Despite numerous reality formats in the past two decades, singing and dancing based shows have somehow always been closer to the hearts of the Indian television audience. The proof is the frequent attempts by different Hindi general entertainment channels in the two genres.
Among these two, dancing reality shows have an edge in popularity. It is pertinent to note here that singing reality shows are more popular in the West but they are losing their spark in India. The success of dance reality may be attributed to the freshness brought in by different dance forms, styles, the work done on the music (fusion of songs, additional beats) and of course, the grace, costumes, themes and the story told by the performers.
Dancing on air
Almost all the leading Hindi GECs today have one dedicated dance reality property, with a paradigm shift in the concept since the days of the first Boogie Woogie show. Boogie Woogie was a remarkable show in itself as the whole broadcast industry was budding at that time. Based on the Bollywood dancing style, it provided a platform for talented common people of the country. It has run successful championships such as kids' championships, teen championships and celebrity championships in the past few years.
Subsequently, there have been many similar shows on Indian television. In 2005, STAR One launched the first celebrity dance reality show, Nach Baliye. The home-grown format features real life celebrity couples competing with each other for the Nach Baliye trophy. STAR India had aired the first two seasons of Nach Baliye on STAR One before it shifted to Star Plus. The show is running in its sixth season currently.
Sony Entertainment Television launched the Indian adaptation of BBC's 'Strictly Come Dancing' and ABC's 'Dancing with the Stars', titled 'Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa'(JDJ), in 2006. The show is about a choreographer dancing with a celebrity who is not necessarily a dancer.
Nach Baliye and JDJ introduced the celebrity quotient into dance reality. They made dancing glamorous! Through these shows, public voting also emerged in a big way.
In 2012, Sony offloaded the BBC Worldwide-produced show, Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, to Colors. The show eventually gained enormous popularity on Colors, courtesy the celebrities associated, be it the contestants or the judges including the dancing diva, Madhuri Dixit.
In the talent hunt based shows' space, Zee TV had launched Dance India Dance in 2009. The show is believed to have re-ignited dance as a genre on television. DID, a pure dance-based show, is about common people making their big dancing dreams come true. Audiences relate to it as it seems to them like a story of someone next door. Such is the appeal of the show that it is currently in its fourth season!
DID is credited with making the Indian audiences familiar with the various dance forms. The show features a variety of Indian cultural and international dance styles spanning classical, contemporary, Bollywood, hip-hop, jazz, Kalaripayattu, Salsa, Samba and musical theatre. Body painting in dancing was also introduced for the first time on this show.
With these shows, dance reality has extended beyond mere dancing to include interesting story-telling with the right theme, right lighting, and right choreography.
Ashish Golwalkar, non-fiction programming head, Star Plus (who has handled DID in the past) says that television is getting mature. "There is a lot of competition and currently it is down to how best you can tell a story of a particular show. When it comes to dance reality, one needs to constantly reinvent. Unlike singing, dancing reality is more engaging because of the story-telling and hence it's becoming bigger and better!"
Dance reality as a genre has also seen its share of failures and lukewarm responses. Star Plus's 'Just Dance' that marked actor Hrithik Roshan's entry into television was one such show. Besides JDJ, Colors has also experimented with Chak Dhoom Dhoom that saw moderate success in its two seasons. The channel also featured dance performances in its talent hunt show, India's Got Talent.
Public voting has also emerged as a lot stronger medium through which the winners of the dance reality shows are selected.
According to Hemant Ruprell, producer, Frames Productions (producer of Nach Baliye 6) there was a time when singing talent hunts were more popular but today it's dance reality. "Any reality show, any talent hunt show always evolves. If it doesn't evolve, it dies! Today dancing is popular; few years ago singing was more popular. Dancing is something that people will watch despite disliking the song. There have been shows like DID that have shown pure dancing but also shows like Nach Baliye that have highlighted the romantic side of celebrity couples."
One of the surprises in the dance reality format was Star Plus' India's Dancing Superstar. The show for the first time had contestants who could be of different ages, and from different countries. They were selected on the basis of pure dancing talent and whether they wanted to perform solo, duet or in group was up to them. The show aired its first season this year and was widely appreciated.
Imagine TV had also aired a dance tutorial-based show, 'Nach le with Saroj Khan'. The show encouraged people to learn dancing from the Bollywood celebrity choreographer.
Actor Madhuri Dixit too has launched an online dance academy, Dancewithmadhuri.com, wherein she is teaching the audiences to dance to her popular song numbers. Dixit promoted the website on Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa where she was present as one of the three judges.
Steps to success
Makers believe that story-telling is an important part of dance reality. Because of the visual appeal, it connects more with the audiences. Also, dance reality has been very aspirational for the Indian viewers. The success stories of participants of shows like Dance India Dance have encouraged the choice of dancing and choreography as serious professions.
Dance India Dance contestants have assisted well-known choreographers in the Bollywood film industry. Several also got an opportunity to act in UTV Motion Pictures' dance-based movie, 'ABCD: Anybody Can Dance'. Other ex-contestants have choreographed for dance reality shows like Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa.
The dance reality shows have also started entertaining audiences through humour and gigs. The contestants' brief background is also aired at times to build emotional connect, along with behind-the-scenes clippings that show how much effort these contestants put in before presenting a performance. Dance reality shows' hosts have also started playing an important role in entertaining the viewers.
Talking about the evolution of dance reality shows, Gayatri Gill, creative director, Swastik Productions, says, "Initially dance was much more amateur. Javed was a known face; he was an actor, dancer and that was an important part of Boogie Woogie. Then of course the humour and fun element added to it. Today dance reality shows involve celebrities in a bigger way. They come onto the shows to promote their movies, and in a few shows the celebrities are themselves the contestants."
"The form of dancing is no more amateurish. If you see DID, the kind of talent that the channel is actually able to get is extremely good. Dance reality shows today have a visual appeal, there is drama, dance. The choreography is perfect and the use of props is more. Celebrity integration is also easier and it has a more fun quotient now," Gill adds.
While the different dance forms have caught up and the audiences are just looking for entertaining, energetic, theme-based performances, it will be interesting to see how Boogie Woogie shapes up to survive and succeed in this much-evolved space.