Monisha Bharadwaj

I am Monisha Bharadwaj. I was born in Mumbai, and that’s where I spent the first twenty years of my life. My parents found me dancing in front of the mirror, and took me at the age of four, I went to study with Guru Shri Kalyan Sundaram Pillai of Raj Rajeswari Bharata Natyam Kalamandir. And to this day I am his student. I have been with him for so many years and trained only with him. I haven’t moved from guru to guru.

I then came to the UK for academic reasons. I did my journalism and also pursued other things.

Very strangely, I was teaching only Bharata Natyam to begin with, and I was commissioned to do a young people’s production in Indian dance and I assumed it was Bharata Natyam and was very happy; started to work on that project. When about a month before we were due to start, the lady who was in charge, phoned me and said that we have seventeen young people who are booked onto the course and they’ve asked whether we can do Bollywood Dance. And my heart sort of took a huge big jump and came into my mouth, because I thought me, Bollywood? No, I am a traditionalist I do only Bharata Natyam. And for people who have probably grown up in India and trained in India you know that the distinction between Classical and Bollywood was a huge divide. When if you were a classical dancer, there was no way you would even admit to going and watching a Bollywood film, it was that sort of divide. Anyway, this lady asked me whether I would do a project in Bollywood, and I thought, OK, let me try. Firstly to find the energy within myself to do it and then to move, to actually crossover and say, right, this is where it opens up.

The first thing I have teach anyone is the hands. To me that’s very important. The arm shapes and getting everything to look very very elegant. I always like to remember the roots really. Film dance… when dance came into film, it was all classical. All the people who were dancing, the heroines, the choreographers, all of these people were classically trained. And if you look at Gopi Krishna’s dances, they were all based on Kathak. You did not have anything that did not look classical.

The great thing about Bollywood dance I think is that it is so accessible. The music is so accessible that anyone who watches this kind of dance wants to stand up and dance it as well. Well I personally use all styles. I’ve studied a bit of belly dance, I’ve studied a bit of salsa, disco… I mean everyone did, I mean I grew up in Mumbai, we all went to the disco every weekend. So all of those styles I would bring in. But I think when I choreograph, although I would bring in these influences, the main influence in all my work will be Bharata Natyam. It seems like a very glamorous style to do, and of course it’s very instant, which I think is one of the main things that our young people face today. Everything is very quick, everything is instant, you can learn a whole song in five weeks time, and you can perform it in six weeks time, whereas for Bharata Natyam, you know that in five weeks time you would just be doing Tatta Adavu probably.

In all my Bollywood dance classes I’ve always said that if you do not take from the classical tradition, you will not be the best Bollywood dancer that you can be. I mean even today if you look at all our good dancers in film, Madhuri Dixit-classically trained, Aishwarya Rai-classically trained. Everyone that you see. Meenakshi Sehadhri-classically trained. They were all very good dancers but all with a classical training and you can see it even in the Bollywood dance that they do which is not classically based, you can still see that they will have that influence come in, in terms of their posture, in terms of the way they hold their arms, in the way they use their eyes, because obviously that was one of the huge things in classical training, the way you project. And that will come in all these Bollywood dances, when they are being performed by someone who is classically trained.