The earliest Indian films have brought to the audience the perfect blend of intriguing storytelling and
“song-and-dance.” This culture has been carried forward ever since – a Bollywood film seems incomplete
without a dance sequence.
The effect of this culture can be seen throughout the pages of history. The ancient Indian texts – the Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana and Mahabharata have all been written in verses – to be sung, thus passing the wisdom and knowledge to the next generation. In fact, India’s first-ever sound film was chosen to be a musical. Evidently, the music and film industries have been entwined since the very beginning.
However, the younger generation considers the frequent breaking into song and dance a rigmarole –
completely unnecessary. Amused glances are shared in the theatre, mocking the impracticality of these
perfectly synchronized dances. At first glance, the “song-and-dance” seems to simply accelerate the
storyline and enhance the plot. They appear as nothing but accessories continuing the storytelling. It
captivates your attention, and for a moment, you find yourself in the character’s shoes, experiencing their joys, their sorrows. Often, romantic movies have made use of songs as a transition – depicting the lead characters slowly falling in love. They employ natural elements such as rain, coupled with the song being sung in verses by the actors, to bring to the viewers a story narrated through song and dance. If seen from the commercial perspective, the music acts as a financial boost. The music and songs are often released before the film itself, which allows the filmmakers to advertise efficiently.
Assuredly, music is a welcome reprieve from the ongoing tension in the film- a tune to go with the dance.
However, is there a hidden significance behind the song numbers?
Is there more than what meets the eye?
Occasionally, music has been used as an effective medium of protest – a means to raise one’s voice against social issues.
Mardaani was released in 2014 in the backdrop of the Nirbhaya case, emphasizing the crimes committed
against women. ‘Mardaani Anthem’ soon became popular – it was recognized as a source of inspiration for women; urging them to speak up.
Gully Boy’s ‘Azaadi’ expresses the resentment at the disparities in society and the anger and frustration
directed towards the over-exploitative nature of the privileged.
On expanding your view to the global effect, it is observed the impact of Bollywood films ripples not only
in the country but worldwide. Joseph Nye coined the term ‘soft power,’ which refers to a country’s ability
to direct other countries without compulsion. On the contrary, this power is deep-rooted in the appeal of
the country’s culture and political ideals. The Indian film industry has succeeded in creating an awareness of Indian culture through its movies. Bollywood has traversed the world – the music, dance and drama have allured new audiences, specifically the South American countries. Latin America, especially resonates with the customs and ideals portrayed in Bollywood films. This creates a sense of
companionship and goodwill towards India, which in turn, allows India to establish its political and
economic presence in countries that have felt the influence of Bollywood. It only proves that power is not
only wielded by weapons and force. Sometimes, it is expressed through song and dance.
The Bollywood songs and dances have become an integral part of any Indian film- something the viewers
have grown to expect. They are integral to the sustenance of a collective cultural as well as national
identity. However, over the past two decades, there has been a complete revolution in the role of song and dance numbers in Bollywood.
Certain modern films are utilizing song and dance to negatively influence the portrayal of women. These
depict women as mere objects of desire, reducing them to their physical appearance – the only purpose
being to provide a source of “entertainment” and increase the sales of the film.
Modern Bollywood dances seem disjointed from the film, in no way furthering the plot or connecting the viewer to the character. They perform the task of providing the movie with a commercial status. The song and dance sequence takes the form of a music video. It has the sole purpose of advertisement – circulation on television channels and social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube to increase the film value.
Despite the complications that may arise with time, song and dance sequences continue to hold within
them the power of visual and sentimental drama, bringing to life a character’s emotions. These evoke in
the viewer a sense of connection to the tradition and nation.
Lagaan, released in 2001 was nominated for the Academy Awards in 2002, and became instrumental in
changing the perception of the West regarding the frequent use of songs and dances in Bollywood.
RRR, released in 2022, was nominated for various awards, including the “Best Original Song” category in this year’s Oscars. Kunchacko Boban, an Indian film producer believes ‘Naatu Naatu’ has done wonders for the Indian film industry. It has successfully brought – through its energetic folk beats – its native culture to a global audience.
Clearly, this culture has earned a special place in Bollywood. The future of Indian cinema is irrevocably
associated to these song and dance sequences with wonderful songs and culturally rich descriptions.