An attempt to cash in on interest in rising sitar wunderkind Anoushka Shankar, who also happens to be Ravi’s daughter, English-lingo “Dance Like a Man” is too short and slapdash for Hindi tastes, too baroquely soapy for Westerners. Pic is likely to waltz into dance-minded fests and DVD players, and that’s about it.
The younger Shankar is appealing, in a pandit-next-door sort of way (she also looks a lot like her half-sister, singer Norah Jones), but she’s unfailingly wooden in her thesping debut as Lata, the only child of aging dancers who spend their time reminiscing about their younger, better days.
Said parents, Ratna and Jairaj (played by Shobana and Arif Zakaria), look only about a decade older than their daughter — albeit with makeup that makes them appear as if they haven’t been getting much sleep. A number of flashbacks show the difficulty, early in their marriage, of convincing Jairaj’s father (the believable Mohan Agashe) — a liberal politician but a domestic reactionary — that it was OK for them both to pursue a life in dance. Groomed to follow in father’s footsteps, it was bad enough for Jairaj to do something so unmanly, but the classical dance style called Bharatnayam was kept alive mainly through the art of temple prostitutes. So when Ratna is found taking lessons from an older woman, papa reads the riot act. In a nicely shaded development, he eventually softens his position, with the upshot that Ratna is allowed to follow her career, while Jairaj, in a “Star is Born” twist, is eclipsed by his wife.
Both later put their putatively middle-aged hopes on Lata, who is about as fluid as a Hindu statue come to life. Certainly, she pales in every comparison to young veteran Shobana, a large-eyed beauty who excels at dance, bitchy comedy and melodrama. Things build to a big, heart-squashing revelation about a previous child’s death from opium poisoning. Also lingering in the shadows is Samir Soni, as Lata’s blow-dried businessman b.f., a straight-arrow with no interest in her career and no comprehension of her parents’ life.
On the plus side, all the leads speak English, slipping into Hindi on occasion, with clarity and natural casualness — something helped by unusual use of direct sound instead of reverb-laden dubbing.
Exterior lensing, in Bangalore region, is only so-so, but dance scenes — choreographed by Shobana and Rama Vaidyanathan — are sumptuously staged and shot. Oddly, given artsy theme, pic is rife with product placement, right down to a close-up of the logo of a bright-red car that keeps showing up in center frame.
Pic was adapted from Mahesh Dattani’s play, successfully mounted in London and New Delhi by helmer Pamela Rooks, who used to be married to Yank innovator Conrad Rooks (for whom the elder Shankar composed several scores). Rooks seems far more interested in aesthetic and historical aspects of the tale, so it’s too bad she didn’t downplay the throwaway meller aspects.