Gorgeous, sari-clad women. Handsome men. Exotic locales. Brilliant colors. Riotous dancing. Those are the images conjured when someone mentions a Bollywood film. This unique cinematic celebration often features high-energy dance numbers that compare to some of the most popular Hollywood musicals.
Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya
- Film: Mughal-E-Azam (1960)
- Dance director: Lachchu Maharaj
- Dancer: Madhubala
Set in the sixteenth-century and based on a true story of a prince and the challenges he faces with his father, the film was in black and white except for this brilliant scene in which a slave girl expresses her forbidden love for the prince while dancing at the imperial court. It was rated as one of the best Bollywood dance numbers by TimeOut London. The beautiful alta (red dye) on her feet is often worn as an adornment in classical dance, and here it serves as a nod to the Kathak style of classical Indian dance which was developed during the time of the Mughal courts.
Jaan Pehchaan Ho
- Film: Gumnaam (1965)
- Choreographer: Herman Benjamin
- Dancers: Ensemble, featuring Laxmi Chhayam
In this scene the dancers compete to win a holiday trip, and the trip and its subsequent less than desirable outcome is the storyline for the film. The number is performed by Mohammed Rafi, a music legend of Bollywood. It has a clear 60's vibe and has withstood the test of time. The number was cut in to the opening sequence of Ghost World (2001) and the music used for a 2011 Heineken commercial, The Date, that was a clear nod to the energy and frenetic pace of the original dance scene.
Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai
- Film: Khalnayak (1993)
- Choreographer: Saroj Khan
- Dancer: Madhuri Dixit
The basic plot of this film goes something like this: criminal escapes the police inspector, police inspector's girlfriend goes under cover to help catch criminal, girlfriend finds criminal charming, and then things get interesting. This gangster-inspired scene features lots of female dancers with rather suggestive moves. The song was considered scandalous for its bawdy lyrics, but the choreography was predicated on Rajasthani folk dance, effectively infusing a more controlled feel into the scene. Choreographer Saroj Khan won the Filmfare Best Choreography Award in 1994 for this number.
- Film: Dil Se (1998)
- Choreographer: Farah Khan
- Dancers: Shah Rukh Khan, Malaika Arora
This is a story of ideals and being in love and how sometimes they do lead in the same direction. This dance scene, a dream sequence, is filmed on top of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. It has many fans, including Andrew Lloyd Webber as it was his inspiration for the musical Bombay Dreams. There were no tricks employed in the filming of this scene which was done over four and a half days. This is the number one Bollywood dance number pick from Redhotcurry.com.
- Film: Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001)
- Choreographer: Farah Kahn
- Dancer: Amitabh Bachchan
The English title of the movie translates to Sometime Happiness, Sometimes Sadness, and the storyline follows a pair of brothers, the elder adopted, and the challenges involved in falling in love with someone not deemed suitable by the family. In this scene, two birthday celebrations are happening simultaneously. The first, at the estate of leading man, Rahul, the second in a village square for the father of Anjali, the love interest. The use of color and style separates the upper class who are clad in pastels and celebrating in a formal ballroom, from the lower class who are dressed in bright colors and meeting in the center of town. For a moment in the middle of the number, Rahul dreams he is dancing with his beloved Anjali. Bollywood favorite Amitabh Bachchan leads the Bhangra-style dance, based on Punjabi traditions, shaking and moving and getting everything started. The choreography uses the angular dance moves for which Bachchan is so well known, earning it an honorable mention on the Redhotcurry.com list.
Radha Kaise Na Jale
- Film: Lagaan (in the United States, Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India) (2001)
- Choreographer: Saroj Khan
- Dancers: Gracey Singh, Aamir Khan
The plot of the movie Lagaan (Hindi for land tax) follows a small village that challenges a British Captain and his officers to a cricket match to absolve themselves of the unyielding high taxes they are unable to pay due to a prolonged drought. This amazing number, Radha Kaise Na Jale, is done as a sort of cultural exchange after character Elizabeth, the sister of the British officer, starts teaching cricket to the villagers. In turn, Bhuvan shares with her the Hindu legend of Radha and Krishna. With gorgeous, earthy-colored costumes and a men versus women dance showdown vibe, there are fewer quick movie cuts than are typically done in Bollywood musicals, allowing for some nice, long single sequences that really show off the dancers' talents. The choreographic collective of Saroj Khan, Raju Khan, Ganesh Hegde, Vaibhavi Merchant, and Terence Lewis took home the American Choreography Award, USA for this film in 2002. Lagaan was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film that same year.
