Bangkok Bollywood

You know those impromptu dance routines that seem to break out at the drop of a hat in every Bollywood movie ever made? Whenever I see these silly spectacles, in the back of my mind, I’m always hoping that their elaborate choreography and coordinated steps and notes are all improvised, but that a certain Hindu magic keeps the whole thing together. The many arms of Vishnu guide the players like marionettes and no strings ever get tangled.

Unfortunately, that not-totally-believed illusion of mine was shattered last night amidst the Khao San Road Friday night party. Out for a wander, the usual bizarre bohemian hubbub of the road had additional participants. With a crowd of onlookers surrounding them, a somewhat bedraggled man and better-kept woman were learning dance steps from three choreographers. The Indian man wore a black patterned shirt that was presentable enough, but then his jeans were ratty and full suggesting that they may have only been shooting him from the waist up.

But given the footwork they had to learn, I’m guessing a full-body shot or two would make the cut – why learn to wriggle your foot a little bit if no one will see it? The woman wore more traditional Indian garb and was causing a lot of folks to stop and stare. When the cameras weren’t rolling, she looked hot and bored, but when the director counted down, she beamed and took on a zealous, flirty smile shot straight into the camera.

I haver no idea why they were shooting on Khao San Road at the busiest time of the week or if I was watching Indian film history in the making – maybe this was going to wind up being India’s Citizen Kane… the musical version. Really, I know next to nothing about what was going on here and I suspect I never will. That doesn’t dampen how silly it all was.

Watching take after take of a three-second dance move, (many of the predictably ridiculous), just ruined that image of India being a land where you better be prepared to participate in an extravagant dance pageant at any moment. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a bed in Mumbai while hauling two big backpacks around – when the feeling hits, you’re going to have to drop everything and strut your stuff.

No, watching two practiced actors attempt relatively simple moves only confirmed that dozens of Indians never really do suddenly communicate with each other in improvised dance and song. If they tried to, carnage would ensue. The papers would speak of the piles of broken bodies. The government would run public service announcements warning against the dangers of spontaneous cabaret shows. The people would live in fear that the song in their hearts would reach their feet and all those around them would be doomed.

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