Headbanging makes it to garba The room is filled with 15 middle-aged women in sweat pants staring into a mirror that runs the length of the room. They dip and twirl, as their hands gesticulate exaggerated emotions perfectly coordinated in their rise and fall. In the backdrop, Falguni Pathak's dulcet tone lends method to their madness. It's a regular day at Nitin's Dance Troupe, run by choreographers Nitin Dass and Dharmesh Shah.
"We start two months before Navratri, so that beginners have enough time to learn the basics," says 28 year-old Shah, who learnt dancing at Casper's Dance School 15 years ago and has trained in Latin, Ballroom and Salsa.
With centres at Thane, Mulund, Ghatkopar and Andheri, Shah is a busy man, running across the city to oversee rehearsals. He also runs a garments factory, but festive season is peak business for his academy. A sum of Rs 750 per month will buy you a group session with your dancer buddies, but if you want to learn the jhatkas all by yourself, you'll have to shell out Rs 1,500.
"We get students from age three to 60, and they are all equally excited to learn something new. We start with the traditional steps, and for those interested in taking an advanced lesson, we have special classes where we teach them unique steps inspired by fads," says Shah, who has a team of 20 trainers. An hour's session, three times a week, is all they need. By fads, Shah means the Blackberry step, the Airtel sequence and a Singham-inspired routine.
"It takes off from our obsession with cellphones. They are addicted to it and we thought why not make something that will be fun and ridiculous at the same time," laughs Shah. The Airtel sequence takes a cue from the advertisement, which has college-goers sing, Har ek friend zaroori hota hai, and incorporates the headbanging into garba. The Singham move borrows Ajay Devgn's signature style and weaves it into the rhythmic garba routine.
This year, like always, Shah and his troupe will visit the Sankalp Mandal at Wadala for Pathak's garba celebration. "We are planning on using CDs as props to play with the light at the venue while we dance," explains Shah.
For Shah and Dass, who worked closely with actors for films like Josh, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and are currently choreographing actor Govinda, working with children is tiring, yet satisfying. "We work with children frequently and much energy is spent in simply getting them to stop bouncing off the walls. But it is great fun to teach them because they are open anything and always excited to start."
The queen is back People said that after Falguni left Mumbai, Navratri lost its charm," repeats Devendra Joshi, president of Sankalp, organisers of one of Mumbai's most popular dandiya mandals, for the fifth time in our 15-minute conversation.
Last year the Maine Payal Hai Chhankai singer Falguni Pathak, hailed as the queen of dandiya, seemed to have abandoned her fans for a fat paycheck. "Falguni and I have known each other for 18 years. We are friends before we are business partners. She got a better offer from Gujarat; I could not compete with that. She called me and asked what she should do. I told her to do what was right for her. She owed it to her troupe as well, since it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he remembers.
And so, Pathak skipped the Mumbai garba scene and spent nine days at Ankleshwar in Gujarat. But she is back this year, since Joshi has upped his offer. Pathak is expected to be paid Rs 1.21 crore to perform at Sankalp. Without confirming the exact amount, he says, "It is above one crore." That's nearly Rs 5.5 lakh for each of the 22 hours she will spend singing.
Last year, singer Rahul Vaidya took the stage instead of Pathak, but the crowds weren't excited. The numbers that go up to 25,000, were down by 30 per cent, admits Joshi. "We are not sure what it would be like this year, but we have no expectations.
We only received a confirmation from Falguni on September 9."
Sankalp has 60 members working round the clock, and a workforce of over 400, who help organise the event that is usually held at the Goregaon Sports Club on all days during the Navratri festival.
How do those who can't hear feel the beat? The room thumps with a slow beat. Dancers spin and mirror-embroidered skirts swirl but nobody is singing along. Gradually, they step up their pace. In a glass of Cola that stands at the refreshment counter, ripples on the liquid surface reflect vibrations of the surrounding music.
Navratri Navyuvak Mandal has been organising a one-day garba celebration for the hearing-impaired community of Mumbai for the last 20 years.
