Dir: Remo. With: Prabhudheva, Varun Dhawan, Shraddha Kapoor, Lauren Gottlieb. 152 mins. Cert: PG
2013’s ABCD – it stood for Any Body Can Dance, establishing the talent-show territory it was staking out – found Bollywood cutting in on an idea proven profitable elsewhere: its stereoscopic urban danceathon marked another jump-off from the Step Ups. This takeback was more cheeky than venal: Hindi cinema has its own tradition of fleet-footedness, a lineage ABCD2 underlines by appointing a boy schooled in Indian classical dance to head its crew. If you’re looking for flow from your musicals, here it is – and this sequel even folds in claims of plagiarism, the better to transcend them.
It transpires that en route to TV triumph, the Mumbai Stunners pilfered a move from a rival troupe, the steal called out on social media for all to comment upon. Mortal shame is thereby brought upon brooding mentor Vishnu (Prabhudheva) and chief B-boy Suresh (Varun Dhawan), although possible redemption presents itself after it’s revealed the Stunners have won a place in an international competition in Las Vegas – blatant brand expansion, this, not unlike Pitch Perfect 2’s decision to dispatch its Bellas to Copenhagen.
What ensues follows a recognisably Cowellian arc. Early auditions garner cheap laughs at the expense of clumsy no-hopers; the discoveries get a midfilm warm-up in Bangalore that serves a similar narrative purpose to Glee’s recurring regionals; there’s a makeover section; and, eventually, we reach the make-or-break bling of the World Starz Hip-Hop Challenge – or to give it its full, slightly less street title, the Ponds Men’s Face Wash World Starz Hip-Hop Challenge. (These characters have 99 problems, but acne isn’t one.)
All of which is to suggest that, for fullest enjoyment, there is much about ABCD2 that requires forgiveness, or at least overlooking. There is, firstly, that Glee problem of performers who look of an age where they should be shopping for Cath Kidston towels rather than seen wearing baseball caps backwards in public. And, boy, is it gimmicky: festooned in confectionary-wrapper colours, given to item-tossing business designed to justify the 3D surcharge. Its comic stretches deploy a wacky-zany mode even kids’ TV has abandoned; a cantering gag – it hardly reaches running speed – depends on one dancer’s enduringly smelly feet.
Yet none of this matters whenever a beat drops. ABCD2 is the latest film to recognise that – however you gender your gaze – there is an abiding pleasure in watching bodies in motion, and choreographer-turned-director Remo d’Souza keeps nudging more of them on. Many bases are covered: a funny drunk number as Vishnu drowns his sorrows, Dharmesh Yelande’s precision robotics, those Diversity-like massed-rank interpretative stomps that look like some light-entertainment repurposing of the Nuremberg Rallies, a trad clifftop love song lent extra wow by its Monument Valley backdrop.
At 152 minutes, the film is, let’s say, generously edited, but we’re allowed time to admire – and sometimes marvel at – the choreography: by holding shots several clicks longer than the norm, d’Souza offers unbroken passages of movement, and every chance to catch distinguishing flourishes within the overall design. (There may, in fact, be good reason why his kids appear older than their Western equivalents: it presumably takes years of training to attain such expressivity. No-one gave a damn how old Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly were the instant they tapped a toe.)
Having Disney on board has inevitably resulted in a budgetary upgrade: the makers of 2010’s Streetdance, where Nichola Burley stockpiled KitKats within a Frank Harper-operated greasy spoon, will likely gasp in envy at the split-level cocktail bar where Suresh earns his crust. Yet the improvements aren’t merely superficial; they’re structural, too. Relocating this formula to a cinema where song and dance is the rule and not the exception allows d’Souza to slip freely between set-pieces without recourse to his predecessors’ straining narrative contrivance.
Yes, there is here a turned ankle, an estranged son, even – at the last – a nasty case of TB (which hale-and-hearty Channing Tatum never had to overcome), yet the film takes all these elements in its stride. Nothing is allowed to harsh the prevailing youth-club vibe; the film is as lithe, and as blithe, as dancers aim to appear on stage. Frivolous as it may seem on the surface, the material’s been shaped with showbiz savvy, by the safest imaginable pair of jazz hands. d’Souza knows these films are only as good as their last dance – and this sequel retains some undeniably entertaining moves.
ABCD2 is now playing in cinemas nationwide.