Is Bollywood entertainment getting outsourced? At a big Indian wedding in New York there are the usual beaming uncles and aunties, lots of great Indian food, the latest Bollywood music. The dance floor clears and there’s a bespangled dancer doing all the classic moves from ‘Umrao Jaan’ as the appreciative crowd gathers around and claps.
The dancer is Russian and doesn’t speak any Hindi nor has ever been to India.
She is Inessa from Uzbekistan and is quite the star at Indian community events in New York, be it weddings, engagement parties or other celebrations. “In the former Soviet Union, Indian movies were so big I watched them a lot. There were a lot of Raj Kapoor movies but the ‘Disco Dancer’ was really popular!” she says. When she came to New York at the age of 15, she continued to watch Indian films. A ballet dancer, she pursued modern dance in college and took private lessons in Bollywood dancing on the side.
Here the story gets even more international – Inessa joined Dancing Princess, a company specializing in dance performances for Middle Eastern and Jewish celebrations, run by Ohr Sachar, whose roots are in the Indian Jewish community. The dancers bring a new zing to Bollywood dancing as they mix ballet, modern dance and belly dancing moves. Inessa, as the principal dancer, watches a lot of Bollywood movies, absorbing the choreography and the meaning of the lyrics for she lip-syncs. She is an avid Bollywood movie watcher and ‘Bunty aur Babli’ and ‘Guru’ are her favorites.
Inessa loves performing classic Bollywood numbers and does items from both the ‘Umrao Jan’ movies, often at the same event, showcasing the differences in choreography. She studies the sequences, often keeping to the original choreography, as Bollywood fans recognize and love that. She studies the lip-syncing too so audiences know she’s really into it.One of her favorites is the song ‘Kajra Re’ from ‘Bunty Aur Babli’ and she also does a fiery ‘Beedi Jalaile’ from ‘Omkara’.
Ohr Sachar says the dancers really enjoy performing for South Asian audiences because there’s such a respect in the culture for dance. It’s not about cabaret but rather about the artistry of dancers and the celebration of family and friends.
She points out that her dancers have been entertaining South Asians for 18 years and specialize in the preferences of Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani audiences. She says: “We’re learning the differences as we go along! We bring the beauty of the culture; we’re kind of like the ambassadors of happiness!”