Usha IyerSep 30, 2022
Choreographing Corporeal Histories of Hindi Cinema
Oxford University Press 2020
Dancing Women: Choreographing Corporeal Histories of Hindi Cinema (Oxford UP, 2020), an ambitious study of two of South Asia's most popular cultural forms ― cinema and dance ― historicizes and theorizes the material and cultural production of film dance, a staple attraction of popular Hindi cinema. It explores how the dynamic figurations of the body wrought by cinematic dance forms from the 1930s to the 1990s produce unique constructions of gender, sexuality, stardom, and spectacle. By charting discursive shifts through figurations of dancer-actresses, their publicly performed movements, private training, and the cinematic and extra-diegetic narratives woven around their dancing bodies, the book considers the "women's question" via new mobilities corpo-realized by dancing women.
Some of the central figures animating this corporeal history are Azurie, Sadhona Bose, Vyjayanthimala, Helen, Waheeda Rehman, Madhuri Dixit, and Saroj Khan, whose performance histories fold and intersect with those of other dancing women, including devadasis and tawaifs, Eurasian actresses, oriental dancers, vamps, choreographers, and backup dancers. Through a material history of the labor of producing on-screen dance, theoretical frameworks that emphasize collaboration, such as the “choreomusicking body” and “dance musicalization,” aesthetic approaches to embodiment drawing on treatises like the Natya Sastra and the Abhinaya Darpana, and formal analyses of cine-choreographic “techno-spectacles,” Dancing Women offers a variegated, textured history of cinema, dance, and music. Tracing the gestural genealogies of film dance produces a very different narrative of Bombay cinema, and indeed of South Asian cultural modernities, by way of a corporeal history co-choreographed by a network of remarkable dancing women.
Pratichi Priyambada is a Ph.D Candidate in the Department of History at the University of California, Irvine. She is broadly interested in histories of performance, gender and sexuality, and colonial law. She can be reached at @rhymingrhythm on Twitter.