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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Dance Tribute to Aishwarya

Film Flam Flummox

With the recent news that Indian film goddess Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is expecting her first child with husband Abhishek Bachchan, the impending blessed event also unfortunately means that arguably the best female dancer currently active in Bollywood will not be gracing the screen with her spectacular moves anytime soon. So let's take a look back at and savor some of my favorite dance numbers of hers over the years.

It was on one fateful day in the summer of 2002 when I made my first visit to my local Bollywood theatre, the Naz 8 Cinemas in Lakewood, completely unprepared for awaited me in the early minutes of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas, when the "Silsila Ye Chaahat Ka" number takes place. Rai has a classic star entrance to a flash of lightning, and any vague thoughts that such an introduction is overblown is immediately erased once she starts to effortlessly command the screen with her movement.

Rai's first collaboration with Bhansali was 1999's Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, and clearly he knew what a gift he had in her from the jump, giving her the terrific showcase that is the now-classic "Nimbooda."

1999 was a banner year for Rai, for that year she also starred in Subhash Ghai's Taal, which boasted one of A.R. Rahman's most memorable scores--which, of course, gave Rai ample opportunity to show what she could do, as in this oft-excerpted scene, "Ramta Jogi," featuring another West-familiar face, Anil Kapoor.

One of Rai's major strengths as a dancer is her amazing versatility. She is just as at ease doing classical dances such as "Nimbooda" as she is taking on more modern routines. Look at how easily and comfortably she slips into hip-hop swag (especially compared to her more obviously straining partner, Vivek Oberoi) in the great "No No" number from 2004's generally forgettable Kyun! Ho Gaya Na....

Just as easily as she can play a woman in charge as in that number, she can also be just as convincing playing fetchingly coquettish, never more in "Kannamoochi," from Rajiv Menon's enduringly popular 2000 Tamil language take on Sense and Sensibility, Kandukondain Kandukondain.

Rai has always been a sensual presence on film and a global sex symbol, but she never quite owned her screen sexuality in the way she did in the wildly popular "Crazy Kiya Re" from 2006's Dhoom:2. (I compare it to how Janet Jackson blossomed into full womanhood overnight with her iconic 1990 video for "Love Will Never Do (Without You).")

Not surprisingly, Rai is often called to do cameo appearances for item numbers in films--and often said songs not only become hits, but perhaps the best thing by which the films are remembered. Case in point: "Ishq Kamina," featuring Rai and Bollywood king Shahrukh Khan in their first (and, to date, only) screen appearance together after Devdas , from 2002's Shakthi: The Power.

Another Rai item song, "Kajra Re," has become an enduring hit, certainly helped by being from a box office success (2005's Bunty aur Babli), but perhaps most of all for having her dance alongside both future husband Abhishek and future father-in-law Amitabh.

One of her last huge pre-pregnancy dance showcases was in a truly historic, truly creative, truly insane film, the 2010 Tamil language science fiction actioner Enthiran: The Robot, where she got to shimmy alongside legendary South Indian "SuperStar" Rajnikanth in a multitude of contexts and (most of all) costumes, most memorably in the throwdown club number "Irumbile Oru."

But lest you think that the moves are all there is to Rai's dancing gift, it's also her ability to truly act and powerfully emote to the music. There is no more poignant, gut-wrenching example than this number from 2006's Umrao Jaan, "Pooch Rahe Hain," where the devastating tragedy of the title character's life cuts through even out of story context (and without subtitles--though they are provided here).

I can go on and on, but I will end this going full circle back to Devdas , and what is widely considered to be one of the greatest film dance numbers of recent years (if not ever): the spectacular "Dola Re Dola," where she and fellow Indian screen legend Madhuri Dixit create true cinema magic.

Revisiting these clips makes me all the more eagerly looking forward to her return to the screen. In the meantime, however--congratulations, Ash and Abhi!

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