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Dancing like a MAN

Actress-dancer Shobana on what it takes to dance like a man, and sundry other thoughts

IT'S NOT that Shobana is averse to India's celluloid dances. It's just that she's managed, like only a few film heroines before her, to keep her exploits on screen and her classical dance recitals in relatively watertight compartments. But now that she has played the female lead in Dance Like a Man, directed by Pamela Rooks, it is clear she can bring the two worlds together with a charisma that is hers alone.

This English film traces the life of a couple, married to each other and to dance, depicting the pathos and the beauty of a dancer's life, its harsh choices, the ugliness that can invade it, and the comedy and tragedy always round the corner when materialistic and artistic passions clash.

Hardly any commercial films have been made on classical dance, points out Shobana, trained in Bharatanatyam by Chitra Visweswaran and Padma Subramaniam and running her own school in Chennai in tandem with her film career. After Shankarabharanam, which ran successfully both in Hindi and Telugu, classical dance and dancers have not been a popular theme with mainstream producers and directors. This is why a director like Pamela Rooks deserves attention, feels the heroine of Revathi's Mitr - My Friend besides over 200 Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu films.

On what it means to be a classical dancer, Shobana reflects: "I think the ability to dance is something really special. I think the only ability more special is the ability to heal."

But this very `specialness' can go to a dancer's head. "I think dancers are born with a lot of ego. I've worked with dancers, actors, musicians... A scholar or class topper doesn't have as much vanity as one who is best in the dance class. I think it is maybe because it (the pursuit of dance) is an insight into something so special," she muses.

"My students: They're young, they're teenagers. They have to be guided," she says, averring she does her best to make them realise the pitfalls of vanity, which is irrelevant to an art that touches the spiritual. So what makes a successful dancer? It is not just about physical appearance, remarks Shobana, since a dancer can be beautiful with a perfect figure, yet not make a mark. It is not a question of youth or age, fat or thin - though she adds with a glint in her eye, "Remember, fat is in" - but the dancer's ability to hold the audience.

The argument holds as well for the film, which has Arif Zakaria in the male lead, features the sweet-faced Samir Soni and veteran Mohan Agashe, and boasts of young sitar exponent Anoushka Shankar's screen debut as (surprise!) a talented dancer. The film's team will keep their fingers crossed that Indian audiences will welcome the film as they have in the West. Whatever the outcome, though, they'll face it like a man.


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