I thought about doing something for Salman and his court case, but I wasn’t in the mood to write about any movie with him, and besides that seems like kind of a downer. So instead, Prabhu’s birthday celebration! And a movie which is very good at the very specific thing it does.
Years ago, I was taking my parents to see Special 26. I told them it was a clever heist movie with period touches and great performances and a plot that makes you think. And I also said, “or we could go see the silly dance film about the street dance crew that wins the big competition (ha-ha)”. And my parents went “ooo! Let’s watch the street dance crew film!”
Which was absolutely the right decision! I will see Special 26 eventually, but I will enjoy it even on a tiny phone screen. While ABCD was meant to be seen on the big screen, to wash over and over power you. It’s not a movie that wastes time on dialogue or plot or any of that boring stuff that other movies bother with, it is a movie that goes from one amazing dance set piece to another.
It would be a good movie with just that, a cast of unknowns who are serious dancers (and Kay Kay Menon), and great choreography, and all the rest of it. But when you add on Prabhudeva, he single-handedly turns it into a GREAT movie.
This is a movie stacked with choreographers. Remo D’Souza directed, and he brought in Ganesh Acharya to play the co-lead with Prabhudeva. And Soraj Khan shows up to make an appearance in the closing credits. But among them all, Prabhu is the King. The poster is just him, alone, this is the name that will sell the film and Remo knew it. And it worked, people turned out for Prabhu.
Not so much for his star power as for what getting him to be in this film meant. If Prabhu is the lead of your dance movie, it means you are serious about bringing in the best dancers possible to work with you. And it means that Prabhu saw something worthy of his talents in the film. For India’s first “Dance” film, Prabhudeva was essential.
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See if this plot sounds familiar: There is a dance contest. There is a well-funded successful powerful dance team, and there is a team from “the streets”. Dance ensues.
That plot up there, that is the same plot from dozens of American films. But what makes this film slightly different is the ingredient of Prabhudeva. Both as a brilliant dancer, and what his character represents. Prabhu gently glides along the top of the plot, giving it form it would otherwise lack, and also gently provides moments of brilliance in motion that bring out the beauty of the other dancers in a new way.
Prabhu is a “grown up” in this dance film. He is the successful choreographer partner of evil Kay Kay Menon. He breaks with Kay Kay and goes off on his own, moving in with his old friend Ganesh Acharya. Ganesh introduces him to the street kids when he sees them dancing. There is something about two teams of street kids who don’t like each other, but that’s really not important. What’s important is Prabhu, experienced capable teacher, taking on these kids and molding them into something.
Too often in these “young rebel” kind of dance movies, the power of the teacher to help the kids is forgotten, it’s all about the young attractive folks. Often they have to “prove” something to their teacher, that this is the new way to dance or whatever. But in this film, it is all about teaching. The kids have the raw talent, but Prabhu can shape that into something even more. And they know that, and are grateful for him and to him.
The kids can see it, and we the audience can see it too. They are doing crazy breakdancing type stuff, and Prabhu is just leaning against a wall watching. And yet Prabhudeva, totally still, has fallen into such a naturally graceful position that you would rather watch him stand there than all the dancing these kids can put on. He doesn’t need to show us he is a great dancer, it is there in every small movement.
And when he does show us, he really really shows us!!!!! It sounds so cheesy when you write it out, the kids have taken on a dance team they can’t handle in an underground club dance battle (pretty sure this isn’t a real thing, but just something movies invented). They bet the money that was supposed to go to new speakers for their rehearsal. And so Prabhu has to show up and save them. By taking on the whole dance team and dancing them down all by himself!!!!
And he does. Not through editor’s tricks or better choreography or any kind of movie magic like that, but because it is simply a fact that Prabhudeva dancing alone is better than 30 men dancing together.
This moment is in the middle of the film, every thing builds to it and everything afterwards is a let down. Which is a bit the thesis of the film itself, Prabhu can teach these kids to dance because he is so much better than them, even the best they can put on is not as good as his worst.
In a larger sense, that is what this film (and all dance films) are about, the pursuit of excellence without regard to anything else. What I mean by that is, if it is a real dance film where the dances come every few minutes and are the only reason someone would watch, then the most important thing is to cast dancers. It doesn’t matter what color their skin is, how famous they are, who they are connected to, all that matters is that they can dance. And in this film, they can really really dance.
(I love the Step Up series, partly because the cast such amazing dancers even if they are all really terrible actors too. Because acting comes second)
Prabhu is The King, but the other dancers are no slouch. It’s not a coincidence that the second biggest name in the cast is another choreographer, Ganesh Acharya. And besides them, there are an array of amazingly talented young people, folks who never would have gotten a chance in a traditional film, who aren’t that tall or handsome or good at speaking, but are SO GOOD at dancing. At the one thing which really matters in this movie.
I should say that this film follows the sort of breakdance/hip-hop style of dance that Prabhu helped bring to India, and which has also become popular in the spat of Hollywood dance films. When done well, it is really really good. When done less well, it tends to be a bit repetitive. Most of the dances in this film are of the “really really good” variety, but not all of them. And by dance 27 of the exact same style, it may be all feel like a bit too much of a good thing. So even if you are a “dance” person, this film may not be for you. But at the very least, you HAVE to go to the middle of the film and watch Prabhu’s solo. It will restore your faith in true talent, artistry, skill, and beauty in the world.
Oh, and also Lauren Gottlieb is in this, former contestant on So You Think You Can Dance in the US who realized her dancing abilities where never going to be appreciated here, and moved to India where she has become a minor celebrity.