A trip to India wouldn't be complete without learning to dance Bollywood-style, writes Rob Mcfarland
Hip sway...pelvic thrust...shoulder dip...finger wag. No, that's not right. I'm thrusting the wrong way. Vibhor smiles patiently and we try again.
I'm attempting to learn the steps to Dhinka Chika, a song from the 2011 Bollywood hit Ready, in which leading man Salman Khan (me) tries to woo leading lady Asin Thottumkal (my girlfriend) by describing how their love will blossom over the next 12 months: "In January, when there shall be winter, we will turn on the heater of love. The blanket shall be as small as February in which we shall play hide and seek. March shall be a romantic month. We shall do what we haven't done before". Who could resist?
It's difficult to overstate how popular Bollywood is in India. It's the world's largest filmmaking entity, producing roughly double the number of movies that Hollywood does each year.Rob Mcfarland
This charm offensive continues until December when he confidently predicts that "our marriage will get fixed on the 12th with the stamp of one heart over the other" but not before adding "I can't even live without you for 12 minutes."
This seems oddly specific, although from the look on my girlfriend's face, I get the impression she could quite happily live for 12 minutes without seeing my attempt at a pelvic thrust again.
With his skin-tight "Daily Rock News" T-shirt, fashionable five-day growth and hair slicked back into a ponytail, Vibhor looks every bit the swarthy Bollywood star. He runs a troupe of Bollywood dancers and has a studio in Jaipur where people can learn routines for weddings and parties. Today he's accompanied by an assistant, 19-year-old Shree, who's wearing a casual long-sleeved top and tight jeans.
I, on the other hand, am sporting a pair of zip-off walking pants and a high-wicking grey running top. If the Kathmandu brand ever decides to sponsor a Bollywood movie and needs someone with the dancing prowess of a newborn foal, I'm in with a chance.
Vibhor and Shree's English is limited so there's little verbal explanation, just a demonstration of each move, which we gradually link together into a 1½-minute routine. It's enormously good fun and surprisingly hard work. After 40 minutes, I have a newfound respect for the Bollywood dancers who make their living doing this day-in day-out.
It's difficult to overstate how popular Bollywood is in India. It's the world's largest filmmaking entity, producing roughly double the number of movies that Hollywood does each year. Stars are idolised and magazines and fan websites gossip over their every move. While many of the storylines seem ridiculous by Western standards – full of fanciful coincidences, family feuds and, of course, elaborate weddings – for millions of Indians they're a glamorous respite from the harsh realities of day-to-day life.
This private class has been organised by Banyan Tours, a company that specialises in bespoke tours of India. The setting is unusual in that we're not at Vibhor's dance studio, but instead at the home of Dr Ashwin Dalvi, a classical musician and former professor of sitar. His wife is a dancer who specialises in kathak, a form of classical Indian dance, and we're using her studio on the first floor of the couple's elegant home in the upmarket Jaipur suburb of Sodala. I never do get to the bottom of why the class is being held here (acceptance is the key to success when travelling in India) and Ashwin spends the lesson looking on with bewildered amusement.
We say goodbye to Vibhor and Shree, who, despite the language issues, have done a fine job both of teaching us the routine and managing not to laugh at me. I imagine them dissolving into hysterics the minute they're safely out of the house.
Before we leave, I ask Ashwin if he'll play us a tune. He agrees and we file into his recording studio where he carefully removes a surbahar from its case. With its long neck and wide fretboard, it looks almost identical to a sitar but produces a deeper, more resonant sound. He explains that there are no songs as such, just improvisations around a scale, and that performances can often last more than an hour. I obviously fail to hide my alarm because he quickly assures us that he'll only play for a few minutes. He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes and the room fills with a slow, stirring melody full of lingering notes and heartfelt pauses.
An hour ago we were thrusting our hips to Dhinka Chika; now we're enjoying a recital from one of the country's leading classical music experts. It's India in a nutshell – chaotic, confusing and utterly compelling.
Air India flies direct from Sydney and Melbourne to Delhi, and then on to Jaipur. Phone 1800 247 463, see airindia.in.
SEE + DO
Banyan Tours can create a tailor-made Indian itinerary including accommodation, transfers, activities and domestic travel. The one-hour Bollywood dance class in Jaipur costs $60 each. see banyantours.com.
The writer travelled as a guest of Air India and Banyan Tours.