Time to Dance Review (SPOILERS): What a Joyless Dance Film

I didn’t think it was possible, but somehow there is a dance film that doesn’t bring me happiness.

Whole insane plot:

Sooraj Pancholi is a dance flash mob organizer/waiter. Isabelle Kaif is the new partner of the top ballroom dancer in London? England? The World? Sooraj has a crush on Isabelle. She comes to his restaurant and dances and falls off a table, injuring her leg. Her white dance partner dumps her, which means she won’t win the competition, which means her family dance school is in trouble. Also, she can’t teach dance classes. Sooraj offers to teach her classes for her so the school can stay open. Isabelle’s big sister starts teaching Sooraj ballroom dancing so he can compete with Isabelle in the Big Thing. But Sooraj struggles, because of the Tragic Dance Accident in his past. He was in love with a white dancer lady, they used to perform together, but she talked him into trying a difficult lift, and during rehearsals, he dropped her and KILLED HER. They also struggle because the Dance Council, lead by the mother of Isabelle’s old partner, is trying not to allow them into the competition. They finally make it to the competition, but Isabelle’s old partner cheats and makes them have a lower score. Thanks to a viral video campaign, the public forces the Dance Council to let them go to the finals after all. Just before the finals, the evil white lady reminds Sooraj of his girlfriend’s death so he almost doesn’t show up. But at the last minute, he does. And they do the super super hard lift and he DOESN’T kill Isabelle. And then the win and the movie is over.

Time To Dance first look: Katrina Kaif's sister Isabella, Sooraj Pancholi  take to the dance floor | Entertainment News,The Indian Express

This is one of those movies when I can’t figure out who the white people are for. Because this isn’t how white people really are? Like, there is so much aggressive racism just because they are “Indian”. We white people are absolutely racist!!!! But, not like this. It’s way more subtle and passive and hard to pin down. Also, racism against Indians because they don’t know ballroom dance is NOT A THING!!!!! This movie seems to propose that in all areas of life, white people won’t allow Indian people to do stuff. No grasp of the whole “model minority” dynamic and the complex structures of prejudice.

All of that makes me think it is for people who don’t live in white-majority countries, an inaccurate fantasy of how racism works in that situation. BUT! There is SO MUCH ENGLISH!!! And it’s a short film, and it released direct to Netflix, and it is set overseas, there are so many other factors that say it IS aimed at the diaspora.

So what I have landed on is that it is for dumb people in the diaspora. Or, I suppose, dumb elite folks back home who like English language films but have no concept of actual social functioning. The people who think there really is an across the board vendetta against all “Indians” everywhere in all walks of life in the West. Who equate horrible hate crimes in which people are actually killed for their perceived ethnicity with not being allowed into a dance contest. If I think of this one way, in terms of the various paranoid upperclass desi folks I have talked to who are all “that waitress was possibly rude to me and it is WORSE THAN SLAVERY” kind of people, it infuriates me. But if I think of it as just a bunch of bad white actors being insanely sneeringly evil, it delights me. Who doesn’t love to boo the rich old white people?

The other thing I can’t figure out is what the ballroom dancing is for. Because, like, it’s really bad dancing! And ballroom dance isn’t THAT hard to learn. Not saying it’s easy, but if I were, for instance, a professional actor cast in a dance film, I could probably get pretty good at it through 2 months of dedicated work. And, they didn’t. It’s no good. And the whole concept of the ballroom dance concept doesn’t quite make sense either. First, that it is this Huge Deal. Which it really isn’t. And second, that it is somehow controlled by an All Powerful Governing Body. And third, that it all comes down to one super quick contest.

See all these people successfully faking their way through onscreen ballroom dancing?

There’s a way to do this where you make it clear that the characters think it is a Huge Deal, but in the real world it isn’t. There’s a way to do this where you are clearly tipping a wink to the audience that this whole world is a spoof and fake. And then there’s the way this film did it, where they seem to actually believe this is how ballroom dance works? And that the audience will believe it too?

The greatest ballroom dance film of all time, and one of the best dance films of all time, is Strictly Ballroom. What makes it great is that it says “this doesn’t really matter, but the characters think it matters”. And then it goes a step further and says “and it does matter, BECAUSE they think it matters. If it gives them dignity, purpose, and most of all if they try their very best, then it matters”. This film goes another way. It says “Ballroom dancing Really Really Matters. And because it matters in the Real World, that is why the characters care about it.”

This gets at the heart of what I want in a dance film and what is missing here. Dance films are about people doing what makes them happy as best they can just because it makes them happy. Dance is a uniquely filmic medium. You could tell the same story, and people have, about folks who paint, or write, or sing, or anything else that has no intrinsic value but makes them happy. But it’s not the same as watching someone joyfully leap across the screen when they finally let loose and give in to the music. And I never ever get that feeling in this film.

