In the 1990s when Bollywood was still a dirty word, Indipop was not, and A.R. Rahman was an oddity that people weren’t sure quite what to make of, Ken Ghosh was king. Back then music video channels would actually bother to credit a video’s director at the start and end of a song (Hey, better yet, they actually played music back then. No, really!) and it was only a matter of time before you’d notice that every second music video — and especially the good ones — all had the same name attached to them.
For what now seems like a short few years between the rise of Indipop in the early 90s and its eventual succumbing to a herd of kitsch movie song remix albums, Ken Ghosh brought a real sense of energy, and fun to Indian pop culture. His videos were never highbrow, high-concept art, but humorous, endearing little nuggets that bore plenty of repeat viewing. It was a tiny industry with a handful of artists, and yet, it didn’t seem to get stale until after his work was lost in the glut of bhangra and item songs that followed.
It took a while for Ghosh to make the inevitable shift to movie direction, and his 2003 debut Ishq Vishk was a similarly frothy, easygoing high school romance straight out of Archie comics, but delivered with the same simple charm that Ghosh had brought to his videos. His second film Fida was bigger and bolder, but the less said about it the better.
And now Ghosh and the leading man of all his films, Shahid Kapur, is back, with Chance Pe Dance.
Chance Pe Dance may present itself as the journey of a young struggling actor in the big bad world of Bollywood, but don’t let the similarities between this and last year’s Luck By Chance fool you: Ken Ghosh’s film is more Bollywood than Bollywood exposé.
It’s hard not to draw comparisons though. In this film too we are presented with a young out-of-towner with stars in his eyes and dreams of making it big in Mumbai. But while Luck By Chance took that idea and turned it into a warts-and-all look at the manipulations & egos of the Bollywood system, Chance Pe Dance turns itself into a celebration of… a work ethic?
Yes, you heard me right. The plot skips along here and there with little regard for conventional structure; one minute it’s about rising stars, the next it’s a School of Rock-esque kid fest, and then there’s Reality TV, competition angle. But the thread that ties it all together is Shahid Kapur’s character, Sameer Behl, a struggler like hundreds of others, but while he gets hurt at being rejected and overlooked by the powers that be, he soldiers on. At no point does he rue his fate as the greatest talent the world has yet to discover (which, as I recall, nearly every character in Luck By Chance did at some point — even the successful ones); and when he does break down it’s a bit of reassurance and direction he seeks, not an elevator ride to the top floor of life.
It’s a strange, subtle, and welcome change from the norm. Sameer Behl understands that the universe doesn’t revolve around him, that success is as much about sticking to it and just, well, dancing when you have a chance, as it is some twist of fate and the magnetism of your talent. In that sense, it’s actually a bit more realistic than Luck By Chance — there are no villains here, no eerily sinister renditions of Karan Johar and Shah Rukh Khan welcoming up-and-comers into the fold, no bitter starlets crying about their Art.
If all of this sounds a bit too earnest, then you’re right. I did say the film is quite old school Bollywood, and it works in Chance Pe Dance‘s favour. People do break into song at the drop of a hat, and parents do disapprove of their children’s glamorous ambitions only to encourage them tearfully later. It’s all par for the course, and while it’s not smartly written or very inventive, Chance Pe Dance is an entertaining movie. It’s an endearing movie. Why, it’s positively Kenghoshian.
And its easygoing Ken Ghosh-fueled charm is exactly what allows one to overlook its raft of problems. It’s haphazardly plotted and structured. The lighting is often lovely, but the camerawork and editing is almost always not-quite-right. The songs are bad or unmemorable, and the climactic dance routine set to the hilarious Phallic Anthem ‘Pump it Up!’ is — to drive an already overdone metaphor home — a bit limp. Shahid Kapur is a gifted dancer, and an effortless actor now, and he’s as solid and reliable as ever. Genelia D’Souza, on the other hand, is unpolished and odd and very, very un-filmi — and I like that!
There’s so many things fundamentally wrong and broken with Chance Pe Dance, but I find myself ignoring or accepting all of them. Because it’s fun to see a twenty-storey high Shahid Kapur dance around Mumbai streets, even if the effects work is a bit spotty. It’s fun when Genelia asks, “You want to be my fraaaand?” with exactly the kind of non-filmi delivery that makes sure the joke sails over most people’s heads. Even the straightest man in the world will at least be entertained by the repeated episodes of Shahidporn we are treated to, because even shirtless and pop-and-locking to jarring tunes, he’s somehow more likable than his more famous contemporaries.
Chance Pe Dance went through problems that many movies do not have to face. Halfway through filming they replaced their lead actress (Jiah Khan) with another and re-shot a good deal, and maybe the film is not exactly what the makers had in mind when starting out. But by being simple, straightforward, and yes, even being filmi, it manages to do the one thing that more artistically-minded — or commercially-minded — films do not: it makes you like it.
It’s a 1990s Ken Ghosh music video. And that was never a bad thing.