Yeh Ballet Review: Gully Boy meets Billy Elliot, Minus the Grit and Charm

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At the end of 2016, Manish Chauhan and Amiruddin Shah, two children from Navi Mumbai from poor families, received grants for one of the most renowned ballet schools in the world in the United States, less than three years after they started learning the dance form. It is an extraordinary true story. And in mid-2017 Sooni Taraporevala – known for writing down or writing the Mira Nair films, Salaam Bombay! and The Namesake – presented it in a 360-degree video with the short documentary Yeh Ballet. Now, less than three years later, Taraporevala is back on Netflix with a film of the same name – it's only her second director's film in over a decade – that dramatizes the boys' fairytale journey. Think of it as a gully boy, but for the dance or an Indian version of Billy Elliot,

Unfortunately, Yeh Ballet – "yeh" is Hindi for it – is nowhere as brave as its protagonists. Author and director Taraporevala delivers a numbered film that includes the beats required for a slum-to-stardom template, including an obligatory moment in which a disapproving parent is convinced of his child's talent without special touches. The lack of courage is also shown by the way the camera is in the hands of cinematographer Kartik Vijay (Manto), relies largely on a large depth of field that keeps almost everything in focus. We felt that Yeh Ballet didn't really know what to focus on. And a Bollywood pop track plays over the instrumental track in the film's great ballet number, which is also accelerated from time to time. This shows that the makers don't just trust the performance.

At the same time, the Netflix film does its characters a big disadvantage. Taraporevala writes two female supporters for the two ballet boys, but they do not have their own bows and only seem to exist to encourage, advise, and support the male protagonists. No wonder that they appear and disappear as it suits the protagonists' journey. Yeh Ballet's bigger crime, however, is dealing with one of the two leading roles. Chauhan plays himself in the film, but this fact is not even acknowledged, let alone portrayed, even if you end up with a few lines telling you where his characters are in life today. Yeh Ballet is so focused on expanding a story that goes back several years that it is blind to the better one that unfolds before his eyes. It would have made it easy meta and felt more real.

The ballet begins with the performance of Asif (Achintya Bose), a breakdance enthusiast who defies the anger of the fishermen as he releases himself in one of the rare open spaces in the middle of the Mumbai sea slum that he calls home. Asif routinely invites to trouble, even at home, where his uncle reprimands him for "non-Muslim activities". "It is haraam"He barks. Fortunately his parents (Danish Husain and Heeba Shah) tend to agree. This is not the case for talent show candidate Nishu (Chauhan), whose success is sharply criticized by his father (Vijay Maurya):" Will pay a golden hat for your food? "Their worlds soon collide in a local dance academy that has unlocked the talents of a former great ballerino, Saul Aaron (Julian Sands), who is best described as edgy.

And this is where the problems begin. Though Yeh is playing ballet in what is now India, Saul's arrival in the country – he is Israel over America – is depicted in such a stereotypical exaggeration that the First World white man is not noticed by Third World events that he encounters as something the 80s or 90s. But Taraporevala's failed comedy attempts are only a fraction of the writing problems, even with the ballet teacher. Yeh Ballet devotes time to Saul's alienated relationship with his brother, which is conceptually interesting but does not contribute to the story and only serves to deviate in practice from the story of the two boys from Mumbai. If you wanted to see how Saul behaves in difficult situations, you have achieved a lot elsewhere.

Speaking of repetition: Yeh Ballet contains two dialog lines for the price of one each, which tell the audience what they already know or have found out themselves. Elsewhere, the Netflix movie looks back on scenes that were literally shown less than 10 minutes ago. This is a foolproof level, based on the assumption that the target audience has a child's attention span. Yeh Ballet is similarly depressed when he explains the municipal dispute that mainly affects Asif, suggesting that Taraporevala feared that Netflix's international audience might not understand what was going on. This is not necessary if you indicated early on that less privileged Muslims like Asif are more likely to be victims of hate crimes in India.

Sasha Shetty as Neena in the Yeh Ballet
Photo credit: Supriya Kantak / Netflix

For what it is worth, it is good to see a film that is aware of its socio-political reality. Through the respective friendships of Asif and Nishu, in which breakdancer Asha (Mekhola Bose) and ballet-rich Neena (Sasha Shetty) are involved, Yeh Ballet deals with the class differences that permeate Mumbai. But his messages are not always organic. Unlike her previous screenplays, Taraporevala doesn't examine religious and class struggles in detail, and she has nothing to say that you haven't heard a thousand times before. Instead, the Netflix movie does a lot better with its tiny, quiet moments, be it Asif, who practices ballet while queuing in the slums for water every day, Nishu, who practices and cleans the ballet studio at the same time, or Asif praying in a temple because the girl he likes is Hindu.

This also applies to Yeh Ballet's impressive opening shot, which begins high above Mumbai with a view of the Bandra-Worli lake link before turning to reveal one of the city's many slums. In a few wordless seconds, the fancy Rs. The 16 billion bridge – a beacon of how the needs of the few take precedence over the many – becomes the symbol of the upper class, which in this case avoids its lower counterparts by literally moving around she flies around. Unfortunately, these touches and patience are lacking in the rest of Taraporevala's work on Yeh Ballet, which doesn't know when to emphasize something or let the characters breathe, how to create scenes to create the right emotions and give them the importance they deserve it to stage scenes correctly and to link them together.

Taraporevala also inserts several Bollywood-style music numbers into Yeh Ballet, which is strange since a Netflix movie, unlike theatrical releases, has no commercial concerns. Like the pop song mentioned above, which plays over Asif and Nishu's great ballet performance, it comes from a limited imagination – in addition to writing, directing and cinematography – and further dilutes the film from its potential. Yeh Ballet hasn't run a feature project in 12 years and is a rusty return to Taraporevala. And that's a shame considering that the young actors, many of whom are beginners, do a good job of who they have to work with. Especially Chauhan, who turned from a taxi driver's son to a ballet dancer – and is now an actor. It is a story that deserves more.

Yeh Ballet will be available worldwide on Netflix on Friday.