‘Dance Unlocked,’ a short film conceptualised by Mallika Sarabhai, has 24 eminent Indian dancers performing

Mallika Sarabhai   | Photo Credit: S Gopakumar


Danseuse Mallika Sarabhai proves that no lockdown can rein in an artiste. In a short film, ‘Dance Unlocked’, which brings together renowned Indian dancers of different genres, she demonstrates aesthetically how art liberates, unifies and celebrates creative ingenuity.

Kumudini Lakhia, the Dhananjayans, Anita Ratnam, Aditi Mangaldas, Kalamandalam Balasubamaniam, Madhavi Mudgal, Priti Patel, Mallika Sarabhai, Geeta Chandran, Vaibhav Arekar, Astad Deboo, Rima Kallingal and Jayendran Palazhi are some of the dancers in the film.

Directed and edited by Yadavan Chandran and conceptualised by Yadavan and Mallika herself, ‘Dance Unlocked’ is a marvellous tribute to each of the great names participating in the film and to dance itself.

‘That was a world of greed, of want, of winning, of more, more, more. This must be the world of caring, of giving, of sharing, of cooperation and generosity. Towards this new world, Darpana and Natarani bring you the dance of togetherness and reaching out. May the spirit of dance liberate you’, goes the introduction to the film.


“We don’t know what the future is going to be like and when there will be classes and programmes. There is Darpana (dance institute) and Natarani (the auditorium). This is not a problem that concerns dancers or musicians alone. It concerns humanity. We wondered what we could do to address the situation and came up with a concept that would involve as many dancers as possible,” says Mallika over phone from Ahmedabad.

Spirit of re-emergence

They were keen on visualising a concept that would be a kind of resistance to the present situation, to show that humanity would survive and the arts in multiple forms would come out of this gloomy scenario and help people to come out of it as well.

As soon as Yadavan and Mallika came up with the concept, they got down to choosing the music. Yadavan says they had been wanting to work with musician Tanmoy Bose for a long time. “In fact, Tanmoy himself had forgotten about this album, ‘Taaltantra’, when I reminded him about it. He was enthusiastic about it and immediately agreed. So, as soon as Mallika got in touch with all the dancers she knew, we were able to send them the music, ‘Rivulets of innocence’ from the album,” says Yadavan.

Mallika points out that what is unique about ‘Rivulets of innocence’ is that it is all in chathurashra tala (beat), which made it easy for the dancers to choreograph. Each of the dancers were requested to dance to a mood and colour that they associated the music with.

“We asked them for a word that they believed defined the situation as it is now and perhaps looked forward to the future, something they would identify this period with and a colour as well. I also requested them to use a prop or something in their frame that signified that colour. Not all could bring that in and so I went in for graphic representations. The entire process was something out of the box, for us and the dancers involved. In many cases, I had to go into their homes through their phones to see interesting angles, corners and terraces to see which place would look good on camera. The filmmaker in me was telling them how to shoot, where to place the camera, what technology to use …,” says Yadavan, as he tries to explain the exhilaration he felt about working with the maestros.

So it went to and fro among 30 dancers till they finally decided to go ahead with 24. Mallika points out that what enthused her was that not a single dancer said no, and none wanted to know who else would be there in the video. “Even someone like Kumudini Lakhia, who has not performed for some time, gamely participated. That was the sense of purpose all the dancers had. Did you see how I bought Amma into it?” she asks, referring to a frame that has Mallika dancing in front of a life-size portrait of her mother, the late Mrinalini Sarabhai.

Yadavan Chandran

Yadavan Chandran   | Photo Credit: special arrangement


Within five days, they had all the videos of the dancers. Yadavan points out that these were all their choices. He wanted it to be their participation and how they reacted to the music.

“Movement-wise, of course, they all come from very different genres of dance. It was a challenge to craft something that resembled a storyline or a narrative because each one reacted to the music very differently. I kept it as close to their version as possible,” explains Yadavan.

In four days, the post-production work on the film was completed. Although none of them had a clue how the finished product would be, once it was completed, they realised this was something special. Yadavan says what followed was the nicest part of the whole exercise.

“Each of them wrote to me saying how much they enjoyed it. Everybody is looking forward to doing more such work. They only did their 30-second bit. Now, they are all excited that they are a part of something like this,” he says.

Yadavan recalls how Kathakali veteran Kalamandalam Balasubrahmanyam initially found it difficult to work with the technology. Moreover, he had to work with a piece of music that was out of his space. But once Yadavan convinced him, he was willing to collaborate. The filmmaker adds: “He is over the moon about the finished product. It is perhaps for the first time that he is part of an ensemble like this. People who are in these island today because of the isolation suddenly feel connected to each other. And I see that camaraderie coming through too because many of them have never worked with each other before.”

‘Dance Unlocked’ was released on Darpana’s Facebook page and channel and shared by the greats in the film.

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 2:42:27 PM |

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