It is one of those paradoxes that while song and dance have always been at the heart of Indian film-making culture, very few productions fit into the relatively new genre of ‘dance-films’. Neither the musical, the documentary on dance forms, nor even the full-length feature about a dancer qualify as a dance-film — an avant garde form of cinematic story-telling where movement and rhythm, rather than dialogue, drive the narrative. ‘Manifest,’ the country’s first international dance film festival dedicated to the genre, gets under way here on July 29 at Alliance Francaise, and will showcase a clutch of about 40 acclaimed dance films from all over the world. The three-day festival, hosted by AuroApaar, a dance-film collective, will include screening of films at Auroville’s Cinema Paradiso. A high point will be the July 30 screening of Uday Shankar’s iconic ‘Kalpana’ (1948), regarded as the deﬁnitive Indian dance-ﬁlm, and a presentation by his grandson Ratul Shankar. “We are looking at a very new genre. This festival is the first annual international dance film festival in India...and only the third in Asia, outside of Japan and South Korea”, said Ashavari Majumdar, co-founder of AuroApaar and festival convenor. The dance film festival aims to raise awareness on this medium of story-telling, debate its possibilities and mentor a new directorial class in this genre of cinema. The event partners, include Alliance Francaise, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, Narthaki, a dance portal and city-based TASMAI, a centre for art and culture. Apart from screening, there will be discussions, Q & A sessions, including online interfaces with participants from all over the world and academic presentations. “In Europe, dance film is serious art that has assumed the proportions of a movement in the post-pandemic world with a lot of radical film-makers creating contemporary, experimental cinema”, said Ms. Majumdar, who is a trained classical dancer herself. “The difference between the Indian song-dance film and the genre of dance-film is that in popular cinema, the song and dance is only part of narrative whereas dance films are mostly silent films with no dialogue and where the medium of story telling is dance itself.” “For Indians, dance is definitely much more a part of popular culture than in any other country...the range and depth of dance forms in India does not have any parallel in the world... we dance for all occasions, at weddings, child-birth and even funerals as in the Manipuri folk tradition...but our filmography in this genre remains scant”, said Ms. Majumdar.
While the ‘dance-ﬁlm’ is a 20th century genre, post-pandemic there has been an explosion in interest resulting in an unprecedented amount of productions as dancers across the world started exploring dance-on-camera during the lockdown. AuroApaar wants to meet the moment through the festival-incubator. Festival hosts believe that there is a lot of work that can happen in India in this genre. Concomitantly, the incubator will train people in dance film making while fixing the focus on Indian forms and also provide creations a screening and appreciation platform. It will also offer selected participants the opportunity to develop short dance-film projects. “One of the goals is to build on an indigenous, yet modern aesthetic... most contemporary art in India tends to be Euro-centric but there is a tradition in India that is modern and contemporary but not Euro-centric... Developing this Indian contemporary aesthetic will necessarily involve engaging regional languages which we plan to do in a bigger way going forward”, said Ms. Majumdar.