Angry Young Man in a Dance-Off: The Cult of ‘Disco Dancer’
A film called Disco Dancer released in 1982. Its plot, music, costumes and the dancing were all a bit over the top. It’s what led to Mithun Chakraborty being identified as the ‘disco dancer’ forever in Indian film history. The costumes were glittery, the dancing was all pelvic thrusts, the plot involved nothing less than that horror of horrors to befall any musician worth his salt - guitar phobia.
The film was a huge success in India, but many years later, it started building a cult around itself. Owing in no small part to the reception of the film in the then unified USSR.
Disco Dancer is a film so glitzy and ambitious in its attempt to create an India which, unfortunately for all of us, never did pan out. It is a film that spawns a fandom and a legacy that refuses to die. Beth Watkins, an American fan of Hindi films says of the costumes on her blog, “Disco Dancer‘s costumes are a very particular kind of bad, a very enjoyable kind of bad - a kind that has a patina of age that ups its feel of what-the-hell-is-this? and seems so horrifying that it could never have been the teensiest bit real, could it? ” This is an argument that can be stretched to the rest of the film. As they say on the street, “It’s so bad it’s good”.
In 2011, comedian Anuvab Pal came out with his book called Disco Dancer: A Comedy in Five Parts, a funny take on the phenomenon unleashed by the film.
Disco Dancer’s screenplay changed the world. It took the Angry Young Man idea and put it in a dance context. It took the Salim-Javed man against the system guy and made him dance. So his revenge was a dance off, not a beating up of the villain. Which is a genius idea.
– Anuvab Pal, Writer and Comedian
“Today it is ironic and funny but who would not want to beat a villain by out-dancing him? Also let us not forget guitar phobia, the greatest psychological trauma a guitarist can have. Of seeing a red guitar and passing out because it reminds one of their mother’s guitar electrocution. Epic”, says Anuvab.
Its popularity is clearly not restricted to the erstwhile countries of the USSR and Russia alone, but has travelled to France as well. In the summer of 2010, I hosted some French students travelling through India in my house. On an alcohol addled evening as we bent over our laptops exchanging cultural artefacts, music specifically, our French guests surprised us with their knowledge and sheer adoration of Disco Dancer. My flatmate and I knew the song of course but were a little started by this foreign enthusiasm for it.
The film owes its legacy largely to its music. It enjoys a popularity unparalleled by any other Hindi film of the early 80s. This is a clip from a Russian Dance show from 2014 with a performance to Jimmy Jimmy.
There is of course M.I.A’s cover of Jimmy:
And then Of Montreal did a cover of M.I.A’s cover of Jimmy:
The film and its music is reprised constantly in popular culture. In the 2010 Hindi film Anjaana Anjaani, Ranbir Kapoor dances to Disco Dancer in a gay club enticing its clientele.
It is used in Electronic Dance Music too as in this 2001 album called Bombay 2: Electric Vindaloo which begins with a dialogue from Disco Dancer and has several more coming later
There is also fan made videos of this kind
A YouTube search will also find you fan made video with Baba Ramdev jigging to it.
You can laugh at it or be a fan but the disco dancer does not allow to be ignored. Those stellar dances moves should never be forgotten.