How Telugu concept-based cinema favours montage music

Allu Arjun and Pooja Hegde in the ‘Butta bomma’ song in Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo

Allu Arjun and Pooja Hegde in the ‘Butta bomma’ song in Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo   | Photo Credit: By arrangement


With fewer directors wanting big, extravagant dance numbers, choreographers and dancers seem to be facing the brunt

The two Sankranti big ticket releases, Sarileru Neekevvaru and Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, have drawn in huge crowds and given the audience a few hit song and dance numbers. ‘Mind block’ and ‘Dang dang’ from Sarileru... and ‘Butta bomma’, ‘Ramuloo ramula’ and ‘Oh my God, daddy’ from Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo are likely to be among the favourites for quite some time.

But not every Telugu film these days is packaged with song and dance numbers. The recent Mathu Vadhalara, for instance, was a concept-based film where the music score was blended into the narrative.

The past few years has a seen a steady decline in item dances and mass numbers in Telugu cinema, mainly because of the increase in content-based, realistic stories. New-age directors find it odd to include a duet in the middle of a serious narration. Even then we have the occasional low budget ‘Shambho Shiva Shambo’ song of Sampoornesh Babu in Kobbari Matta and the ‘Dimag Kharaab’ dance from Ismart Shankar that has the audience going berserk with the music and the moves.

Nidhi Agarwal in ‘Dimag Kharab’ in ‘ISmart Shankar’

Nidhi Agarwal in ‘Dimag Kharab’ in ‘ISmart Shankar’   | Photo Credit: by arrangement

The role of a dance master or a choreographer is very significant in promoting a song or a dance in the film. But films like Pelli Choopulu and other small films did away with the introductory dance of a hero and item number since it’s unnecessary in the story and doesn’t fit into the budget of the project.

This move by the directors is not without adverse effect. There are around 150 choreographers in Telugu film industry and 500 background dancers. The scenario is now bleak with many of them having less work. Dance master Anne says this change augurs well for the producer as they have to spend very little, but it is like a whiplash on the dancers and choreographers.

While some dance masters refrain from commenting, Anne sounds a bit hopeful. “There is a lot of competition here and there are only half a dozen choreographers; only the top names find work. Dances don’t fit into the stories any more and we have an active social media and critics questioning the necessity of a dance which comes out suddenly, disturbing the progress of the story. Earlier big hero films had five songs out of which one would be a montage number but now it is the reverse. So we have to be happy with one big dance from one big film and that will keep our kitchen fires burning for a month.”

Sathya, Sri Simha and Naresh Agasthya in Mathu Vadhalara

Sathya, Sri Simha and Naresh Agasthya in Mathu Vadhalara   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

Most of the big choreographers like Johnny, Raghu, Shekar, Anne, Bhanu and Vijay find work because the hero of that particular project demands his or her participation. It isn’t even a director, it is a hero who calls the shots as he says that only a particular choreographer can understand his skill or limitation and give the steps that they can handle.

On the other hand, woman dance masters like Anne rue that they never get item dances or mass numbers but are given only montages because it is perceived to be ideal for women choreographers. Montages spring from the imagination of director. If it is a small budget project he will do away with choreographers and conceive his shots but if it is a big budget project, he will hire a dance master to design a montage song too.

Director Harish Shankar has a different take. He says that all the choreographers and background dancers are busy with television shows and digital medium. Even concept films have choreographers and there is no reason for worry at all, he avers.

Mahesh Babu and Rashmika in the ‘Mind block’ song from Sarileru Neekevvaru

Mahesh Babu and Rashmika in the ‘Mind block’ song from Sarileru Neekevvaru   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

He points out unlike earlier, there has been an amazing increase of numbers in choreographers in Hyderabad. He says, “There is shortage of choreographers and dancers; there is rise in content and everyone is busy. Even montage shots need choreographers.”

For ‘Velluvocche Godaramma’ in Gaddalakonda Ganesh, Harish left no stone unturned and gave his best. Around 20 art directors were hired as the film had a retro feel and they got SP Balasubrahmanyam and P Susheela to sing the song once again to recreate the 80s mood. “We didn’t use contemporary techniques in camera too,” adds Harish.

Dance master Shekar agrees, “We did the song with a nostalgic mood, may be that’s the reason the song has become popular. For ‘Zara Zara’ song, we hired 100 dancers for five days and for the bindelu (water pots) song we took 80 dancers and 1000 bindelu whereas Raghavendra Rao roped in 10 dancers only.”

Many producers rope in dance masters from Mumbai presuming they are more talented and have technical knowledge. They come with six or eight assistants and charge a hefty sum. Yet the dances in Saaho drew flak from audiences and many industry insiders felt that a local choreographer could have understood the hero’s body language well and could have composed the steps accordingly. Also a local person will have a better understanding of the fan base. On the flip side, it is not fair to blame a choreographer. In most films, the hero gives instructions about what steps they can handle.

Varun Tej in Gaddalakonda Ganesh

Varun Tej in Gaddalakonda Ganesh   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

The story is different on the home turf. Some dance masters and newcomers compose dances for a paltry sum. The background dancers have no problem with the percentage system that is followed. If a choreographer comes from Mumbai or Chennai to Hyderabad they get a small percentage of their dancers while a majority is taken from here.

Shekar currently has plenty of work and is actually letting go of certain assignments because of lack of dates. People are bored with set songs and intro songs and new directors are always trying different stuff. According to him, dancers are busy, but there is certainly a problem because of montages. “Almost all the dances are designed by Hyderabadis and we have stopped hiring people from other states,” he says.

Prasanna, a choreographer from Chennai who works for Brinda master says it is absurd to blame directors for lack of work. Montage or a duet is based on the script. Only if there is a necessity for a song and a dance, we get work. Why would anyone need a dance master or background dancers for a film like 96 (The Tamil film now being remade in Telugu as Jaanu, starring Samantha and Sharwanand)?

A poster of the forthcoming Jaanu, starring Samantha and Sharwanand

A poster of the forthcoming Jaanu, starring Samantha and Sharwanand   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

“Earlier there were very few choreographers and they would travel across states to work for all language films. Now the scene is different, every State has its own choreographers and dancers who are turning into incredible talent.” says Prasanna.

Russian dancers are now hired believing they will lend the video a ‘rich look’. “The skin tone is very important and they look good for the song and also charge more. A few of our dancers are included in the troupe. It is a good situation if in a commercial film, if there are five songs, at least three should be mass or romantic numbers with scope for work for dancers and composers,” he sums up.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 6:42:46 AM |

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