become so popular as a language in this multilingual country is because of the cinema. (...) The film shapes our ideas of beauty, love and relationships between people. I don't think that cinema is as important anywhere else in the world as it is in India. "[8]

The roots of dance in Bollywood film

Oral traditions have always had a far greater meaning than the written word in India. The two great epic poems of Indian culture, Mahabharata and Ramayana, which presumably date from the middle of the first millennium BC, also experienced repeated changes over time:

"Due to the oral tradition, there are numerous versions of the great Indian epics in various local languages ​​and dialects, which together form a pan-Indian meta text."[9] According to Amrit Gangar, the abundance of stories they contain are so deeply rooted in Indian culture that almost every Hindu knows about them, especially in northern India. Sonja Majumder quotes Esselborn on the subject of the two epics as follows: "In terms of content, all thematic motifs in Hindi cinema such as hatred, conflict, love, betrayal, revenge and the fulfillment of duty (" Dharma) go back to the epics (Esselborn 2002: 13) "[10] At first it was the theater, later the cinema, which recorded the stories and put them on the stage. Either the same stories were told or reference was made to them. Accordingly, the director Manmohan Desai, who was very successful in the 70s and 80s, says that all of his films are inspired by the Mahabharata.[11]

According to Mathias Uhl and Keval J. Kumar, the narrative style of both works had a particular influence on Indian cinema. They attest Bollywood cinema a narrative-structural diversity that is able to integrate various elements in the context of an overarching story. This narrative structure is based, according to Uhl / Kumar, on the great wealth of negotiations, cyclical insertions and causally only very distantly connected events within the two epics Mahabharata and Ramayana.[12] The literary stringency, as we know it from Western fairy tales, for example, is absent in both epics.

At this point I would like to briefly address Maya Deren, who speaks about the narrative style in Western film. M. Deren was one of the most important initiators of experimental cinema in the USA in the 1950s and 1960s. She was critical of the narrative structure in mainstream film and hoped for the development of her own film language: “The fact that a cinematic language has not yet developed is due to the fact that our age has so explicitly committed itself to the alphabet. We have become so used to thinking in the linear logic of a literary narrative that this narrative pattern has now completely dominated cinematic expression, even though it is basically a visual form. We overlook the fact that painting, for example, is structured according to visual logic or music according to a logic of tonality and rhythm and that there are visual and auditory experiences that have nothing to do with descriptive narrative forms. "[13]

Aurit Gangar writes in his article "Myth, Metaphor, Masala - Cult-Historical Aspects of Bollywood Films"[14] Another literary work had a particular influence on Indian cinema. The Rasa theory from the textbook of the Sankrit theater play "Natayasarta" by the sage Bhatran, probably written between 200 BC and 200 AD, writes the evocation of Rasas, which are fictionalized emotions that can be experienced through poetry and art[15], in front. These include: love, comedy, sadness, heroism, horror, disgust, anger, wondrous and peaceful things. Gangar describes the Rasas as the “key concept of classical Indian aesthetics” and “core of the drama narrative structure”. “According to the Rasa theory, poetry takes our experiences - even profane or factual - to a higher level, a kind of emotional insight. In other words, theory - which in India forms the basis for any intellectual and practical engagement with poetry (and film) - aims less at mere knowledge than at evoking emotions. For Sankrit connoisseurs, art is less a medium for conveying metaphysical visions than an object of edification. The aesthetic experience is simply the joy of perceiving a work of art; the pleasure principle is an integral part of aesthetic contemplation. "[16]


[1] Cf. Mathias Uhl, Keval J. Kumar “Indian Film. An introduction ”, Bielefeld 2004, p.21

[2] Dorothee Wenner “The popular cinema of India” in “Bollywood - Indian cinema and Switzerland”, Ed. A. Schneider, Zurich 2002, p. 28

[3] see page 1: D. Wenner also speaks of a “genre specific” of Bollywood cinema.

[4] see Peter Wuss "Film Analysis and Psychology - Structures of Film in the Perception Process", Berlin 1993, p.317

[5] P. Wuss, op. Cit., P. 317

[6] Georg Seeßlen “The audiovisual gingerbread heart” in “Die Tageszeitung” March 16, 2006, p.13

[7] P. Wuss, op. Cit., P. 313

[8] Daynita Singh quoted in “Bollywood - Indian Cinema and Switzerland”, p. 78

[9] Amrit Gangar “Myth, metaphor, masala. Cultural-historical aspects of Bollywood film in “Bollywood - Indian Cinema and Switzerland”, op. Cit., P. 40

[10] Master's thesis by Sonja Majumder "The Hindi film of the 90s as a mirror of the political and economic circumstances of its time examined using the films" Hum Aapke Hain Koun ...! "," Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaenge "and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai", Hamburg 2003, P.14

[11] see S. Majumdar loc. cit., p.14

[12] see Uhl / Kumar op. cit., p.22

[13] Maya Deren, "Choreography for a Camera - Writings on Film", 1995 Hamburg, p.42

[14] A. Ganagar loc. Cit., P. 40

[15] see A. Ganagar loc. cit., p.49

[16] A. Ganagar loc. Cit., P.49

End of the reading sample from 24 pages