A dandiya ground is no less than a kurukshetra battlefield with contestants drawing up a strategy to distract competitors, practicing moves 2 months in advance, and carrying secret energy pick-me-ups in their ghagras. Meet the guys who've had to organise spare storerooms to house their prizes, and say "kar ya mar" for 9 days every year
It's three days to go for what some Mumbaikars believe is war; a war that involves vivacious costumes, intricate mehendi tattoos, backless cholis and serious drumming. Navratri, the 9-day dance festival celebrated each year, has its fair share of do-or-die participants. These are the guys who've grown accustomed to winning; losing the Dandiya King or Garba Queen title is worse than failing a board exam.
My competitors leave when I enter
Sanjay Soni, 32, a jewellery designer from Mulund has been dancing at the festival since he was a child. For him, it's not just a festival, but a landmark event that requires two months of gruelling practice. "We prepare way in advance so that we are ready for war!" laughs Soni, who usually steps on to the dancing ground knowing he's going to take the prize home. "It's not easy bagging the trophy every year, because everyone comes seriously well-prepared. You need to formulate a strategy. I distract my competitors; everything is fair on the dandiya ground," he says, before adding matter-of-factly that he's noticed how his competitors often leave the ground when they see him entering the scene.
Soni has won cash prizes, motorbikes and sundry trophies. He forms a team with his wife, and the two conduct garba and dandiya classes in Mulund. Those with the best lehkas (move and grace) bag a place in his competition group.
This year, they are a team of 20 dancers divided into four groups. Each team plans to attack one major Navratri mandal, with the aim of winning the finale prize at any cost. Once they are done, they all gather at a common point to discuss individual performances and share feedback so that they don't falter the next night.
Trespassers are prosecuted
While each group strives to invent the best Garba steps, they make sure no outsider gatecrashes into their coterie. "A newcomer who wants to spontaneously join the group, is tactfully warded off. He might just end up disturbing our tempo," says Impal Samarkadhi, 36. Samarkadhi runs the Fusion Dance Academy in Mahavir Nagar, Kandivali, with her partner Nimisha Khiara, 28. Unity is what decides the winning team, Samarkadhi says.
"There are times when one of us is not feeling well or is mentally exhausted and unable to focus on the moves. Then the rest of us strive to cheer him up and boost his morale."
Devanshi Vithliani, a dentist takes a 10-day break from her practice to prepare to win yet another prize. She has been winning the prize for Best Female Dancer for the last few years
Enjoying yourself still counts
But there are a few contestants who believe enjoyment is above all else. "If you enjoy the music, you will dance like a dream. It's tough for me to control myself when I hear the music play; my body starts swinging to the rhythm. I dance to enjoy myself; the prizes are an icing on the cake," says Devanshi Vithliani, 23, a dentist who takes a 10-day break from her practice to focus on training. She has won the Best Female Dancer prize consecutively over the last few years.
Enough washing machines to fill a home
So what do you do when you win a prize every single year? You win enough washing machines and consumer durables to fit into a whole new home. Dharal Gondalia, 38, is proud that her daughter Charmi, 17, has been competing for a decade, and winning is almost a habit. Prizes, trophies and certificates crowd her Borivali home.
She's won the award for Best Female Dancer at Kora Kendra, Borivali, for three consecutive years. "The cash prize every year is well above Rs 50,000 and now we have arranged for a separate storeroom to house washing machines and other prizes, since there's no room in our flat," admits the doting mother. Gondalia has prepared nine different costumes, one for each night of the festival. She's personally hand-stitched the mirrors, tikkis and patchwork to lend a dazzling edge to the wardrobe. "This year, I started working on her costumes one month in advance, and they are almost ready. I have a huge collection of jewellery that I have sourced from different parts of the country, specially for her competitions."
Impal Samarkadhi practices with student.
Kandivali Ni Garba Queen
Impal Samarkadhi and Nimisha Khiara have a gang of 20 collegians
Hours of Practice: 2 hours daily, 15 days before the event
Can play non-stop for: 4 hours
Secret of their stamina: A bottle filled with diluted Glucon D, or lemon water mixed with sugar for instant energy kick.
Will be playing at: Malpani, Satya Nagar and Essel World.
Look this year: They pick a theme each year. This time, it's Goan pants with cholis for women, and mirror work kurtas for the guys.
USP: Unity. "Unity makes us win the battle. Though our ultimate goal is to bag the maximum number of prizes, we don't dance for individual glory," says Impal.
Speciality: Garba moves that involve jumping into mid-air and dancing close to the floor.
Hit Bollywood track: Jalwa from Wanted
Sanjay Soni dances with his 7 year-old daughter.
Mulund No Dandiya King
Sanjay Soni has a group of 20 dancers that includes his wife, daughter and students
Hours of practice: 4 hours every weekend, 2 months prior to the event
Can play non-stop for: 3 hours
Secret of their stamina: A small pack of Glucon-D. They have it while dancing since they can't take a water break. "This is done without the judges noticing," he confesses.
