the discovery of another India
Ekta is so fond of Bollywood dances and I am so fond for
her,’’ says a mum in the gallery. ‘’She is just dancing in
front of TV every day. She watches every film.’’ Ekta is
seven, like Janaki. ‘’She used to be a classical kathak
dancer,’’ says Janaki’s mum in the gallery. ‘’But she
did not like it. You know all that instrumental and classical, so
boring. So she moved to this. Bit more interesting, no?’’
It’s exam time now, and junior class of four to
seven-year-olds is ready. Girls
mostly, but three boys too. They’re standing in three neat rows,
weight on left foot, right foot to the back resting on those tiny toes.
The examiners are looking, pens above mark sheets, eyes on the students.
For a whole term Honey Kalaria and her assistants have taught them to
dance to ‘’Bole churiya, bole kangana…lejja lejja’’. Now
let’s see who gets how many stars. And who gets picked for the big
show on the weekend.
Some 20 mums and a dad are sitting to a side in the meeting hall of the
Methodist church in north London where Honey gives lessons, and takes
exams, in Bollywood dancing. ‘’Now who will tell me the five things
you will get stars for?’’ she asks. Plenty of hands go up. Between
them they’ve got it. Smiles, Energy, Sharp Moves, Timing, Classical
Hands. Honey starts to sort out the exam music. Pooja, 6, comes up for a
big hug from mum. ‘’Go beta, don’t be nervous.’’
The song begins. The children put on that look of aching romance and
begin to push hips that aren’t there towards a lover who isn’t
there. The mums are looking with pride at that premature lachak and
‘’My Ekta is so fond of Bollywood dances and I am so fond for
her,’’ says a mum in the gallery. ‘’She is just dancing in front
of TV every day. She watches every film.’’ Ekta is seven, like
Janaki. ‘’She used to be a classical kathak dancer,’’ says
Janaki’s mum in the gallery. ‘’But she did not like it. You know
all that instrumental and classical, so boring. So she moved to this.
Bit more interesting, no?’’
The exam ends, and it’s exam time for the next class, the
eight-to-twelves, and then for the teen-agers. And now the church hall
is packed. If that hall could ever attract that many Christians, England
would be another country. The exam has to be done in batches, the church
hall just isn’t big enough for the Bollywood dancers.
Their syllabus is ‘’Keh do na, keh do na, you are my sonia.’’
Honey is offering some last-minute lessons. ‘’Okay, let’s do a
sharp U with the bottom,’’ she tells the teenagers, a couple of
males included. They follow Honey’s U-turns. ‘’To-the-left and
to-the-right and nice-and-neat and punch-punch-punch and keh do na, keh
To the side the mums are reflecting on what Honey has brought to the
lives of their children. ‘’It helps mine practice the language also
you know,’’ says one. ‘’It’s nice to go to the films and learn
this dancing,'' says another. When we came here there was not that much
of our culture. These days we feel so confident to talk about it.’’
Another mum sees safety in Honey’s world. ‘’Otherwise there are
too many distractions for young girls in this country, you know,’’
she says. This way the girls have fun in ways their parents know about
and ‘’in a cultural sort of way. ’’With time and luck the girls
will become good dancers -- and dance their way to goodness.
Exams over, Honey has an announcement. ‘’Okay, now who wants to be
in a Bollywood film?’’ Every hand shoots up. She might well have
asked who wants to be in a Bollywood film again. At least ten girls in
the room were either in Mohabbatein or K3G in some group dance or other.
We don’t like Bollywood, we are Bollywood. These must be the world’s
proudest extras, happy enough to swell a scene or two.
The mums are counting their blessings, and Honey’s success. Honey
Kalaria began with just 22 students a few years back. She now has more
than 700 at centres around London. Fee 75 pounds a term. Into three
terms a year into 700 students. Not nice money if you’re not the one
making it. ‘’Minting,’’ says a mum in the unhappy way in which
you always say ‘’minting’’. And the Bollywood shows are extra.
‘’We’re the only company that lets Bollywood have its sets here in
Britain,’’ says Honey Kalaria, now that she’s done her day’s
work. ‘’Honey’s Dance Academy provided 900 extras, dancers and
artists for K3G. For Mohabbatein we provided 300 artists, including
about 20 to 30 dancers.’’ Think of the cost, she says, ‘of flying
in so many extras from India.’’
Scotland sets the scene, Honey fills in the people, all you need to fly
over from Bombay are the stars and the crew. The students are doubly
happy to be in a film. And Honey is doubly rich – or more –
supplying extras and dancers for Bollywood films being made in Britain.
Seeing how many of those there are now, Honey is looking at happy days
ahead. In Bollywood style she does not take all the credit. ‘’I’m
grateful to God,’’ she says with a quick glance towards the ceiling.
Now that Bollywood has come to her, Honey is getting into a new act. She
has the second lead role in Indian Babu, directed by Lawrence d’Souza.
‘’The one who made Saajan with Madhuri Dixit and Salman Khan,’’
she says. But she’s not giving up her Honey Dance Academy for a career
in acting. It’s too good a business to give up. Besides, she says she
loves Bollywood dancing. ‘’It has speed, it has expression. Not too
traditional, not too westernised. And it has to do with India.’’
That matters to Honey who grew up in Malawi in East Africa and had to
travel to India for dancing lessons.
Honey Kalaria and her assistants teach Bollywood dancing at seven
centres in London. And these are early days. ‘’I have offers already
from the US to start dance academies there,’’ she says. ‘’Five
years from now I’ll be doing something very big. I’ll have
franchises worldwide. There will be 200 branches all over the
world.’’ One day the big annual show will bring the best of London,
New York and Toronto. But this weekend it will be Harrow, Ilford and
The show is sold out. The entrance is past Honey posters that give a
money back guarantee that she can teach ‘’dialogue delivery,
emotion, voice projection, observational skills, mime, improvisation,
diction, Hindi language, body language and much much more.’’ There
are photographs with Amitabh Bachchan and Govinda, and with her students
(caption: Honey with her lucky lucky sprogs).When she wasn’t dancing
or teaching dance, Honey got herself a degree in psychology and PR.
The show starts with two giant Indian flags dancing on to stage to a
disco version of Vande Mataram. Behind one are the lehnga choli girls,
with a little more space between lehnga and choli than the VHP would
like. The other is the hipster lot, but also so Indian, see. The dance
ends with the girls holding up the flags. One is the wrong way up, but
these are British girls really, and they mean well.
Dance teams come on one after the other. They call themselves all sorts
of names; Envy, King’s Crew (from King’s College), Masti, Sahelis,
Sens-Asians, Tempt-Asians. Many, too many, dance to that ‘’keh do
na, keh do na’’. What would a generation have done without that
The applause of the day goes to eight-year-old Krupa Amin, whose lehnga
threatened to come off until she grabbed it to perfect timing. And then
there’s Sunny Patel, billed as the 12-year-old veteran of 200 shows
who everyone says almost got a role in K3G. He dances in crimson
trousers, a silver shirt and dark glasses on the tip of his nose.
With solos in between, group after group shows off what they’ve learnt
from Honey. At the end there are prizes for almost everyone. The most go
to students from Harrow, where Jawaharlal Nehru was once a student. This
is now the discovery of another India.