'Yeh Ballet' Review: A quintessential underdog story

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Netflix Original Film Yeh Ballet follows the story of two incredibly gifted but underprivileged dancers struggling to keep their passions alive in a society governed by bigotry, prejudice, and apathy. Directed by Sooni Taraporevala, the noted writer of films like Salaam Bombay!, Mississippi Masala, and The Namesake, Little Ballet is a fictionalised version of a 2017 short documentary of the same name made by Taraporevala herself. The film features newcomers Manish Chauhan and Achintya Bose as the two protagonists. Yeh Ballet also stars veteran English actor Julian Sands, whose credits include films like The Killing Fields, A Room with a View, Naked Lunch, and Leaving Las Vegas, in the pivotal role of an eccentric ballet teacher. The film co-stars Jim Sarbh, Danish Husain, Vijay Maurya, and Heeba Shah.

Towards the end Yeh Ballet, a young ballet dancer (Chauhan playing a fictionalised version of himself) tells his rich female friend, “I may have been born poor but my dreams are rich.” The line best sums up the central conflict of every underdog story. And Yeh Ballet is a quintessential underdog story—if anything, here we have two underdogs instead of one.

Yeh Ballet adds to the long list of underdog stories that we have witnessed over the years in cinema from all across the globe. Some of the best examples they come to mind are Rocky, 8 Mile, Seabiscuit, Slumdog Millionaire, and Million Dollar Baby. Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy also belongs to the same league. In fact, in many ways Gully Boy is also a precursor to Yeh Ballet.

The critical and commercial success of Gully Boy has given courage to Indian filmmakers to explore similar subjects and Yeh Ballet is a good example of it. Yes, the film existed earlier as a short documentary but making a full-fledged feature film on the subject is really a special achievement. Now, it is not easy to find ballet dancers who can act in front of a motion-picture camera. Taraporevala is really fortunate to have discovered talent like Bose and Chauhan who are up to the challenge. Also the casting of Sands in the role of the Israeli ballet master with temperamental issues is nothing short of a masterstroke.

In the recent times a few questions had been raised regarding the deteriorating quality of the Indian original films sourced by Netflix. But it would be safe to say that Yeh Ballet will put all that to rest. Choreographers Cindy Jourdain, Shiamak Davar and Vitthal Patil deserve a lot of credit for the success of Yeh Ballet. Without their work on the film wouldn’t have been what it is. Also the camerawork is spot on in capturing the dynamic dance moves. The biggest strength in Taraporevala’s screenplay is its ability to make pithy observations on class divide, religious bigotry, and the growing disillusionment in the human society. However, the only thing that works to film’s disadvantage is a strong element of predictability. But that’s something one must be willing to accept with every underdog story.

Rating: 7.5/10

A version of this review was first published in The Sunday Guardian.

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