Verdict: Yeh Ballet finds its solace in those who dare to dream.
Available on Netflix.
Three years after her short documentary of the same name, Sooni Taraporevala decided to delve further into the stories of ballet dancers Manish Chauhan and Amiruddin Shah through a feature film. While Yeh Ballet (2020) will not be making a theatrical release, it is now available on the streaming giant Netflix, where it has been receiving a good amount of hype for its talented cast. Manish Chauhan plays himself in this film while Amiruddin Shah has been essayed by newcomer Achintya Bose. The film explores the lives of the ballet dancers when they were slum boys and how pursuing their passion led them to fame and success.
What’s Yeh Ballet About:
Asif (Achintya Bose) is a hip-hop dancer who whiles away his time with his friends from Dharavi, getting into petty troubles. His brother urges him to join the Mumbai Dance Academy so he can focus on his talent and not get caught up in criminal activities. Another Dharavi resident named Manish aka Nishu (Manish Chauhan) joins the same academy to pursue his love for dance, even though his father – a taxi driver – forbids him to. Both the boys are initially pitted against each other even though they come from similar backgrounds as opposed to the other affluent dancers in the academy. They join the same ballet class taught by a has-been ballet professional named Saul (Julian Sands), who has been hired to draw crowds because of his “foreign” ethnicity. While battling troubles of his own, the dance instructor bonds with the boys and helps them exceed excellence in the rare art of ballet. Asif and Nishu go on to become the first Indian men to train at ballet schools in the US, breaking many stereotypes associated with ballet or class discrimination.
Being a story about young boys from Dharavi who pursue their passions and achieve success, Yeh Ballet will remind you of a lot of Gully Boy a lot, which released one year ago. Just like in the mainstream film, the cinematography of this movie takes you through the narrow lanes of the slums where poverty is endemic. Living in their tiny houses and partaking in mundane household chores, the director keeps reminding you how the boys are different from the other kids of the city. Despite their underprivileged backgrounds, the boys manage to make it big in a dance form that has been traditionally identified with the upper class. This makes Yeh Ballet all the more endearing. You find yourself rooting for the boys who have nothing but raw talent going for them. Their stories have been explored individually and later converge as the boys form a bond with themselves and with their teacher. After this point, their stories run parallel as their families support their struggles and the boys strive to obtain visas to study ballet in the US. The ending is bittersweet and we finally get to see the dancers perform together.
For a newbie, Achintya Bose is superb in his role. He brings the grittiness of the slums along with the arrogance of being brilliant at what he does. His relationships are explored beautifully, be it with his friends from Dharavi, his rivalry with Nishu or his student-teacher bond with Saul. Being a dancer himself, Bose performs his solo acts with ease but his duets with Asha are even better and add a tinge of masala to this film that’s otherwise all about the art and soul. Manish Chauhan may not be much of an actor himself but playing his own self beings a sense of sincerity into his act. His frustration of being ‘second-best’ is palpable and he does get the raw end of the deal for most of the part, making you empathize with him even more. His story has a satisfying arch that drives him to success out of revenge and desperation. And when that is not enough, he steals your heart with his ever-smiling face and jovial nature. Julian Sands as Saul gets easily overlooked as the story focusses on the boys. But the veteran actor delivers a powerful performance that is both endearing and entertaining.
What Could’ve Been Better:
Other members of the cast such as Vijay Maurya, Kalyanee Mulay, Danish Hussain, Heeba Shah, and Jim Sarbh do not get much screen time, which seems wasteful with talent like this. The final scene also seems unnecessary and takes away from the impact of the pas de deux, which would have been the perfect ending to the film.
Why You Should Watch:
With an inspiring story, brilliant acting, and dance performances, Yeh Ballet has everything you would find in a mainstream Bollywood movie. But it also has a soul, raises important questions, and makes you believe in the power of pursuing your dreams. This movie is not just for balletomanes but also for those who dare to dream. Watch it for the much-needed inspiration to follow your passions and discover a form of dance that is both beautiful and rare.