Nora Fatehi in Street Dancer 3D
Nora Fatehi in Street Dancer 3D

When I see the prominence given to Nora Fatehi and her cartilage-defying Garmi number in the Street Dancer 3D promotions, I marvel at the speedy step-up a hit dance number can give an actress. Nora’s ascent has been remarkable ever since 2018 when her gyrations to the Dilbar remix number from Satyamev Jayate became a smash hit (688 million hits on YouTube and counting). Recently, she has even replaced Parineeti Chopra in the Ajay Devgn starrer Bhuj – The Pride Of India. Maybe she will pull off what Malaika Arora couldn’t and crossover into dramatic roles or maybe she will stick to her dancing forte but there’s no denying she is a buzz magnet today.

A chartbusting dance number can send you twirling into the spotlight if you are a starlet looking to make a splash ... that has been a truism ever since Helen entered cinematic history with Mera naam Chin Chin Choo or Malaika Arora set hearts thumping to the Chhaiyaan Chhaiyaan backbeat. But nowadays even conventional leading ladies have cottoned onto the fact that the right special appearance dance number can give their careers a major booster shot even if they are already stars in their own right.

Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukerji may have played the title roles in Bunty Aur Babli (2005) but kohl-eyed Aishwarya Rai stole a sizeable chunk of the thunder with her lightening moves when she popped up onscreen for the chartbuster Kajra re. Amazingly, it helped set Aishwarya's career back on track. After Devdas (2002) she had ambitiously ventured into the international arena but the results were not spectacular. Back home, her career faltered and she had no projects as the leading lady opposite the three Khans: Aamir, Salman or Shah Rukh. But Ash cashed in on the Kajra re craze ... it brought her back into the reckoning and kick-started her immensely successful second innings in Bollywood with Dhoom 2 (2006), Guru (2007) and Jodha Akbar (2008) following soon thereafter.

Priyanka Chopra was riding high on her tour de force performance in Barfi when she agreed to do just the titular Ram chahe Leela number in the Ranveer Singh-Deepika Padukone starrer Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013). But the payoff was worth it. This cemented her professional relationship with A-list director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and their team added steam with two subsequent biggies that featured Priyanka in pivotal roles -- Mary Kom (2014) and Bajirao Mastaani (2015).

When Kareena Kapoor attempted to reprise the superhit Helen torch song Yeh mera dil pyar ka deewana in the remake of Don (2006), the sizzle was missing. Whereas Helen had been electrifying with the choreographer and cinematographer working in complete sync with her. Kareena was also not able to work her magic in the special appearance item song Mera naam Mary hai, which she had done for her friend Karan Johar’s production, Brothers. But her audacious item number from the successful Salman Khan starrer, Dabangg 2 (2002), Mere photo ko seene se yaar, chipkale saiyaan Fevicol se is still stuck in the public memory.

No wonder the biggest names repeatedly agree to appear in special appearance dance numbers. If it works, it’s a win-win: it props up the film and adds zing to the star’s repertoire.

Sushmita Sen shone in the Fiza number Mehboob mere. Urmila Matondkar had no qualms about performing item numbers alongside her successful films as a leading lady ... It kept her alive in the public memory. Director Rajkumar Santoshi offered her two such roles – in China Gate and Lajja. She also danced to the title number of mentor Ram Gopal Verma’s Company. The latter two were more miss than hits, but Chhamma chhamma was worth it; I knew it would be from the moment I saw it at a trial that Santoshi had organised just for the song.

This strategy doesn’t always work. When Zeenat Aman wore oversized glasses and grooved to Dum maaro dum, it made her an overnight star. But when Deepika Padukone jived to the remixed number in Dum Maaro Dum it drew mixed reactions with the bold lyrics catching some flak. Similarly, when Jacqueline Fernandez attempted her take on the iconic Ek do teen number in Baghi 2, it didn’t fly with fans of the still popular original which had once skyrocketed Madhuri Dixit to the top.

And Prachi Desai’s attempt to change her cutesy image with a bold-as-brass item number Awaari in Ek Villain didn’t achieve its objective. But sometimes a 5-minute song and dance set can punch above its weight. Katrina Kaif won more popularity for her sinuous steps in the chartbusting Chikni Chameli from Agneepath (2012) than she did for many of her films.

The song continues to be a dance floor favourite at every Sangeet ceremony I attend even eight years after its release. And that’s what keeps the dance performance cameo a staple. Don’t be surprised if the leading men join in too.

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