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June 2002

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WINDOW ON UK/EUROPE

Bollywood dancing the rage in London

now the discovery of another India

By Subroto Mukherjee

GlobalomNet Media Service

 

‘’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?’’

 

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 tip-toed nakhra.
 
‘’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 do na…’’
 
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 Finchley.
 
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 ghastly song.
 
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.