Will be playing at: Mulund, Andheri, Goregaon and Borivali.
Look this year: Women will be dressed in traditional attire with mehendi covering their hands and legs. The fabric is sourced from Gujarat and designed in-house with the help of local tailors so that each piece is unique. The finale costumes are designed just one day before, after observing trends over eight days. A relative usually gets busy designing oxidised jewellery for all
members. It's then coated with nail polish to avoid allergy.
USP: Co-ordination. Not just costume and jewellery, every step and move is
co-ordinated. This helps the judge observe what we are presenting even if he is seated in a corner of the ground.
Speciality: Couple Dandiya. During the finale, they make pairs and play the dandiya for around 30 minutes.
Hit Bollywood track this year: Dhan Ta Nan from Kaminey
Who's performing where?
Sankalp Dandiya with Falguni Pathak
At: Goregaon Sports Club, Link Road, Malad (W).
Garba Nachle with Aadesh Shrivastav
At: Tulip Star Hotel, Juhu Tara Road, Juhu.
Dandiya Utsav with Nilesh Thakkar and Beat 16 Band
At: Kora Kendra, SV Road, Borivali (W).
Dandiya Night featuring Rangat Beats
At: Police Hockey Ground, opposite Kukreja Palace, VB Lane extension, Ghatkopar (E).
Rangeelo Raas Dandiya with Preeti-Pinky
At: Chitrakoot Grounds, Link Road, Andheri (W).
Aav Albeli Naar with Crazy Beats Orchestra
At: Shobhagya Park, opposite Sona Talkies, near Kandivali Station, Kandivali (W).
First Road Navratri Mahotsav
At: Jashodha Rang Mandir, behind Bhaidas Hall, Vile Parle (W).
Ghatkopar Gujarati Samaj Dandiya Festival
At: Somaiya College ground, Vidya Vihar, Goregaon (E).
Tips to help you win the war
>>Every detail, from your choice of footwear to your hair pin is noticed by the judges. In case you are playing in a group, make it a point to co-ordinate with each other. Every member must either go bare foot or have the same co-ordinated footwear.
>>Wear deep coloured and vibrant costumes. Opt for greens, yellows, blues, oranges and reds.
>>Tie your hair up well, secure with pins. A bun that comes undone while swirling spells tacky and translates into marks getting slashed. In case it does, don't fidget. Carry on like a
>>Avoid hanging a handkerchief on your lehenga. It spoils the look of the costume.
>>Always carry a bunch of pins on you. They can rescue a wardrobe
>>Even if you make a mistake, handle the situation well. Don't look visibly embarrassed or shocked.
>>Carry band-aid since your feet are likely to get sore.
>>Carry the right expressions on your face, smile. Maintain constant eye contact with your partner if you are dancing in a pair.
>>Appoint a leader while dancing in a group. Everyone must follow the leader. He/she guides while changing moves, or style according to the music.
>>Be alert. Distraction can mean that you lose rhythm.
A judge's revelations
We look for someone who is enjoying himself, dancing like no one's watching
Arsh Tanna choreographer of Dholi Taro track from Sanjay leela Bhansali's Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam
More than the gift or cash prize, the craze has to do with the publicity a winner bags during the fest. They love being addressed as "Dandiya Queen" or "Dandiya King" by friends and relatives. They have to try and look their best. We look for the X-factor. They often try and charm dancers of the opposite sex. We judge the contestants on their overall performance: style of dancing, variation in steps, choreography, costume and make-up, expressions, grace and rhythm count.
Innovation is key. Some participants experiment with props like sticks and lamps, to get spotted in the crowd.
Hot Tip: Winning is important, but it's really about enjoying yourself. Be yourself and dance like no one's watching.
Spas and salons do crazy business
Apart from the usual pre-Navratri beauty treatments that includes facials, cleansing, manicures, pedicures and hair styling, back polishing is a big hit with women dancers since it enhances the look of a backless choli. It involves a combination of microdermabrasion, chemical peels and laser treatment and is carried out in sessions of half-an-hour each. The number of sessions depend on your skin type. approx cost: Between Rs 1,000 and Rs 3,500. Diamond are a girl's best friend, even if you wear them on your navel. belly piercing is big with young girls.
Kundan tattoos hot this season
Temporary wear-and-wash tattoos are a huge hit. Tattoos in sparkles, brush-painted ones in acrylic and pearl colours or nail-polish tattoos are what you can choose from. This year, Kundan tattoos are likely to be the next big thing. They include traditional designs painted in various colours and studded with kundan to add bling. Guys and girls decide the colour combination depending on the colour of their outfits. Girls get them plastered on their stomach and backs, while guys prefer to flaunt their tattooed arms.