There are any number of ways by which one can make oneself look stupid in public.
God knows that I have attempted almost all of them. From giving grand speeches to an auditorium full of nobody (those in the dais were also comfortably dozing and I had to end the speech by clapping to myself) to being a guest of honour at humour club meets (where they gather around you and start laughing uncontrollably) to eating Italian salad with chopsticks (the guy at the next table ended up with more food on his plate). Ok, you get the drift: I am a gifted expert in making a silly ass of myself especially in front of others.
And last week, I outdid myself and ended up looking a champion dork.
But I blame the whole fiasco to the same New Year spirit, typically the period when all the IQ cells of human beings generally go on a long vacation. It is the season in which people, to ring in the New Year in great style and fun, start drinking so much that many of them are known to wake up from their stupor not on the New Year morning but sometime in February.
In my personal case, I didn’t need the bankable support of liquor, I cut a sorry figure by the dint of my own even more reliable stupidity.
I tried my hand at dancing. Now I understand that might have been the problem, I should have tried my feet at it. On that night of New Year eve, I also realised dancing is an art that requires skill.
But I bet this was not the case in the 1960s, especially when MGR was ruling the roost in Tamil films. Dancing, in those uncomplicated times, was defined as running and sprinting.
MGR, in that song in Anbe Vaa (Puthiya Vanam…), was not so much jiving as much as competing with Usain Bolt. If MGR had not bothered to shake his head and wave his arms alongside, it is most likely that he was the first person to have been part of choreographed cross-country run.
Across meadows and valleys, across alley ways and train tracks, and even across cities and States, MGR zipped along on his foot with boundless energy. It is quite conceivable that movie-making was shifted out of studios in those days just to keep pace with MGR’s hot-footing methods.
It was not plain vanilla of aimless runs always. Sometimes, MGR, when the fancy caught up with him, also hopped energetically on one leg as if he was attempting an eager practice routine for an amateur hopscotch contest. MGR had the same easy grace of the kangaroos under attack in the Australian outback.
But it was not MGR alone. There were the likes of Muthuraman and Ravichandran, who were absolute experts in routines that were called as dance because it would have been impolite to call them ‘haphazard movement of random body parts’. Ravichandran in particular has built a huge and body of work (in film dance) which no self-respecting choreographer would like to associate his name with.
But you cannot be unduly critical of Ravichandran. Because he was part of the period during which the height of dancing artistry was defined by the ‘twist’. Now this was one shimmying ritual that must have been conceived by someone who was shivering in his pants involuntarily in freezing conditions.
The twist, to describe it in simple terms, was to writhe and squirm the body with unabashed unease even while doing sit-ups. The twist is a highly recommendable routine to all those trying to loosen their bowels. Come to think of it, MGR had a reason to run after the twist —- he was probably sprinting to find the nearest toilet.
For all his virtuosity in looking silly, Ravichandran is no match for Rajnikanth who has as much ability in dance as does an hippopotamus in labour pain. Put it simply, even a person enduring an epileptic fit has a better chance of looking artistic than Rajni going through his dance motions. Naturally, Tamil cinema braintrusts don’t even blink in casting such a talent as a dancing and singing sensation.
Most memorably in the film Thangamagan, Rajni was pitted in a bopping competition with Poornima Bhagyraj. Now the lady, even though she was far from qualifying for the adjectives ‘svelte’ and ‘lissome’, could have just turned up and done nothing, and that would have been good enough to beat Rajni in the contest. But the hero had to win in that pulsating duel of music and moves. After all, this was a Tamil movie. Anyway, the battle reaches a fever pitch, with the heroine matching the hero in every step and style. But our hero has one final killer sashay that can brook no response from the heroine: He yanks out his shirt and spirals it away in a jubilant joust to an accompanying crescendo. The heroine is crestfallen and is unable to come up with a fitting riposte. Game, set and match to the hero.
Yes, undressing officially became a dancing routine with that film. And we have to thank Rajni for that. With any other hero, the choreographer would have at least attempted some arbitrary bodily jerks. With Rajni he couldn’t have taken any chances. Hence he conceived the soulful artistry as represented by the unbuttoning of the shirt.
I think dance had not fully recovered after that mauling it took. Ok, I personally tried to revive it this New Year eve by breaking out into an impromptu jig and shook my legs and many other things at a bash organised at our place. To cut a long story short, my effort was so unbearable that by the end even time squirmed and twisted to a totally different decade.
MGR was perhaps right in running away.