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If you ask me which is India’s best dance film, without a moment’s hesitation I’d say Kamal Haasan’s Salangai Oli (Sagara Sangamam in Telugu). It is the best dance drama not just because of the terrific performances of its star cast and the well-choreographed classical dance pieces. But, mainly because the film had a very strong and hard-hitting plot which was handled by veteran director K Viswanath with the skill of a remarkable tragedian. In the 21st century, we are yet to see a meaningful dance film like Salangai Oli.
Influenced by Hollywood Step Up series, we have had a series of modern-day dance films that were mostly devoid of meaningful plot or real emotions. Films like Raghava Lawrence’s Style, which is loud and unintelligent, and ABCD series, which are flashy and melodramatic, make for dance films these days. The filmmakers presume that the audience will be magnanimous enough to overlook the absence of an engaging story and screenplay as long as the films have a slew of good dance performances.
It is as if the filmmakers don’t know how to make a dance film anymore without tropes like a top dance competition. Or the vested interests planning an accident to prevent the protagonist from taking part in the finals.
Director AL Vijay’s dance film Lakshmi falls into the same trap. Just to ensure that the audience doesn’t leave the auditorium at the halftime, he has cleverly written the story around children. And he has been more clever in picking the cast, which is made up of mainly adorable and supremely talented children.
Lakshmi (Ditya Bhande) was born a dancer so much so that she busts into a dance hearing a mobile ringtone. Her mother Nandini (Aishwarya Rajesh) is against letting her pursue her passion. Why? Because she holds the art of dance responsible for her lost love. How come? The director doesn’t really try to explain it for he knows that would sound very foolish. Vijay doesn’t really explain everything for the audience. He throws hints at us and asks us to take a guess. While his clues are very easy to crack, what really puzzles us is the logical gaps in them.
Nandini, for example, hates dance because she hates Krishna (Prabhudheva). She hates Krishna because…he got into an accident? Vijay himself seems to understand that he has no convincing plot and there is no point to dwell on it. Hence, he keeps the spotlight on the kids leaving the responsibility to sustain the entire film on their cuteness and awe-inspiring talent.
We are treated with one dance piece after another set in different styles until the end. And the kids do an outstanding job in entertaining us. There is also a love triangle between Lakshmi and two of her fellow dancers. One of the boys, who is crushing on Lakshmi, is ‘healthy’. But, he is a real charmer and one of the two surprises in the film. Vijay plays up the point that great dancers come in all shapes and sizes.
If there were to make a movie today on the life of dance master Ganesh Acharya, the kid will be just perfect to play young Ganesh. And the second surprise was a dance number sans music.
In spite of all the goodness supplied by the kids, the film does not even try to be anything more than a bunch of well-choreographed dance performances.
If the audience wants to see a bunch of lovable kids dancing their heart out, they can do it in the comfort of their homes. There are countless number of television shows that are built around emerging dancing talents. Not surprisingly, Vijay even found Lakshmi’s lead actor Ditya Bhande from one such talent show.