Recently I happened onto two more examples of the top shot technique in 1930s Indian film dance: Rajput Ramani (Hindi, 1936) and Rambayin Kaathal (Tamil, 1939)! This suggests the technique must have been fairly popular in Indian cinema at that time, and it's easy to see why it was so. Moving the camera away from the static, theatrical frontal position must have been awe inspiring in those days (and it still is today!)
Rajput Ramani (Hindi, 1936) - "Ayi Sakhi Kya Bahar" - Starting at :30, the number begins with an overhead shot of the hands of a circle of dancing women. The camera slowly rises, and then we see a level shot inside same dancing circle that gives the viewer a frame of reference. The number advances at 1:05 when the women individually spin inward and outward, and at 2:10 the extensions of the women's clothing as they spin create pinwheels! Like Amrit Manthan, Rajput Ramani was directed by V. Shantaram and produced by Prabhat Films, a renowned studio in its day known for its talented art department. Aren't the cuts to the audience watching the dance performance interesting. Their view is quite boring, but our view, thanks to the possibilities the camera creates, is mesmerizing!
Rambayin Kaathal (Tamil, 1939—not 1956!) - According to Randor Guy, this successful film centered around the heavenly dancer Ramba and her trials. I adore this courtly group dance number featuring six young women! The emphasis on the sounds of the ghungroo bells, the jewelry and arm ornaments, the choreography—everything about the number looks very old and quite different from the film dances seen in the late 1940s and onwards. My favorite part begins at 1:17 where we see a routine group dance number performed on top of a design on the court floor. At 1:46, the girls start to move in a more complex pattern and then at 1:50—bam! The Busby Berkeley-inspired top-shot appears and suddenly the dance is transformed into beautiful circle and weaving patterns as the dancers move on top of the same floor design pattern. Once again, a dance technique possible only on film!
To close, here are two video compilations of some great Busby Berkeley film choreography! Unfortunately embedding doesn't work: video one, video two. Happy viewing!
LABELS: Busby Berkeley