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'Breaking' Through the Clutter: New Film Explores the Flight of B-Boying in India

Video grab.
(YouTube / @Red Bull BC One )

Video grab. (YouTube / @Red Bull BC One )

Here one’s name and background does not define anyone, out on the dance floor their only identity is how they channel the beats through their bodies.

“But there’s always going to be a kid somewhere who finds a home in counterculture. And maybe that’s enough.”

When Indians think of dance, they think of Bollywood, or of the various dance forms traditionally associated with India such as Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Odissi etc. However, a new 'dance revolution' is 'breaking' stereotypes about the Indian cultural perception of dance.

Break dancing or b-boying has been on the rise ever since the early 2000. However, not much is known about the complicated dance form and its history in India. That's why an incongruous team of devout hip-hop lovers took it upon themselves to take the street-style dance form to newer heights with ‘Breaking in India | Breaking New Ground: India’s Dance Revolution’.

Directed by Nisha Vasudevan, Executive Creative Director of Supari Studios, the documentary explores the intricacies of this alternate pop counter-culture in India.

The Supari Studios believes in shattering the cluttered market by creating differentiated, immersive and scalable video content. When it was approached by Red Bull for that explores the evolution of hip hop dance in India along with its icons and trendsetters, the studio gladly agreed.

"The idea was to promote breaking as a dance and shed light on the story of this lesser-known art form," Nisha tells News18. "Our aim was to highlight a scene that has existed on the fringe of pop-culture and hopefully bring people to dig deeper and learn more about it," she added.

The 40-minute feature film also sketches two important questions — what does it mean for these artists that have chosen hip hop dance as a career path? And more importantly, what is in store for their future?

The film primarily highlights the hip hop dance scene of Kolkata, Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. Over 100 breakers around the world were consulted for the film which took the crew almost 10 months.

With a ‘scrappy approach that has been reflected in the film’s raw, lo-fi aesthetic’, the narrative of the film has been made to ensure that the ‘art of breaking itself comes off as the film’s hero.’

Fascinated by this alternative culture and excited to interact with the fiercely underground dance scene in India, Nisha was extremely glad to get the opportunity to document breaking in India.

The film unfolds in three parts — ‘Part 1 – Pioneers’, ‘Part 2- Slowing Down ‘ and ‘Part 3- The Future’; and through each unit it rolls out how "Indian breakers' fight to grow their scene and to keep it undiluted while doing so with an intensity that can only come from a deep love of their craft and culture."

The film kicks off with a handful of ‘pioneers’, who found their inspiration in a dance form that, two decades ago, was very niche. Eventually it narrates the story of their coming together on a B-Boy (a term used for breakers and hip-hop dancers) forum to form a bigger chain of breakers to their continued struggles in making the B-Boying scene in India bigger, better and more globalised with each passing day.

“I have consciously built out two distinct moods: the first half is pacy and playful with graphics and animation, while the second half is more measured and insight-driven,” says Nisha.

But what’s so unique about this dance form that has made breaking and hip-hop so captivating?

According to her, “Hip-hop as a culture or lifestyle has become so appreciated and widespread because of how approachable it is in comparison to other counter-culture music.” It is fine blend of culture and community that cares less about what your name ends with and focuses more on creating an uniform identity with the tags ‘B-Boy’ and ‘B-Girl’. One’s name and background does not define them, out on the dance floor their only identity is how they channel the beats through their bodies.

“The historical context of hip hop and breaking are important to note as well - it's not an art form reserved for the 'cream' of society and that's what makes it special and accessible and that is largely why it resonates with a wider segment of society,” said Nisha.

However, like the inherent limitations of each community, this one has its own problems: unequal representation of women, which is evident from the film.

“I chose to represent the Bangalore scene and the new generation of breakers through this year’s champion, B-Girl Jo - but we recognise and would love to shout out to so many B-Girls whom we weren’t able to shoot with,” said the director.

Having stated that, she does agree that this vista is comparatively less explored by women.

The film’s end resonates soulfully with the message the director takes away from the entire experience.

“This piece is made with a lot of love and heart and we hope the community feels adequately represented - These are the spaces in which young people find themselves, what they identify with, what they love to do, and what they want to be in the future.”

Indian breakers had a breakthrough with Red Bull BC One, that prominently marked India on the international map of breaking in 2015 with B-Boy Flying Machine being the first Indian to win it, and was eventually followed by B-Boy Tornado, B-Girl Jo in 2019 and others.

Although this film draws a lot of insight into the breaking community, that’s never enough to know their complete and complex world out there. At the end, if you too think that you have seen and learnt a lot about this world, well we urge you to keep an open and curious mind.

As Nisha says, “I'm just a fly on the wall getting a glimpse into the world they've built out.”