The band plays instrumentals, and there is no singer. Dancers 'feel' the beat and move in perfect co-ordination to the rhythm. Volunteers begin preparations a month in advance, and everyone is welcome to join in.
This year is especially grand. The clock does a count down to D-day on the Navratri Navyuvak Mandal for the Deaf website. It reads 13 days, nine hours and 25 minutes, counting the second till they celebrate the organisation's 20th anniversary. Since its inception in 1992, the fest has seen crowds grow, and venues change. This year, the celebration will be held at Raghuleela Mega Mall in Kandivli between 10 am and 10 pm on October 6. Entry is at Rs 500.
"There is a similar event that's held for the hearing impaired in Ahmedabad. Revellers travel from all across the country to be there. Mumbai's hearing impaired community is large enough, so we thought we'd start our own chapter here. It's not a Falguni-scale party, but we try to do our best," says Krupa Vyas, volunteer and daughter of Narendra Vyas, president of the mandal.
"My dad has been part of the mandal since it was established. He tells me the first celebration had just 200 attendees. Five years back we had 800 people drop by," says Krupa, a trained classical dancer. The celebration has found an audience via word-of-mouth publicity, and sponsors are welcome to offer anything they can spare. "My father works in the diamond trading industry where several hearing impaired individuals find employment in departments like assortment of stones. We decided this was a way of letting them have a ball."
Calling garba tech support So, you are a procrastinator and Navratri is back. Your suit looks fabulous, but your moves are sloppy. You can't do the moonwalk in your mojris. At the risk of stepping on toes, poking a dandiya in your partner's eye, and causing a five-person pile up, you are better off letting technology give you a dance lesson.
While choreographers around the city are tending to studios packed with housewives and children, YouTube is crowded with more than a few video tutorials for frustrated people with two left feet.
Bust a move with the crew from ICC Jollywood from California. They also have some tips for Diwali and Holi.
Navratri by Mango Design Systems is a cellphone application that offers you a deeper understanding about the festival and some fun trivia to start a conversation. 'According to legend, a vicious buffalo-demon, Mahishasura, had raised hell at the gates of heaven, causing widespread terror. The Goddess Durga was actualised by the combined efforts of all the deities to slay him. Thus, Durga astride a lion, with an assortment of weapons in in 10 hands, slayed Mahishasura,' informs the application.
Play dandiya with Anna The Bigg Boss salon at Borivli will soon be packed with frenzied girls trying to look their best for Navratri.
The salon, that has been around for nearly 26 years, enjoys a repute similar to the family doctor where mothers will bring their young daughters for a makeover. Shy teenagers will enter in loose T-shirts and leave in dazzling full-length chaniya cholis with bare backs and full lips.
The man behind the transformation is Harish Bhatia. The 57 year-old has been in the business for so long, he knows what was in fashion in the Seventies, and will come back in fashion the next season.
"This year, the Indo-western look will rule. Hemlines will rise, hair will be puffy and tattoos will be loud," says Bhatia, who made local news by cutting hair blindfolded recently. Maumita Das from the Bandra outlet of Enrich, the chain of salons, agrees. "We are still designing our festive packages, which should be available by the start of next week. Ladies come in for hair and make-up accentuated by smoky eyes. We rely heavily on bindis and hair embellishments." A hair and make-up routine can set you back by a cool Rs 5,000.
Bhatia offers a better bargain. Skin polishing, nail art, temporary and permanent tattoos and make-up are what keep him in demand. He also has spray-on tattoos in traditional and modern prints. Revellers come in daily during the nine days, demanding a different look for each evening. In the festive spirit, the unisex salon offers a 20 per cent discount on all services, and 30 per cent to 'regulars'.
Every year, Bhatia designs a topical tattoo that adorns the arms, backs and waists, as bodies bathed in sweat slug it out at the dance fest. The year before last, his muse was Godess Durga. Then came Mahatma Gandhi. This year, activist Anna Hazare is the face that will stare at you from a sexy back, as you clap your hands together, and blend into a circle.