Bring­ing Bol­ly­wood to Beijing

Chi­nese dancer’s Hindi moves prove a hit with In­dian fans

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Mukesh Sharma The writer is a jour­nal­ist based in the Mid­dle East.

She slith­ers onto the he podium to the beat eat of a Hindi num­ber, her lithe frame twirling into a clas­sic as­sic Bol­ly­wood pose. Amid the whirl and swirl of an eth­nic In­dian an cos­tume and throb­bing mu­sic, the dancer’s gy­ra­tions reach a rapid beat. So does the mood in the res­tau­rant.

Some din­ers start tap­ping their feet un­der the square ta­bles while oth­ers turn to look in­tently.

Zhao Le has been do­ing this for more than a decade. Six years ago, it was on a dais in an In­dian res­tau­rant in Beijing’s CBD. Today, she has leaped onto a podium at another of the res­tau­rant’s branches in Wu­daokou on the other side of the cap­i­tal.

At 28, the chirpy Le has mes­mer­ized au­di­ences with a va­ri­ety of tastes and her­itage. While In­dian din­ers find in her an epit­ome of their cul­ture thou­sands of kilo­me­ters from home, the Chi­nese marvel at one of their own ser­e­nad­ing an ex­otic artis­tic tra­di­tion, an ex­am­ple of two civ­i­liza­tions co­a­lesc­ing into a sym­phony.

Lily’s (Zhao’s alias) jour­ney into “dance­dom” be­gan when she de­cided to make the art her vo­ca­tion and joined the Beijing work­shop run by Kuchipudi (a dance from the south­ern In­dian state of Kar­nataka) ex­po­nent Hari Om, who coached her for two months.

Lax­man Hem­nani, owner of the res­tau-

rant chain in Beijing, said a num­ber of Chi­nese dance en­thu­si­asts have learned clas­si­cal dance forms from a teacher at the In­dian em­bassy’s cul­ture cen­ter. He would train them in Bharat Natyam (from Tamil Nadu in South India) and other clas­si­cal dance forms for free. Le knew some stu­dents who had learned it from Hari Om, and was in turn trained by them.

Movie mania

Many Chi­nese au­di­ences love Bol­ly­wood mu­sic from In­dian direc­tor Raj Kapoor’s movies, Awara be­ing one. They are also fond of tracks from Jee­tendra’s (In­dian film star of yes­ter­year) film Car­a­van. So is Le, who is ea­ger to visit India, the birth­place of the art she prac­tices. Owner of Wu Yuan Dance, a work­shop for chil­dren, Lily slips into the role of a teacher when she is not mak­ing In­dian dance palat­able to pa­trons at the res­tau­rant. Bol­ly­wood films have also im­pressed the woman who, in her In­dian cos­tume, looks like a na­tive from the north­east of India. Dan­gal, 3 Idiots and Baahubali have been Lily’s fa­vorites In­dian movies. Strug­gling to ex­plain her ad­mi­ra­tion for the In­dian films, Lily says: “I love Hindi movies,” adding in halt­ing English that she has been watch­ing them for many years. Ex­pa­tri­ate din­ers rel­ish Lily’s way of flit­ting be­tween Hindi film num­bers with prac­ticed ease, of­ten join­ing her to shake a leg. Her pho­to­graphs with pa­trons have been shared on WeChat and other so­cial me­dia plat­forms, says Hem­nani. Lily’s en­tire dance wardrobe is sourced from India. “A Chi­nese de­signer based in New Delhi sends me all my cos­tumes,” she says with a twin­kle in her eyes be­fore break­ing into an im­promptu jig.

Cul­tural push

In­di­ans liv­ing in China, par­tic­u­larly Beijing, say the In­dian em­bassy has

been en­thu­si­as­tic in pro­mot­ing India’s dances. Hun­dreds of Chi­nese ci­ti­zens have ben­e­fited from the free dance train­ing of­fered by the c cul­tural cen­ter af­fil­i­ated to the India In­dian mis­sion. “Af­ter “A get­ting trained at the cen­ter, th­ese girls in turn train other Chi­nese in the craft. There is a huge de­mand for learn­ing In­dian dance forms here, es­pe­cially among 3 to 4-year-old girls,” says Hem­nani.

Modern cul­tural ties be­tween India and China can be seen as a con­tin­u­a­tion of cul­tural ex­changes that go back hun­dreds and even thou­sands of years.

The town of Ra­j­griha (modern Ra­j­gir) in the In­dian state of Bi­har was vis­ited by Chi­nese trav­el­er­monks who have recorded de­tails of the phys­i­cal set­ting of the place. Fa Xian, Xuan Zang and Yi Jing are among a num­ber of schol­ars who vis­ited India to study Bud­dhism and learn about In­dian tra­di­tions and cul­ture.

Xuan Zang, who vis­ited India from 630 to 642, spe­cial­ized in the Yo­gacara School of Bud­dhism. He is said to have re­turned to China car­ry­ing back images of Bud­dha and texts and notes.

The In­dian dances that peo­ple usu­ally see in China grew out of “Natya Shas­tra,” a San­skrit trea­tise writ­ten by the sage Bharata in his­tor­i­cal times. Th­ese grace­ful forms have crossed borders and have lent a per­spec­tive to In­dian cul­ture abroad.

This is prob­a­bly what drew Lily to Hari Om’s work­shop, af­ter which she was able to slip into the role of an en­ter­tainer with prac­ticed ease. She not only per­forms at the res­tau­rant but also dis­plays her art be­fore larger au­di­ences who are gen­er­ally part of cor­po­rate groups tour­ing China. She and another dancer have re­galed vis­it­ing In­dian groups and other cus­tomers at gath­er­ings on dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions.

You could say Lily is the cul­tural am­bas­sador of India in China, de­spite be­ing a Chi­nese.

Photo: Mukesh Sharma

Zhao Le per­forms In­dian danc­ing in a Beijing res­tau­rant.

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