It’s not just that the dances are bad (badly danced, badly filmed, badly choreographed), it’s that the plot surrounding them doesn’t give that feeling. These are people who are dancing to win a competition. They aren’t dancing because they “love to dance”, there is no explanation around that. Sooraj is dancing to help Isabelle win, Isabelle is dancing to show up her mean white former partner and also to win. It can be the stupidest plot in the world, so long as you have that message of “I dance for joy, to challenge myself, to bring happiness to others” it still works. If the message is “I dance to show up the white folks”, it isn’t really a dance film at all.

26 thoughts on “Time to Dance Review (SPOILERS): What a Joyless Dance Film

      • I am watching this right now…and so many questions!?!?

        Let’s start with how were these two cast for this movie? Was it the director who went around looking…and then decided that Sooraj and Isabelle are the best actors/dancers for my film?
        Or was it that Salman pushed the producers to make a film with these two and then they found a story etc.??

        I feel like I would still have a little respect for the director/crew if it was the latter…their hands were tied and they tried to make it work…

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        • It just MUST be the later! The producer is Remo D’Souza, who is another Salman person and a choreographer/director. So Salman forced him to make a movie with Sooraj and Isabelle, and he only knows dance films, so he did that.

          Also, “story”? That seems a bit generous of a description for this film. Maybe “random assortment of incidents and dialogue”?

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          • Okay, so then why didn’t Salman produce it himself??
            Maybe he lost money on the previous films…so now he leverages his connections but won’t put his money on the line??
            But then who gave the financing for this movie? Who said yes this is a great investment? Or maybe the investor was also arm-twisted by Salman?? Give this movie 10cr then I will let you invest in my film?? I am just really fascinated by the back-end of this movie…I need to know!!

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          • My theory, Salman didn’t want to risk lowering the profile/profits of his separate SKF corporation. So he used a shell group and paid out of pocket, keeping the loss from his studio.

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          • Okay, so I did some internet sleuthing and found some interesting tit-bits
            – Salman & Katrina were supposed to have a song in the movie…but no one knows why that planned was dropped
            – the opening street dance number by Sooraj was supposed to be a remix of ‘oh oh jaane jaana’…that’s why he is doing the famous step!! But when Salman fans found out they launched a social media protest so Salman changed the song
            – in an interview Remo claims that Isabelle was not recommended by Salman…she came for an audition and they were “impressed by her dancing” hahaahaha

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          • Okay, you have officially put more time, energy, and thought into this film than the people who made it.

            And everything you are saying just confirms “Salman gave the money, no matter who is listed as producer”.

            Liked by 1 person

  1. I must have lived under a rock because I have never heard about Strictly Ballroom! I saw the video you added to the post and liked it a lot. It reminded me a scene from Dirty Dancing 2 and now I’m watching scenes and dances from it on youtube. Man, how I love this film.

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    • You MUST watch Strictly Ballroom. It’s lovely. Or maybe you will hate it, I don’t know, I’m terrible at recommending things to you!!!!

      On Thu, May 13, 2021 at 3:58 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

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    • I love Strictly Ballroom so much. It was the first movie I ever made my husband watch with me, because it has this kind of inexplicable flamenco in Australia thing going on, but I love it for the quick take humor and the over the topness and the heart.

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  2. Hahahaha don’t plan to watch the movie, but racism against Indians, because they don’t know ballroom dancing, sounds hilarious! One of your funniest reviews!

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  3. Isha was dancing for her mother’s honour, wasn’t she? And also to save the dance school.

    Anyway, I was all ready to disagree with you because the first few dances were fine, and then the rest was bad to terrible (not the secondary characters who I’m sure were fine). They pulled out the entire bag of tricks too, I counted: slowmo to speed up, speed up a little so you can film it slow and make it look normal speed, angles, flash cuts, close ups to other people’s feet made to look as if the leads are doing it, close ups so they don’t have to do a long shot of the actual dancing, obscuring the dancing with light, more reaction shots than full length dance shots. I absolutely HATE when they do that. I’d rather just watch bad dancing in a comforting steady medium shot.

    The huge stakes for no reason was what made it watchable to me, one of the camp things about it. I liked the costumes, the post stress traumatic disorder, the idea that some posh millionaire is super into ballroom dancing, and the deeply hilarious ballroom dance music, but the rest, eh. Could have been great if they’d leaned into the camp factor more!

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  4. Damn I was kind of curious because of that insane “kill your dance partner by dropping her from a lift” plot twist but if the rest of the movie is boring then I don’t think I can watch it

    Like

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