Bollywood Dance Education:Kathak and Kathak-based bollywood dance

New to bollywood? So was I a year ago and the thing that stands out from exploring this world is the amazing variety of styles and the high-energy enthusiasm and love that pour out of every song and dance.  Bollywood dances of course, originated with the Hindi film musical and the early films seemed to draw mostly on the two main classical dance styles: Kathak, from the North and Bharata Natyam from the South.  So for your introduction to bollywood here are a couple of links to youtube videos that feature more classic films with Kathak classical dancing.. The first is pure Kathak featured in Satyajit Ray’s Chess Players. Saswati Sen is still dancing today. I’ve met her and taken a workshop or two with her.  She represents the finest of Kathak.  But you can see from her mime, that bollywood mime is reminiscent of this style – bollywood films just cheeze it up, which used to bother me but having seen the whole spectrum of bollywood I’ve come to deeply appreciate all its phases and “ham it up” quality. But anyway, here is your first educational link: Kathak Dance from Ray\’s Chess Players

Now we go to a famous movie and find a classic dance piece -

1960 Mugal E Azam – kind of rough Kathak but Madhubala is gorgeous and learned the dance style really fast and really well, considering.Piyaar Kiya To Darna Kya

Now we go to a movie made in 2005 called Mangal Pandey.  by the way this is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen in my life.   It’s not strictly a bollywood movie in the sense that it’s more serious and the dances are woven in extremely tastefully.  But the number “Mai Vari Vari” is bollywood dancing with a lot of Kathak moves in it. Rani Mukerjee is my current heroine.  And pun intended. Mai Vari Vari from Mangal Pandey (2005)

And here’s a version of the same song but mixed in with Madhuri Dixit – a name you should know – she’s revered by Ashwaria and Rani both. She is deeply trained in Kathak and her bollywood dance is exquisite because of her classiness, radiance and perfect clarity of line.  Mai Vari Vari

Another classic movie with Kathak dance in it is Umrao Jaan with Rekha.  A remake of it has Aishwarya Rai but here is a link to Rekha’s so you can see the historic progression: this is pretty pure Kathak; in fact I think the choreography was by my teacher’s teacher.  Kumidini Lakhia created a number of dances for this movie era.  Justju Jiski Thi.  I hear gungaroos in the background (ankle bells worn by Kathak dancers) that are much more intricate and do not correlate to her footwork – that means a more accomplished Kathak dancer is dancing the piece on the sound track.  Another feature of the genuine Kathak of the Moghul period portrayed in the film is that the dancer would actually have been singing.  Kathak dancers in those days sang as well. they also recited the “bols” or syllables that correspond to the tabla sounds.  These would be recited by the dancer.  Today the dancers are just mouthing the songs, not singing them, but you knew that, right?

Another is the movie Devdaas-famous for its amazing dances: Mar Dala from Devdaas with Madhuri Dixit.  This is a remake of the orginal.  I know there are other famous movies with Kathak dance.  Pakeezah is one. Feel free to send or post them! For a very complete list of the most famous, see Phil Lutgendorf’s site at

Next post will lead you into some bhangra and more bollywood dance!

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