While browsing through Mid-Day.com the other day, I happened upon writer Anuvab Pal's column where the small author's note mentioned that he was working on a book about the film Disco Dancer. Almost immediately I e-mailed him to see if he would answer a few questions about the film. Anuvab is the author behind the witty and satiric films The President is Coming and The Loins of Punjab Presents and I was curious to see what his take on the epic 1982 Bollywood film would be.
Disco Dancer, the story of a street performer who becomes a super-star, has become kind of a camp classic and has dogged Mithun Chakraborty ever since.
FG: What do you think the significance was of "Disco Dancer" in general? What makes it worth writing about?
AP: It was perhaps the greatest cultural event of the 1980's. Everything we were going through, socialism, class struggle, culture clashes, through the existential journey of a Disco Dancer. What a brilliant idea.
FG: Do you think it has become a cultural touchstone through the years? Something that maybe wasn't intended?
AP: Well for one, abroad, it got regarded as one of the greatest comedies ever made. I don't think they intended it to be as funny as it turned out and that's just as well. As long as the creators thought they were dealing with serious issues, we got Bang Bang. Austin Powers had to be written funny. Disco Dancer did better than Austin Powers written seriously. That is comedy genius.
FG: Would you consider it a "cult classic" or is it a classic at all?
AP: If a movie has a line that says (and Wikipedia notes this) "Come, Sing and Conquer". How can that movie not become a classic. But it's a classic for many reasons- for us, it was not only a Bollywood movie but in some ways the summary of an era, Disco Dancing was one part of a safari suited, fiat driving, VIP briefcase carrying nation. For foreigners, it was a great retro camp thing-silver outfits, crazy dancing, Bollywood glitter, tacky emotions. Like what Tarantino did with the GrindHouse pictures. For today's ironic generation, it was just a very funny 70's movie. Like Steve Carrell meets Saturday Night Live. Even today, people in Khazakistan or Japan become ecstatic when you mention this movie and they have their own moves.
I think it's brilliant because it took all the tropes of 80's cinema- love for the mother, poverty and integrity, villain capitalists, but applied it to dancing.
FG: Are you going to explore the actors reactions to the film? Do you think Mithun has come to embrace the Disco Dancer?
AP: I am trying to get hold of him but he has built a reputation for 20 years after the movie, as a Disco Dancer. Thats not an easy thing to be known as. And today, an older slightly large Bengali man is a TV judge for many dance competitions only because, I guess, he once disco danced.
FG: What is it that we the fans love about the film?
AP: Nothing like that ever got made. Shaan came close to a Dr. No remake [Note from FG: Check out my review of Shaan aka the greatest film ever made here] but no one touched Disco Dancing. Dance Dance came after that but that was more about a brother and a sister falling apart. This was about a rags to riches story of a man who becomes someone by sheer power of dance. And loses his mother to a guitar electrocution in the process.
FG: Did you come across any interesting stories about the film that you can share?
A lot of great anecdotes from Bappi Lahiri and B Subhash but they are in the book.
Well, I will be looking forward to reading those anecdotes!
And I think this is a good time to bring up a link that I've been sitting on. I was listening to a discussion on the radio show On Point the other day about how one should judge a Bad Movie. These were Hollywood critics so they didn't bring up Disco Dancer but I really liked what critic Kim Morgan had to say. Her theory, and I agree, went something along the lines of - if you like a movie, can it really be bad?
She also shared the experience of watching The Room, a 2003 film which has become a camp hit even though it wasn't intended as such. She felt uncomfortable with the laughter at the film knowing that the writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau had made it seriously. Maybe true camp classics need to made with a serious touch but the distance of time allows us to laugh comfortably at them.
Considering almost 30 years have passed since Disco Dancer, the time is certainly right for a book exploring the impact of the film!
Thank you to Anuvab Pal - and anyone interested in further information on him can check out his website (http://www.anuvabpal.com/), which has a nice collection of his writings.
Note from Filmi Girl:
I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.
If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.
xoxo Filmi Girl