When most people think of Bollywood, the first thing that comes to mind is surely the song-and-dance numbers, and for good reason. Since the start of the Hindi film industry, the musical has been an essential component of popular cinema. Bollywood filmmakers take pride in staging the most lavish spectacles they can envision and thus, skilled choreographers, composers, songwriters, art directors, singers and costume designers are always in high demand. Indeed, musical numbers have become so important that Bollywood invented the "item number". While other cinema traditions promote a tight focus on the central narrative, Indian audiences have become appreciative of these musical interludes, which are often completely unrelated to the plot and feature actors who aren't part of the film. For the most part though, the musical numbers follow the same narrative purpose as the Hollywood musicals we're used to, just bigger and brighter.
These vibrant scenes are truly one of the best aspects of Hindi cinema. It's therefore more pleasure to present my list of 10 Spectacular Bollywood Song-and-Dance Scenes:
Baawre - Luck By Chance
If you're going to make a satire about the Bollywood film industry, you know you have to go all out with your musical scenes. That's exactly what Zoya Akhtar did with the "Baawre" number in her debut feature "Luck By Chance". For the scene, Akhtar enlisted a real circus to bring forth her colorful vision. And with the aid of superstar performer Hrithik Roshan, extravagant costume and set design and exuberant music and dancing, they created a perfect example of the eye-popping excess Bollywood is known for.
Chaiyya Chaiyya - Dil Se
When it comes to musical numbers in Bollywood, they don't get any more iconic than "Chaiyya Chaiyya" in 1998's "Dil Se". With such a great song at their disposal, the creative team behind the film knew they had bring something special for its scene. So eventually, they decided to with the audacious idea of filming it on a real moving train through the mountains of Tamil Nadu in India. No special effects or camera tricks were used, just the resourceful creativity of a group of artists intent on making something truly epic and legendary. Ask virtually any South Asian person who was alive during that time and you'll know that they definitely succeeded in their aim.
Dhoom Taana - Om Shanti Om
If there's one song that made me realize the power of Bollywood, it's "Dhoom Taana" from "Om Shanti Om". Despite having never scene the film, it's been a persistent earworm since way back when I first heard it in college. Of course, when I finally saw it performed, any hope of forgetting it was lost. Using special effects and amazing costume/set design to lovingly recreate scenes from different eras of Bollywood history, "Dhoom Taana" is pure, unadulterated fun.
Dola Re Dola - Devdas
Ready. Set. Dance! In Sanjay Leela Bhansali's visual masterpiece "Devdas", audiences were given a real treat when Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit came together for the "Dola Re Dola" number. Often cited as the "Most Beautiful Woman in the World" and "Bollywood's Dancing Queen" respectively, Ria and Dixit performed the dance-off that dreams are made of, in what was basically a more amicable version of "The Boy is Mine". But I doubt Brandy and Monica could have quite pulled off the choreography on display here. Both actresses remain elegantly feminine yet strong throughout, keeping up with the song's relentless, energetic beat. All 6 minutes of this magnificent sight are absolutely infectious and riveting.
Ghanan Ghanan - Lagaan
As an awards nut, I often find myself wondering what made the Oscar-nominated "Lagaan" click with Academy voters after so many years of snubs for Indian films. When I look at the majesty of dance numbers like "Ghanan Ghanan" however, it's easy to see why it would appeal to anyone with a love of cinema. With A. R. Rahman's triumphant music in the background, Ashutosh Gowariker and his collaborators crafted a rain dance for the ages. The choreography for its huge dance ensemble is remarkable, and as the camera gracefully weaves its way the village, it makes you want to join them and sing from the rooftops for the rains for to come.
Jo Haal Dil Ka - Sarfarosh
As strange as it may sound, Bollywood films had largely refrained from showing kissing up until very recently. Due to the pressures to promote strong family values, such public displays of eroticism were frowned upon. So filmmakers had to get creative, and one of the ways they did that was through the symbolism of rain, which represented the ecstasy of the drought-ending monsoon and allowed the wet clothes to reveal the actors' bodies without actually showing nudity. Of these "rain songs", one of the best is the seductive "Jo Haal Dil Ka" number from 1999's "Sarfarosh". Featuring two of Bollywood's most attractive actors - Aamir Khan and Sonali Bendre - it's literally wet with lust, set among waterfalls, river rapids and torrential rain. As one of my Indian friends explained, this steamy scene was the cause of many sexual awakenings.
Kambakth Ishq Hai Jo - Pyar Tune Kya Kiya
This dance number from the 2001 film "Pyar Tune Kya Kiya" is one of the most obvious examples of how Western culture had begun to have a major influence on Bollywood. India had fully become part of the MTV generation, including dance numbers like "Kambakth Ishq Hai Jo" with its pop music video sensibility. Although the vocals sound unmistakably Indian, some of its visual concepts and choreography are almost a direct copy from Madonna's "Human Nature" video from 1995. So while "Kambakth Ishq Hai Jo" remains a very cool number in its own right, it reflected a worrying trend of shameless Hollywood imitation in the industry.
Nimbooda Nimbooda - Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam
One of my favorite things about the awesome dance number for "Nimbooda Nimbooda" is the opening entrance by goddess Aishwarya Rai. As she descends from above to grace us mere mortals with her presence, all eyes are on her. Thereafter the number is a wonderful star showcase, letting us bask in the glory of Aishwarya Rai in her prime. Indeed, her famous dance skills are on point and she looks like a million bucks. Furthermore, the scene shows director Sanjay Leela Bhansali's exceptional eye, with its appealing use of color and space in the art direction.
Shut Up & Bounce - Dostana
Forget all the gorgeous costumes and lavish sets, sometimes you just wanna see some skin! That was surely the idea behind "Shut Up & Bounce", which shows the item number at its most gratuitous. Roping in Shilpa Shetty just to perform this song, and putting her and one of the film's hot stars John Abraham in some of the skimpiest outfits, "Shut Up & Bounce" captured an authentic Miami beach vibe. Indeed, while its an uptempo, catchy track, the video makes sure that's not what you'll be remembering. Especially as it shamelessly objectifies Abraham, Hollywood could learn a thing or two from its equal opportunity voyeurism between the sexes, which is now a common practice in Bollywood. If you're an attractive male actor with a rocking body, you'll definitely be going shirtless at some point.
Tu Acha Lagta Hai - Nayak: The Real Hero
Once you've seen your fair share of Bollywood films, you start to notice that things can get a little...weird. I stumbled upon this bizarre dance number from "Nayak: The Real Hero" on YouTube one day, and it left me at a loss for words. I've never seen the film and I honestly don't want to, preferring to let my imagination run wild. Maybe you can watch the video and explain what's really going on here. All I know is, whoever came up with this is either mad, genius or both.