Dola Re Dola
- Film: Devdas (2002)
- Choreographer: Saroj Khan
- Dancers: Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai
An amazing dance featuring two preeminent Bollywood divas and a beautiful color palette make this one of Bollywood's best. The story revolves around Devdas, a young man who finds himself at a loss over love and resorts to drinking. As the plot unfolds, Paro, Devdas' love interest, invites Chandramukhi, a courtesan in love with Devdas, to her husband's home for the Durga Puja celebration. The dancing is equally graceful and dynamic, and the cinematography and editing are spectacular. According to choreographer Saroj Khan, this particular dance was quite difficult to compose. She was inspired by a dance form called Natwary, in addition to incorporating steps from the Kathak and Bharatnatyam classical styles. She won several prestigious awards for Dola Re Dola including the Silver Lotus and her eighth Filmfare Award for Best Choreography.
- Film: Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003)
- Choreographer: Farah Khan
- Dancers: Preity Zinta, Shah Rukh Khan, and Saif Ali Khan
The film follows the story of an unhappy student falling in love with her neighbor who is, unknown to her, terminally ill. The neighbor, to save the student from grief, focuses his attentions on finding her someone else to turn her affections toward. This scene, choreographed by Farah Khan who won the IIFA Award for Best Choreography for the number, covers the engagement party for the student and her new love interest which ends in the discovery of the neighbors's fate. Plotline aside, the intergenerational spirit of this number is brilliant and great fun. Through the use of movement punctuated by brilliant colors, the viewer feels a part of the celebration.
- Film: Dhoom (2004)
- Choreographer: Vaibhavi Merchant, Ashley Lobo, Remo
- Dancers: Esha Deol, Uday Chopra
This is a good old cops and robbers film where, naturally, everyone ends up at a concert. This dance number has some great highlightss including a nice Busby Berkeley-type moment toward the middle. The dance vibe has a current club-feel undertone to it and is so popular that there are videos teaching the dance steps and zumba classes featuring the moves. This dance scene is also number three on the Redhotcurry.com Top 10 Favorite Bollywood Dance Songs list.
- Film: Slumdog Millionaire 
- Choreographer: Longinus Fernandez
- Dancers: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto
This story of a struggling young man searching for his lost love is told through flashbacks as he competes on a popular Indian game show (India's version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire). In addition to winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, A. R. Rahman swept the 2009 Oscar music categories and with good reason. This closing number of the movie is what Bollywood is all about: joy, love, life, and music. Flavorwire.com called out the dance number as one of their Top 35 dance scenes of all time.
While you'll have to get the movie to see the actual scene, this video from Bethel University will give you a taste of the song and the dance steps.
- Film: Ram-Leela (also called Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela) (2014)
- Choreographer: Ganesh Acharya
- Dancer: Ranveer Singh
A Romeo and Juliet-type story, this Bollywood number brings the plot right into present day. It is high energy, high fun, and full of plenty of hi-jinks. It was recreated by the star, Ranveer Singh, on many awards shows including both the IIFA Performance and 59th Filmfare Awards. Choreographer Ganesh Acharya was nominated for the Zee Cine Award for Choreography, but the real buzz was about a specific move that, like any good dance move, goes viral as a signature step from the scene. It made MissMalini.com's Top 15 Bollywood Dance Songs for 2013, too.
Always Room for One More Number
There is a great joy and exuberance in Bollywood films, and the dance numbers featured in these movies are usually full of color and energy. Interest in these spectacles continues to grow internationally and it's easy to see why. Watching these great dance scenes might even inspire you to learn a few new moves!