The Naach Box: Bringing Bollywood to Melbourne
Extravagant sets, saree clad beautiful heroines on snow laden hills, catchy music, romance galore, a make-believe world- Bollywood (the Hindi film industry) is all that and much more. For decades, the glamour of Bollywood has enamoured people across the globe, and Karthika Vijaykumar and Raphael Jacob is all set to gift a slice of that glitz to Melbourne. Their dance venture The Naach Box (the dance box) is both an ode to their favourite dance genre, and an endeavour to get more people interested in the craziness called Bollywood.
In a chat with TAL, Karthika, one of the founders of The Naach Box explains the idea behind the start up, the challenges they faced initially and the reception received by the team.
Before getting into The Naach Box, please tell us something about you and your partner Raphael’s dance journey?
I started dancing when I was very little - beginning with folk and classical dance, followed by Jazz, Bellydance, Bollywood, Salsa and contemporary, before falling in love with Kathak. I moved away from dance only once and that was undoubtedly one of the saddest phases of my life.
Raphael (Raph) started his dancing journey with Break Dance and Hip Hop. He soon moved on to Salsa, Jazz and Contemporary styles. We both have been part of award winning dance teams throughout our school and college lives, and have also worked with professional dance companies in Bangalore, South India.
Raph and I met in 2010 when I joined the same corporate organisation he was working in.
Since then we have been performing together for all our office functions, annual days and similar meets.
When did you start dancing professionally? What motivated you to do so?
I started dancing professionally at the age of 15 when I joined Biju Kolli’s Vibes. Meeting Biju and joining Vibes happened by chance - and was one of the best decisions I have ever made. At a young age (before the advent of social media networks) I was exposed to various dance forms, show business and incredible talent.
Biju and my parents motivated me a lot for they saw the potential in me. They allowed me to grow and persuaded me to explore more! Through Vibes, I learnt to be a dancer, performer and to own the stage. I owe a lot of the dancer I am today to him. I have made strong bonds with dancers who are now like family and the exposure to show business at such a young age gave me the opportunity to travel extensively and learn about different dance forms.
Raph started his professional dance journey when he was 10. His initial styles involved Break Dance and other western dance forms. When he moved to Bangalore, South India, he learnt more dance forms like Salsa, Meringue, Bachata and Contemporary.
Dancing runs in Raph’s family, as his brother is also a fantastic dancer. Raph was an active member of his brother’s dance company, GPD for many years.
What prompted you to start The Naach Box? Is this a full time gig for you and Raph?
I moved to Australia almost two years ago. The first year, dancing took a backseat, as my husband and I were busy settling down and exploring this vast country.
Middle of 2016, Raph and his partner, Varsha, moved to Australia. One of the first things we did together was to explore the dance scene here. We signed up with two dance companies and continue to work with one now.
The Naach Box happened by chance. We got in touch with a community hub close to our residences, enquiring if we could teach Bollywood dance lessons there.
They immediately agreed and in a week we were teaching Bollywood workout sessions. The program was for three months and it turned out to be such a hit! The response was amazing, with the number of participants increasing every week! Slowly Raph and I decided to turn this into a more serious, stable endeavour. Thus, The Naach box was born.
The Naach Box will be one soon! Although we would love to turn this into a full time ‘day job’, we are not doing so now. We both have other day jobs. But, dancing keeps us sane.
What was the initial feedback for The Naach box?
The feedback has been fantastic and overwhelming. The passion and energy that we bring to our routines are well appreciated. For those who know us and have either worked with us or seen us perform, were glad that we started ‘The Naach Box’. The question they would often ask is what took us so long to start it?
What are the various activities undertaken by The Naach Box?
Other than taking the weekly class at the community hub, we now have a performing unit. Some of our participants, prior to joining us, had zero dance experience. Raph and I have successfully moulded them into dancers and performers.
Last year, we also choreographed wedding dances for couples, including sangeet (a pre-wedding ceremony usually taking place in North India) performances for their friends, and have performed at various community and private functions.
One of the biggest highlights for us was performing for the former Australian Prime Minister, Sir John Howard and various other dignitaries. It was truly an honour!
We also performed at the iconic Queen Victoria Market. The crowd’s responses and the feedback were truly overwhelming. That show helped us gain immense local recognition.
Our recent performance at the Indian Film Festival, Melbourne – Bollywood dance competition had us receiving accolades from the crowd. Though we didn’t get placed, the outpouring of support from both the crowd and our competitors was truly humbling.
Why the emphasis on Bollywood? Doesn’t this feed into the western notion of equating every Indian dance with Bollywood?
It’s funny because there is a notion that Indians can only do ‘Bollywood’ dance. But in our case, hell we can and damn well too!
From my experience, people in Australia have mostly interacted with Indians from North India who traditionally have a lot of dancing and singing at their weddings (of course everyone does it now). Probably that is how the stereotype came about.
I am a huge ‘Bollywood’ fan and have spent most of my growing years fantasising of having Bollywood-style love story!
However, we do intend to spread our dancing wings and teach Kathak and other dance forms as well. But our current Bollywood dance lessons have a healthy mix of other dance forms too. I think that’s what makes us different from other Bollywood dance classes in Melbourne.
What were the challenges you had to face while starting The Naach Box?
The challenge was to break into the market here. There are dance companies who have been in Melbourne for the last 10 to 20 years! And, we are just a few months old. We are taking tiny steps, but hopefully it will pay off soon. There are no shortcuts, and we are working hard to make our dance stand out.
Since the inception of The Naach box, what have been your journey's saddest and happiest moments?
There have been too many happy moments to count. An encouraging feedback, a happy, satisfied smile from a student, or a positive comment on our social media pages, make us extremely happy.
As for sad moments, there have been a few. But we prefer not to dwell on them, and move on quickly.
Raph and I make a good team, and we complement each other beautifully. I have these mad ideas and concepts, and he helps break them into more achievable and sustainable goals.
We also receive a lot of love and support from our partners. My husband, Jay shoots all our videos and takes beautiful pictures of us performing. And, Raph’s partner Varsha helps out with Finance and Admin work. Together, between the four of us, we make The Naach Box work!