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7 glorious belly dance numbers in Hindi cinema before Nora Fatehi

From Helen to Zeenat Aman, Katrina Kaif to Rani Mukerji, we list the actresses who worked magic with their moves.

Mayur Lookhar

The novelty factor of Indian cinema, particularly Hindi cinema, is the song-and-dance sequences.

Over the years, filmmakers have incorporated various dance forms in Hindi films. Beginning from the classical Indian dance forms, Hindi films are now branching towards international dance forms.

The Arabian belly dance, also referred to as the Arabic dance, is often used for dance sequences, the so-called item numbers, in Hindi films.

Though largely performed by women in Hindi cinema, in the Ottoman empire the dance was performed by both sexes.

It is not known when the dance form first appeared in Hindi cinema. SD Narang's Yahudi Ki Ladki (1956) featured the Jamal sisters in a song sequence. Born Helena and Bertha Alpert, the siblings were Jewish belly dancers from Egypt.

The recently released 'Dilbar' song from Milap Zaveri's Satyameva Jayate had Moroccan-Canadian actress Nora Fatehi performing the dance. Watching Fatehi rekindled memories of Indian beauties who wove magic with their belly dancing. 

1. 'Mehbooba Mehbooba' — Sholay (1975)

This was, perhaps, the first time Hindi audiences enjoyed belly dancing in all its glory. Who else but cabaret queen Helen could have portrayed the magic of the art right.

Helen and Jalal Agha had just this dance appearance in the blockbuster Sholay. Little did they imagine that 'Mehbooba Mehbooba' would become synonymous with the film.

RD Burman’s unconventional voice, the refreshing music, and Helen’s sensuous moves melted hearts. The song was choreographed by PL Raj. 

2. 'Raqqasa Mera Naam' — The Great Gambler (1979)

Though not quite matching the high of 'Mehbooba Mehbooba', RD Burman scored another track that was picturized on a belly-dancing beauty. The music was more retro with a tinge of Arabic.

Actress Zeenat Aman was already a trendsetter; she dared to do things that other mainstream actresses baulked from doing, and she was the perfect fit for the song.

Compared to professional belly dancers, Aman certainly looked a bit off the pace, but her attempt was deserving of praise. Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle, too, got a taste of what it is like to croon such a song. Also, the man who enjoyed the most was the film's baddie, Prem Chopra.

3. 'Khatooba' — Alibaba Aur 40 Chor (1980) 

It is really a mystery why 'item numbers' usually have a seductress dancing in front of a bunch of bad guys. While the woman is busy entertaining the men, the hero is either spying on the enemy or there is a dear one he needs to rescue.

Zeenat Aman found herself in this situation in Umesh Mehra and Latif Faiziev’s Alibaba Aur 40 Chor. It does not come as a surprise that composer RD Burman, Asha Bhosle and PL Raj worked behind the scenes again for this one. This was not an outright belly-dance number, but Aman did show us some traditional belly dancing moves in the song. 

4. 'Kya Hoon Main' — Sultanat (1986)

One does not know whether there were any professional belly dancers working in Hindi cinema in the 1970s and the 1980s. Perhaps that is why we never had truly out-and-out Arabian dance numbers.

Sridevi, the reigning queen of the 1980s, tried her hand (or belly?) at this dance form in Mukul Anand’s Sultanat. It had an Arabian setting, with Sridevi and other dancers dressed like belly dancers, but the late actress only showed flashes of belly dancing in the 'Kya Hoon Main' song.

Asha Bhosle was the singer, but this time it was not RD Burman composing. Kalyanji-Anandji scored the music for this song.

5. 'Mayya Mayya' — Guru (2007)

For the first time, an Indian film had a song that stayed true to the art of belly dancing. Credit to choreographer Brinda, for she did not take the easy route by creating a fusion dance. Actress Mallika Sherawat did more than a fine job.

Composer AR Rahman roped in Egyptian singer Mariam Toller who complemented singer Chinmayee Sripada perfectly. Rahman got the idea for the song after he heard an Arabic singer croon 'Moya Moya'. The Mozart of Madras personally trained Toller for the song.

6. 'Mashallah' — Ek Tha Tiger (2012) 

The year 2012 was when actress Katrina Kaif produced the best dance performance of her life for the 'Chikni Chameli' song from Agneepath (2012). The same year, Kaif was seen in Kabir Khan’s spy thriller Ek Tha Tiger. In a Hindi film, spies, too, perform the belly dance.

Zoya (Kaif) is a Pakistani spy who falls in love with her Indian counterpart Tiger (Salman Khan). Lyricist Kausar Munir penned the 'Mashallah' track, with Sajid-Wajid scoring the music.

Now the composers had this tune for few years and it was initially not meant for Ek Tha Tiger. But each song has its own destiny and 'Mashallah' found its way into this spy thriller with Kaif showing off some of her belly-dancing skills.

Choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant was the architect of this fusion dance. While the track was enjoyable, Kaif was hampered by Khan's inadequacies as a dancer. The essence of the song, and belly dancing, was brought alive by her in a performance at the Filmfare awards. Viewers can see the difference for themselves.

7. 'Aga Bai' — Aiyyaa  (2012)

Seems like 2012 was the year when belly dancing was in vogue in Hindi cinema. From Katrina Kaif to Ileana D'Cruz and Rani Mukerji, all were bitten by the bug. Vaibhavi Merchant was at the forefront again as she choreographed a fusion of  belly dance with classical Indian-style moves.

From the onset, you could see that Mukerji was incorporating the two dance forms, without losing any grace. The music had no Arabic theme to it, yet belly dance is such that it can be performed to any good music. It is hard to recollect Mukerji giving a better dance performance than this.