ABCD: Any Body Can Dance: Film Review

ABCD: Any Body Can Dance Press Still - H 2013
UTV Disney

ABCD: Any Body Can Dance Press Still - H 2013

India’s first 3D dance film captures all that’s great about this unique Bollywood art form.

Director Remo D’Souza directs the Indian dance film which counts among its stars "So You Think You Can Dance" finalist Lauren Gottlieb.

For the film snob, Hindi films are an easy target — due in part to the medium’s uniquely nepotistic and networking-driven hierarchy.  This year alone, the screen has been populated by so many sons, daughters and boyfriends of industry leaders that one could be forgiven for assuming that talent was dead — that is, until the arrival of ABCD: Any Body Can Dance.

India’s first 3D dance film is exuberant, upbeat and overflowing with music. It not only celebrates the potential of unknowns but also launches the country’s best-known dancer and choreographer, the phenomenally talented Prabhudeva, onto a world stage.

Business has been brisk for the film in India, though its release outside the country, as it is mostly limited to 3D theaters, may curtail profits overseas.

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Prabhudeva (now known as a director as well, with the hit comic action films Wanted and Rowdy Rathore) plays Vishnu, a gifted dance teacher thrown out of Mumbai’s top school. With nothing to lose, Vishnu assembles a jumble of street dancers with the aim of overcoming their individual limitations to compete on India’s top dance show, Dance Dil Se (Dance from the Heart).

Director Remo D’Souza — another noted choreographer, best known as a judge on the Indian reality TV show Dance India Dance — has populated ABCD’s cast with some of that show’s top dancers, such as the firebrand Dharmesh Yelande (as “D”) and heartthrob Salman Yusuff Khan, and channeled their energies into believable performances.

American dancer Lauren Gottlieb, a finalist on Season 3 of FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance, does an impressive job speaking Hindi in her role as Rhea, Jehangir’s star pupil who defects to Vishnu’s team when Jehangir paws her during a rehearsal.

However, another top choreographer cast in the film, the rotund yet graceful Ganesh Acharya, doesn’t fare as well; and paradoxically the castmember with the most acting experience under his belt, K.K. Menon, turns in an embarrassingly overwrought performance as Jehangir Khan, the villainous head of a rival dance academy.

D’Souza, marking his second feature film after the ill-fated college comedy F.A.L.T.U., plays it safe within the conventions of dance films and their well-loved clichés, such as the kid whose father wants him to follow the family business (in this case, running a halal butcher shop) instead of following his dreams, or another character’s drug problem.

D’Souza makes good use of 3D, as characters seemingly toss red chilis out from the screen, throw brightly colored powders, and fill up the space with their writhing bodies. The duo Sachin-Jigar contributes a propulsive contemporary score.

Above all, this is a film about dance. The long and impressively mounted numbers include a massive crowd scene at a colorful Ganesh festival, several pieces set onstage at the competition, and most memorably, an impassioned performance by Yelande, as D’s rage at his father is matched by a spontaneous thunderstorm that leads to one of the best scenes in the film: an anguished dance on a rainy Mumbai side street.

But it is Prabhudeva who stands out, at first as a teacher sworn to discipline and honor, and later with a compelling and charismatic solo dance number. In contrast to his flashy students, Prabhudeva sports a somewhat scruffy beard, drab clothes and a haircut that makes absolutely no statement at all — yet he manages to be the coolest man alive.

Opened: Feb. 8, 2013 (UTV Disney)

Production company: UTV

Cast: Prabhu Deva, Kay Kay Menon, Ganesh Acharya, Salman Yusuff Khan, Dharmesh Yelonde, Lauren Gottlieb

Director: Remo D’Souza

Screenwriter: Tushar Hiranandani

Producers: Sidharth Roy Kapur, Ronnie Screwvala

Visual effects supervisor:

Director of photography: Vijay Kumar Arora

Production designer: Aparna Sud

Costume designers: Moiz Kapadia, Dipti Mhatre

Songs: Sachin-Jigar

Choreographer: Remo D’Souza

Editor: Manan Sagar

Unrated, 145 minutes