Is ABCD – Anybody Can Dance the Lagaan of dance? Not by a long chalk. Knowledge of the ABCD of choreography – of which there is no dearth at all in this film – certainly doesn't guarantee cinematic excellence and narrative grasp.
India's first-ever 3-D dance film is replete with robust routines that certainly vouch for director Remo D'Souza's undeniable proficiency as a choreographer. The film also has the likes of Prabhu Deva and Ganesh Acharya, besides a host of Dance India Dance participants (Dharmesh Yelande, Salman Yusuff Khan, et al), in the cast. They give it their all.
If only they also had the services of a functioning screenplay and not just been saddled with half-baked plot contrivances to hang their acts on, ABCD might have gone beyond just those first four letters of the alphabet.
There is no denying that the film has its share of infectious energy and that the newcomers in the cast do go about their roles with commendable enthusiasm. It is the sluggish pace of the story-telling that prevents ABCD from rising to any great heights as an entertainer.
It revolves around a television dance show called Dance Dil Se – what else could it have been? The contest has just been won through means fair and fail by a top dance company owned by the flamboyant Jehangir Khan (Kay Kay Menon). The dance master of the troupe, Chennai native Vishnu (Prabhudheva), does not approve of the owner's unsavoury methods. He puts his foot down, so he is thrown out and replaced by an American choreographer.
A slighted Vishnu joins forces with old pal Gopi (Ganesh Acharya). The duo takes a bunch of young slum boys and girls under their wings with the intention of turning them into a team of dance champions. That is what the film is essentially about: in what is projected as an unequal battle, a group of privileged kids who can afford the high fees of Jehangir's academy are pitted against a disadvantaged group of wastrels who have only their talent and Vishnu's tips to fall back upon.
Jehangir believes that "we dance to impress". Vishnu, who feels the rhythms around him, in the leaves on tree branches, in the sea waves and among the flying birds, exhorts his team to "dance to express".
The drama, interspersed with freestyle dance performances that draw moves from varied influences, plays out along predictable lines.
Thrown into the mix are all manner of cliches about puppy love, friendship, bitter rivalries, heartburns, the troubles of an drug addict, parental opposition, tragedies, subterfuge, betrayal and, finally, triumph.
Some of the dance routines, especially the one in which Vishnu's team adopts the guise of circus clowns, are brilliant. A solo performance by Prabhu Deva is, not surprisingly, one of the high points of the film.
He is also the lead actor of ABCD – a first for him in a Hindi film. His endearing accent enhances the authenticity of the character – he is a man who left Chennai 15 years ago to pursue his dreams in Mumbai.
On the acting front, ABCD is Kay Kay Menon's film. Neither the role nor the situations that he finds himself in are etched out with much clarity and purpose. Yet, riding on his magnetic screen presence, he repeatedly rises above the limitations of the script.
It is his character that probably puts it best. "Indians don't have brains," he admonishes his American hire when the latter makes a suggestion ahead of the dance show finale. "Talent doesn't matter here. It is all about packaging. Mediocrity rules."
Take your pick. There is a whole lot of dancing talent on show here. It is the packaging that lets down the performers -- and the viewers.
And why, pray, is this film in 3-D? It isn't about Pina Bausch and Remo D'Souza is no Wim Wenders.