Plot? Whoooooooo cares???? It’s all about the lights and the glamour and the big flippy things and so on. So read this review, you will still want to see the film anyway. Or not want to see the film if you are a hopelessly practical person who has no love for dance battles and learning lessons and that moment when the power goes out and there is no music but then magically they create their OWN music!!!! Also, the plot is hilarious so read my summary for the giggles.
Whole “Plot” in Two Paragraphs:
Varun’s big brother broke his knee in a tragic dance battle accident two years earlier and now Varun wants to dance For Him. Varun gets the old dance crew together again and starts rehearsing in their new fancy rehearsal space, but they are interrupted by the rival Pakistani dance crew and their new star dancer, Shraddha. Shraddha and Varun spark immediately in their first dance battle but pretend they don’t. Varun goes to the fancy Evil Prep School where his friend Nora Fatehi dances with the Evil Prep School Dance Crew and asks her for help training him and his friends. Meanwhile, Shraddha goes home to her loving family and tries to avoid telling them she is part of a Dance Crew, because they wouldn’t approve of The Dance. The two teams both hang out at Prabhudeva’s bar and donut emporium to watch the India-Pakistan cricket match and get into a food fight. Prabhudeva tries to keep the peace, but it doesn’t work. And then Shraddha goes back to get her phone and sees Prabhu feeding Pitiful Homeless People in his kitchen. And Prabhu takes her to the Pitiful Homeless Bridge out to give food and explains that they are undocumented migrant workers, now trapped in England without the papers or money to let them go home. Shraddha is touched and decides that her dance crew will win the Big Dance Battle and get the $100,000 prize (seriously??? Man, maybe I should start a dance crew if it makes that much money!) and use it all in some ill-defined way to help the migrant workers.
Meanwhile, Varun sucks. We learn that he got the money for the new dance studio by lying on Visa applications and such to help a group of drummers from India get to London, and taking the money their manager gave him. And then when the Evil Preppie Dance Crew offers him a slot in their team, he takes it! Because it is all about being on the winning team. His friend tries to explain to him that Shraddha’s team is doing it all For Good, but Varun doesn’t believe it because He Sucks. And then he meets Aparshakti Khurrana (leader of the drummers, playing it so pitiful that it feels like a spoof) and learns they are all homeless and starving and he ruined their lives. Which leads to his Shirtless Dance of Torment, interrupted in the middle by his Big Brother who joins in his own I Am Crippled Dance of Torment. This must have resolved something in Varun’s mind, because he decides to stop sucking, and at the next Dance Battle when Shraddha’s team looks like they are losing, suddenly Varun whips off his Evil Preppie uniform to reveal a different outfit underneath and jumps on stage and saves the day! Finally, the two teams are united going into the Final Dance Battle. And all the Sad Homeless Men come to the final dance battle to cheer them on (while still never smiling, because the performance rules for being a Sad Homeless Man are very strict. Always wear your mildly stained sweater vest, never smile, and make sure your dialogue consists primarily of “thank you”). But, in the middle of their dance, Evil Preppie pulls the plug on their music! It’s all OVER!!! But wait, what is that? Yes! It is Aparshakti, Sad Punjabi Drummer Now Homeless, drumming on a random empty oil drum! The crowd joins in! They dance to the beat of their Homeland and WIN! The Whole big thingy-jiggy! Boy, I never saw that coming. Oh, and somewhere in there Shraddha’s family found out that she was dancing in the street and Varun gave a speech about how it is her art and passion, and then they were fine with it. And Varun and Shraddha hugged but didn’t quite say “I like you” yet.
If you have low tolerance for dialogue like: “I dance to express, you dance to impress” or “The number one thing to remember in dance is always be number one”, it is possible this may not be the movie for you. But if you eat that dialogue up with a spoon, this movie has SO MUCH GOOD!!!!
