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Director Duane Adler talks about his upcoming dance film Heartbeats

Duane Adler, creator of  the Step Up series and Save The Last Dance, says his crossover dance film is more than just a Bollywood hangover

Creator of the Step Up series, Duane Adler is trying to recreate a romantic sunset scene on the sets of his crossover dance film at a five-star in Powai. "So, we have the sunlight go through a red saree, and fall over the hands of the couple, like the rays of a perfect sunset," he explains to us. The movie, Heartbeats, which stars Tamil star Amitash and American dancer Krystal Ellsworth (who has been a back-up dancer for Justin Bieber), is slated for a Spring 2017 release.

A still from Heartbeats
A still from Heartbeats

It’s the tale of a troubled dancer who comes to India for a wedding and falls in love a boy completely unlike her. It would seem like Adler has a knack for making stories about dysfunctional characters from varied backgrounds falling in love, with dance as the backdrop. Save the Last Dance was about a white girl who moves to an African American school and learns hip hop; and Step Up about a delinquent boy who finds love and his passion at a dance school.

Duane Adler on set in Powai. Pic/sameer markande
Duane Adler on set in Powai. Pic/Sameer Markande

"When the makers of Save the Last Dance came to me, I was like ‘this is my story’. As a kid, I had moved from North Carolina to Washington, where I was the only white boy in school." Both movies went on to become huge hits. The 46-year-old filmmaker’s love for dance comes from growing up in the 80s when "MTV actually played music videos that were like motion pictures". It was this exposure to Michael Jackson, Madonna and Duran Duran that made Adler want to try his hand at a dance movie. "Also, dance is the best form of non-verbal communication. And, universally hopeful."

He first came to India three years ago to learn a bit more about the country. "I had made a dance movie about an American boy and an Asian girl falling in love in New York, but I wanted to really explore a culture with dance as a big part of it. And so India it was." His first exposure to Bollywood, he says, came with Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge, "He said in an interview that he was trying to emulate Bollywood, and I got curious, and I became a student, and the first movie I saw was Om Shanti Om, and then I thought ‘I get it now’." He does say that he knows the difference between "Bollywood" dancing and "Indian" dances. "I know, I know. When I was briefing my choreographers, I asked them if they had watched the videos of people doing the Bollywood dance on Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. I don’t want that! Give me folk, show me something different. I didn’t set out to make a Bollywood movie, but a movie for the rest of the world using that influence," he says.

The music, composed by Jay Z’s Roc Nation, is again a fusion of Indian and western beats. But, how will he make sure his crossover, which also has a wedding as a backdrop, doesn’t end up being a cliché? "I haven’t watched many crossover movies but I have tried to make a movie that will appeal to Americans back home. It’s showcasing the best of India without stereotyping it.

Even if you take out dance from it, it will still be a great movie." Ask him his opinion of the recent controversy over Coldplay’s new song and he says diplomatically, "I don’t want to criticise as I love Coldplay and Beyoncé, but I do think a Deepika Padukone could have played the actress in the video. In our movie, we have tried to represent an India that’s young and relevant." Before we say goodbye, we ask him about the origins of the Shanti (in Hindi) tattoo on his forearm and he smiles serenely. "Well, I am a closet Buddhist and I meditate every day, and I didn't want to write peace! So, I did some research and before I came to India, got a tattoo done in LA. My tattoo artist actually asked me ‘are you sure it doesn’t mean pizza!’ I sure hope it doesn’t."

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