Review Of Netflix’s Yeh Ballet : An Important Underdog Story Which Resonates Beyond Region And Culture

An Important Story That Needs To Be Told…

The film ‘Yeh Ballet’ opens with a drone shot observing Mumbai’s skyline as soothing piano music plays in the background. This same shot slowly moves towards the slums of Mumbai and as it does the music seamlessly transitions into beatboxing; perfectly setting up the world and themes of the story we are about to witness. Ballet is not something you would immediately associate with the slums of Mumbai. But that is exactly where the filmmakers of ‘Yeh Ballet’ have found their story and what a story it is!

Gully Boys Meet Billy Elliot…

‘Yeh Ballet’, the film which is inspired by a VR documentary of the same name by Sooni Taraporevala, tells the story of three people who find each other through dance and help each other in a myriad of ways. The first of the three characters is Asif (Achintya Bose) who is a hip-hop enthusiast who comes from a large Muslim family and survives by doing petty crimes with his little group of friends. The second one is Nishu (Manish Chauhan) who hails from a conservative Hindu family whose patriarch is a taxi driver and despises dance for seemingly no reason. The third is Saul Aaron (Julian Sands) who is a cranky new Ballet teacher at the Mumbai Dance Academy. When a chance encounter makes Saul Aaron take a keen interest in the two boys, it changes the three lives forever.

Subverting Clichés All The Way…

While the story of a white man helping two boys from the slums might seem cliché, the film is nothing but. The film constantly subverts your expectations about where it’s going. It constantly surprises you with moments that seem more real than constructed for a dramatic moment to work. The biggest subversion is in the way that it uses the character of Saul Aaron. In most of these kinds of stories, he would be an angel who is very optimistic and wants to do nothing but help. But here, he is a cranky old man who has no patience. The main reason that the film works is because of the prickly yet sweet chemistry between the three leads. They help each other out in ways that are extremely satisfying, but never cheesy or preachy. The only flaw that I can think of is that it takes a little time to find its groove and set up the main dynamic between the three leads. Once it does, it is a smooth and exhilarating ride till the end.

A Realistic World Brought To Screen…

The film seems rooted and real because of the achingly real production design, which lays out the various worlds these people live in and the stark contrast they have to each other. The boxy clustered houses of Nishu and Asif, to the Palatial house Nina inhabits, to the middle class rented suburban house that Saul Aaron makes a home; the places feel lived in and manage to transport you to their world. This is perfectly complemented by the smooth yet precise balletic cinematography by Kartik Vijay. But the real standouts of the film are the various dance performances from Hip-Hop to Ballet to contemporary which are all beautifully choreographed (by Cindy Jourdain, Shaimak Davar, and others) and captured on-screen.

On the whole, this is a great original from Netflix after the impressive Soni from last year. It is a must-watch for dance enthusiasts and is a heart-touching story about determination that anyone would be engrossed by.