Saturday, May 30, 2020

Street Dancer 3D: Review

The hidden cost of Prabhu Deva dancing is Prabhu Deva saying things. The owner of a London restaurant, he’s trying to get rival Indian and Pakistani dance crews to team up. “In physics, two negatives make a positive," he says. A point well taken, but Anna isn’t done. “In economics, it’s better to share profits than suffer losses alone. In moral science, we are told that united we stand, divided we fall. In history, the foreigners only left India once we all came together."

In screenwriting, this is called a Farhad Samji. In time, two-and-a-half hours were spent. In all honesty, after ABCD, ABCD 2 and this, I feel like I’ve seen enough Remo D’Souza dance films for one lifetime.

For Varun Dhawan to dance, family must suffer. Having performed for the memory of his departed mother in ABCD 2, he’s dancing for his injured brother in Street Dancer 3D. After the elder sibling takes a bad fall in the finale of a major dance tournament, Sahej vows to win it for him. He reassembles Street Dancers, a crew of Indian-origin dancers in London. Their rivals, the Pakistani-origin Rule Breakers, led by Inayat (Shraddha Kapoor), are eyeing the same prize. It’s all fun and games and competitive cricket-watching until the refugee crisis rears its head.

Late one night at Anna’s restaurant, Inayat finds out he’s been feeding immigrants from the subcontinent who live in a nearby tunnel. Sahej’s conscience is also under siege: four Punjabi musicians he brought to London under false pretences for a fee have fallen on hard times. It’s a strange feeling to go from breaking and twerking to homeless Indians and Pakistanis narrating their sad stories, but D’Souza is obviously moved by their plight, and by the charitable work of the Sikh Welfare & Awareness Team, who get a shout-out at the end. It’s an irony beyond the scope of this film concerned with the well-being of Indian immigrants abroad that it’s releasing as the country fights over the rights of immigrants in India.

As for the dancing itself, it’s expertly done and entirely boring. The joy of dance is replaced by the inaccessibility of gymnastics, the thrill of bodies in motion dulled by the monotony of choreography. To see Prabhu Deva perform a new version of “Muqabala" is to feel intensely nostalgic for the ‘90s, a time when dancing in Indian films was either impressive or terrible but wasn't presented with the seriousness of a military manoeuvre. At least the dancing is professional – the brief horror of Dhawan’s British accent is revenge for the Kohinoor.

Lesser movies offer advice; Street Dancer 3D offers advice that rhymes. “Confidence thrills, overconfidence kills," Anna informs Inayat. She in turn tells Sahej: “We dance to express, you dance to impress." This film exists neither to impress nor express but to oppress and distress.

This review appeared in Mint.

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