Documentary channel

A dream becomes a virtual reality in Sooni Taraporevala’s ‘Yeh Ballet’

Taraporevala’s riveting documentary explores the remarkable journey of two ballet dancers from working class families in Mumbai.

As the sparsely populated Mumbai local train speeds up, two teenagers instantly launch into movement, swaying from one metallic rod to another.

“The first time we met our ballet teacher, he told us to stretch our legs and dance. We didn’t understand a word of what he was saying,” say Amiruddin Shah and Manish Chauhan, undulating amidst goggle-eyed commuters – a point of view enhanced by the 360-degree virtual reality perspective with which they have been shot.

Sooni Taraporevala’s rivetting documentary Yeh Ballet chronicles the lives of the young ballet dancers, who hail from working class families in Mumbai and are among the first in India to get scholarships to study at ballet school in the United States of America. The documentary has been produced by filmmaker Anand Gandhi’s Memesys Culture Lab, and will be screened at the London Indian Film Festival (June 22-29). The 14-minute film captures the challenges faced by the duo up until they leave for the Oregon Ballet Theatre School in the US.

Yeh Ballet.

“I was fascinated that two boys who had never heard western classical music or seen classical ballet, after a mere 2 and a half years of instruction were so good that they had got a scholarship to the prestigious Joffrey Ballet in NYC,” said Taraporevala, the writer of several acclaimed films, including Salaam Bombay! and The Namesake, and the director of Little Zizou (2008).

Manish Chauhan (left) and Amiruddin Shah. Image credit: Sooni Taraporevala.
Manish Chauhan (left) and Amiruddin Shah. Image credit: Sooni Taraporevala.

Fifteen-year-old Shah is the youngest of eight siblings and the son of a welder from Sanpada in Navi Mumbai, while 21-year-old Chauhan is a taxi driver’s son. They learnt ballet from Yehuda Maor. In the film, the American teacher declares that Chauhan is a ‘Broadway meets Ballet’ performer, while Shah is the more ‘traditional’ one.

“I had learnt ballet myself for many years in Bombay as a child,” Taraporevala said. “I know the dance form and how difficult it is even though it looks so effortless and easy.”

Amiruddin with instructor Yehuda Maor. Image credit: Sooni Taraporevala.
Amiruddin with instructor Yehuda Maor. Image credit: Sooni Taraporevala.

Yeh Ballet brings us even closer to the young dancers through the virtual reality format – a first for Taraporevala. “It was a learning curve for me,” she said. “The VR rig is a pole with a round of GO Pro cameras attached to it. I had been told one essential fact that if anybody got within a few feet of the cameras they would be distorted. With a regular camera, film or video that is never a problem.”

Amiruddin with his family before leaving for the airport. Image credit: Sooni Taraporevala.
Amiruddin with his family before leaving for the airport. Image credit: Sooni Taraporevala.

Yeh Ballet got its world premiere at the Sheffield Doc Fest, and has been released on streaming platforms. “In Yeh Ballet you are not only following the journey of the two boys but you also have to hear what they say and read subtitles,” Taraporevala explained. “Because of this potential for it being all too much I wanted to make the edit as easy as possible on the viewer. I didn’t want them having to swing around for 14 minutes trying to follow the story.”

With the rig placed in the middle of the studio, the boys were made to dance around it without coming too close, enabling the viewers to virtually trace their moves. “We had no idea what went on in the scenes until we saw the footage later,” Taraporevala said.

Manish with his father. Image credit: Sooni Taraporevala.
Manish with his father. Image credit: Sooni Taraporevala.

The film showed the pair struggling to fill out their visa forms. Six months after production, Manish Chauhan is still pursuing ballet at the Oregon Ballet Theatre. Amiruddin Shah has returned to India and is looking to join the American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Onassis School after being sponsored by Cipla patriarch Yusuf Hamied.

Sooni Taraporevala with Manish and Amiruddin. Image credit: Rohan Raut.
Sooni Taraporevala with Manish and Amiruddin. Image credit: Rohan Raut.
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

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For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.