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How the dancing divas of Bollywood evolved over the years...

But a trend that started many years ago is still flourishing, with several mainstream actresses in recent times opting to put on their dancing shoes to shake their booty to peppy, foot-tapping music. 

Kangna Ranaut

With Kangna Ranaut donning the role of a nautch girl in her upcoming film, Rajjo, here’s taking a look at the evolution of the dancing girl in the Hindi film industry.

Kangna Ranaut

The original dance divas
The reason why evergreen actresses like Vyajanthimala or Padmini stood out was their dancing skills apart from their thumping performances. The audiences flooded the movie halls just to see them dance. As a cue, filmmakers then started including dance numbers in their films to let their heroines have the audiences wrapped around their little fingers. Dance numbers found limelight as filmmakers started including the stills from the performances on their films’ posters.

Kangna Ranaut

The cabaret girls
If the likes of Asha Parekh and Sharmila Tagore had you enthralled with their charms on screen, Helen, Bindu, Aruna Irani and Padma Khanna are the ones who encouraged the audiences to return to the theatres. With the right dose of chutzpah and an attitude to kill for, they mesmerised cine watchers with their rock n roll.

Kangna Ranaut

That ’70s show
Actresses like Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi did what very few could do they could play the damsel in distress and the dancing diva with equal ease. The trend of including a hard-core dance number in films found its place to stay.

Kangna Ranaut

The golden era
Known for its razzmatazz, the ’80s became famous for its shiny disco balls and the golden girls of item numbers. But the decade soon gave away to the ’90s with mainstream heroines like Madhuri Dixit (Tamma tamma) and Karisma Kapoor (Baby baby) scorching the dance floors. By then filmmakers knew the ticket to success at the box office.

Kangna Ranaut
Kangna Ranaut with choreographer Ganesh Acharya on the sets of Rajjo

The band of boys
While item numbers became the order of the day, some of our male actors too experimented with their roles, donning drastic looks to shimmy on the stage. The Khans did it and so did Ranbir Kapoor (Chillar Party).

The item girls
Out of nowhere, a bevy of beauties stole the thunder and came to be known as the item girls. Malaika Arora Khan (Chaiya chaiya) was joined by Mumait Khan (Dekh le), Yana Gupta (Babuji), Rakhi Sawant, Meghna Naidu and others.

The return of the A-listers
Looking their glamorous best, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Shilpa Shetty, Katrina Kaif, Priyanka Chopra, Rani Mukerji, Deepika Padukone jumped onto the bandwagon, dishing out some raunchy numbers that went on to become chartbusters.

Matching the steps
While in the past Kangna Ranaut has managed to steer clear of item numbers, in Vishwas Patil’s Rajjo, the actress will be playing the quintessential nautch girl. Playing a dancing courtesan is never easy, evoking mixed response from the audience. While Rekha became an icon, even winning the National Award for Umrao Jaan (1981), other B-Town actresses, including Aishwarya Rai Bahchan, Madhuri Dixit too tried their hands at playing nautch girls.

Kangna is excited to be playing a role that has been a part of Hindi cinema since time immemorial. Talking about an upcoming track from the film, the actress says, “I am happy about the fact that Julmi is as pure as it gets. Otherwise how many songs do we hear that don’t have a single vulgar word or someone’s name doesn’t feature in the lyrics? I was particularly glad how Vishwasji and Ganesh (Acharya) worked on the song. It’s family-friendly.”

She is happy the song presents her in an Indian avatar. Kangna adds, “Julmi isn’t one of those quintessential item numbers that have filled Bollywood over the years. On the contrary, it is based on sringaar geet, which comes from the Raas Krida of Sri Krishna and Radha.” There is a lot of folk influence to Julmi as well, with music director Uttam Singh and lyricist Dev Kohli getting inspired by local flavour of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana.

Says Patil, “I have always been fascinated by the dance numbers of Waheeda Rehman, Vaijayntimala. Kangna has performed outstandingly.” The film reflects on an 18-year-old Brahmin boy who is fascinated by a 24-year-old nautch girl named Rajjo. Dev Kohli got the words in place, Uttam Singh brought in the right pathos, Ganesh Acharya understood the sur that the song had to take and Kangna was there to pull it all together with her performance.” 

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