The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tollywood sways to martial moves

After Asoka, it will be Aabar Aashbo Phire. Tollywood is set to match steps with the best in business. Sukalyan Bhattacharya, a Toronto-based choreographer, is introducing thang-ta movements in a Bengali feature film. And soon to follow in another project will be Flamenco, trotting in for the first time in this part of the world.

The Manipuri martial arts form will add spring to the strides of Saswata and Koninika, enacting roles of freedom-fighters in a pre-Independence setting. “The Nachiketa number will be picturised on a host of patriots training for an assault on the British. The beat is also very fast, which made me think of vigorous movements,” says the disciple of Guru Bipin Singh and Kalavati Devi.

Bhattacharya, who is in town to research thang-ta on a Charlmers Performing Arts Training grant from Ontario Council, is doing extensive work with thang-ta exponent Guru Ranjeet. “The form is actually a tribal way of war. I am using some movements and fusing them into a dance form,” he points out.

The choreographer is a regular fixture on the North American cultural calendar with productions like Nuraldeen’s Lifetime in Off Broadway, New York, Samsaria, an adaptation of Hamlet, (which won the Sterlington Award in Alberta) and Chutta Watan, a show in Chicago with Ustad Sultan Khan, Ustad Ashis Khan and Sivamani, to his credit. And he has not seen Asoka, though he is “curious” to find out how Priti Patel had used the form with Shah Rukh and Kareena.

The film has another Shah Rukh conection. The producer, Ravi Ojha, had brought the actor to the small screen in Wagle ki Duniya. Acclaimed for his ventures on prime time television like Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Saboot and Chhoti si Baat, he has already made a foray in Tollywood with the hit serial Ek Akasher Nichey.

Ojha claims he is pumping in “five times the budget of an average Bengali feature film” to ensure technical finesse. “People here are starved of quality productions. If I can give them a good film, they will surely appreciate it,” he says.

While shooting starts in end-March, Saswata and Koninika are already hard at work on the unfamiliar routine.

Once thang-ta is out of the way, Bhattacharya will get going with Sharad Kapoor and Rituparna Sengupta for Kalo Cheeta. “The director, Satarupa Sanyal, has asked me for a five-minute piece with a Mexican flavour. I plan to bring in Flamenco as it has South American roots,” says the choreographer, who returns to Toronto at the month-end. “I will sit with my Mexican dancer-friends and come up with the composition before I return next month,” he says.

Will this trigger off a trend to use serious dance forms in Bengali films' Mamata Shankar thinks not. But she welcomes the venture. “Bollywood blindly imitates the West and films here imitate them. Such is the state of affairs here. If someone comes forward to use our styles in experimental ways and if the result is good, the effort is definitely to be encouraged,” says the danseuse, who choreographed the moves in Tapan Sinha’s film Safed Haathi and worked on one song for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas before dropping out due to a clash of dates.

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