So many D words, so little time! Didi, downward-facing dog, and driver, to name a few. Few words capture a foreigner’s imagination more than dancing. Dancing is a quintessentially Bollywood trope. The trope is so common that many US TV shows with Indian characters have parodied the dance sequences. Take this example from Big Bang Theory.
When foreigners think of Bollywood dance sequences, Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire comes to mind.
This end sequence by AR Rahman is not a typical Bollywood number, however. Most songs occur within the main structure of the movie, often in dream sequence format in locations completely unrelated to the plot. Although they often reflect a character’s journey through the movie, the dances sometimes happen at unexpected moments, like in the middle of a big car chase sequence. Conventional wisdom dictates that a Bollywood film without a dance number will not succeed at the box office.
Even an action film like Ra.One, starring Shahrukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor, is interrupted by a full-scale dance sequence. This song includes a mix of English and Hindi, reflecting the character’s location in London.
This song, Balam Pichkari, from Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, starring Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone, is set during a Holi party.
As a general rule, however, Indians don’t spontaneously burst into choreographed dance sequences, even at parties. Often, dancing occurs within the context of Hindu festivals. For example, during Navratri, boys and girls often dance the dandiya. This dance, which includes the colorful dandiya sticks, honors the goddess Durga and Lord Krishna.
For more on song and dance in Bollywood, check out this article.