First, obviously, it’s a total throwback early 2000s style diaspora plot. 2000 to 2010, roughly, diaspora set and aimed films were allllllllll about the casual connections between different nationalities once they were overseas. Jhoom Barabar Jhoom had a Pakistani-Indian love story, which wasn’t a big deal at all because she was a British shop girl and he was a British shop owner so they were the same. Humko Deewana Kar Gaye had our hero coming to Canada and getting a Pakistani roommate. Those are just the first two that come to mind, but it was all over the place. And it was a reflection of reality, these films were trying to reach the diaspora market and so they were showing what the diaspora was like. You bonded because you ate similar food, used similar slang, had similar pressure from your parents, and (very important) knew all the same movies. Didn’t matter if your family came from Bangladesh or Sri Lanka or India, there was enough that was the same. Most importantly, the outside culture where you lived saw you as the same. You were dealing with the same racism from others, that’s a bond right there. That’s what this film is showing. Sure during Cricket season, and in a casual joking way, there is conflict. But there are also so many simalarities. And intermarriage is, like, normal. There’s a tossed off joke about Murli Sharma the cop cheering for both India and Pakistan because he has parents from both places. Late in the film it is revealed that Varun’s friend is seriously dating a member of Shraddha’s crew. There is no moment of “but she’s Muslim!”, they brush right past that and focus on “but she’s part of the rival crew!” and it didn’t feel overly optimistic or anything, just reality. For the generation raised in England, eventually the religion might become an issue but its certainly not front and center at the start of the romance. Even Shraddha and Varun’s possible romance never dealt with that. Not like it would never become an issue, but like the decision whether to even start dating or not is not a “let’s talk religion” moment. That moment comes way way WAY far down the road.
And the lesson of these shipwrecked guest workers is really good too. I’m a bit torn, because of course there are two kinds of these trapped immigrants. There are these, who desperately want to return home and can’t. And there are the ones who WANT to stay and have built up lives and are terrified they might lose them. That community isn’t in this film at all. But then, is that really a problem? The film does show Varun and Shraddha and the rest of their crew as 100% British people. They joke about not even having been home to visit once. They aren’t saying “oh wow, we should go back to India”. This is their home now. So there is no argument that everyone should “go back where they came from”, just that the people who WANT to go back where they came from should be able to do so.
It’s a simple dumb movie, but it does give a nice picture book version of the issues. Aparshakti and his band were promised good jobs and money. And it is briefly mentioned that the money Varun got (which he thought came from the sleazy rich promoter) was actually money Aparshakti and his band gave to the promoter to get to England. They were taken from the airport to a workers camp, forced to burn their passports, and then told to flee when the police came. In a strange country, not knowing the laws or the language, and having lost the few documents they had, they were left to scrounge for food, beg for money, sleep on buses. And yes, this is definitely a real thing. Brokers who take money from both sides, money to get you illegally into the country and money from the people who want to buy your labor once you are there. Confused immigrants convinced to give up their passports and then told they could be arrested because they have no passports. And no knowledge of the complicated immigrant laws, or the services that might help them, not knowing who to trust or where to go, shipwrecked on foreign shores for years.
And then there is the larger issue. Varun and Shraddha are rich and comfortable. They don’t want to acknowledge that this other shadow community exists. And they definitely don’t want to think about the responsibility they may owe to this community. Again, the film does a very good picture book version of how this happens. Varun brought in Aparshakti and his friends without thinking about it, for profit. With that money he opened the dance studio and worked hard and was invited to join the Evil Preppie Dance Crew. Once he was with them, he let them abuse and insult Aparshakti’s friends when they met them on the street. It’s a simple Dance Crew version of things, but yeah, this is what happens. The more powerful immigrant community benefits from the suffering of the less powerful, eventually those benefits let them join with the mainstream majority non-immigrant community, and they turn on the people who helped them get there. It could be a small business owner who hires immigrants from his village to work in his businesses, becomes wealthy off their unpaid labor, then joins the Republican party to crack down on immigration. Or it could just be a doctor who immigrates, buys a house in a mostly white suburb, and votes for lower taxes because he doesn’t want to pay for better schools in the lower income immigrant area where his fellow community members live. Shraddha hasn’t directly benefited, she has no guilt to avoid by acknowledging the problem. So it is easier for her. Varun resists seeing what is in front of him because that would mean looking at himself. Again, all of this is really real stuff that is important to understand. Just expressed through a Shirtless Dance of Torment.
I feel bad beating up the desi community so I should say that this isn’t a desi issue either. It’s an immigrant issue, people come, they thrive, they want to forget their roots. My family changed the spelling of their name and stopped speaking German during WWI, when other more recent immigrants to America who didn’t have those options were being beaten in the streets. We could have gone out and stood by them, been brave enough to acknowledge our unity and help them, but we didn’t. Too scary and inconvenient, and anyway we had “arrived”, they should just work harder so they could arrive themselves.
So, yeah, AWESOME movie!!!!! You learn about all kinds of fun diaspora issues, there’s great dancing, and the Evil Preppies get their comeuppance.