This week in Bollywood: ABCD (Any Body Can Dance) 3-D | Bleader

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

This week in Bollywood: ABCD (Any Body Can Dance) 3-D

Posted By on 02.13.13 at 04:18 PM

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And any body can spit water too!
  • And any body can spit water too!
At the end of the opening titles for this Bollywood crowd-pleaser—which is being advertised as the first Indian dance film made in 3-D—Remo D'Souza takes a single credit for direction and choreography, and in that order. That's a commendably modest gesture, as well as an honest one: ABCD (Any Body Can Dance) 3-D, currently playing at the River East 21, is only D'Souza's second film as director, but he's choreographed nearly 100 movies and he's a fixture on Indian TV as a judge on dance-competition shows. Of course there are plenty of similarities between directing a movie and choreographing an elaborate dance number, in terms of coordinating large groups of people and orchestrating countless small details into a compelling whole (and those who excel in either tend to have a natural gift for rhythm and movement). But that doesn't mean any good choreographer will make a good filmmaker, the success stories of Busby Berkeley and Bob Fosse notwithstanding.

The choreography in ABCD is fantastic. It's athletic, even gymnastic at times; some of the most impressive moments consist of a dozen or more people executing the same difficult moves in unison. Sometimes it suggests an exciting hybrid between dance and competitive sports. (Perhaps it's not a coincidence that the movie centers on a dance team preparing for a competitive TV show similar to the ones D'Souza appears on.) The problem is with how D'Souza edits it. Employing music video-style montage to cut to the rhythms of the songs (none of them memorable, I'm sorry to report), D'Souza presents one impressive move after another, rarely holding a shot long enough for one to appreciate the dancers' endurance over the course of the routine. I also wish he had employed more master shots during the complex numbers, so as to illustrate the compositional effect of dozens of so many people dancing together.

The best scenes tend to be the solo dance routines or the more old-fashioned musical numbers that take place across multiple locations (in those cases, there's no temporal unity to disrupt). Prabhu Deva, the film's star and a noted choreographer himself, gets his own show-stopping number, fittingly, just before intermission. Another show-stopper occurring earlier on depicts a cross-town street fight that transforms into a giant dance-off. D'Souza and company are especially inventive with the visuals here, having the participants dress in white and change hue as they're attacked with clouds of multicolored chalk dust.

As for the story, it's dumb and shamelessly manipulative in the finest Bollywood musical tradition. Deva plays a disgraced choreographer who takes a position at his cousin's dance studio in the slums of Mumbai, recruiting local tough kids as students. At some point, each of these kids is revealed, seemingly at random, to have some terrible personal issue that might derail the progress of the entire group, only for Deva's wise teacher (who's even named Vishnu) to resolve it within minutes. The kids make it onto a top-rated dance-competition show (sponsored, we're constantly reminded, by Spinz, an Indian body spray that also helped produce this movie) and have to face off against the snotty dance school at which Deva used to teach. I don't think I can summarize the rest of the plot without it sounding like a put-down of the screenwriters.

Prabhu Devas show-stopping number
  • Prabhu Deva's show-stopping number

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