‘RRR’ to ‘Beast’: Why filmmakers are creating a hook step

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Audiences no longer want to just watch in awe as a star dances. Now, they want to do it too.

Audiences no longer want to just watch in awe as a star dances. Now, they want to do it too.

“Hop a little, jump a little,” goes the nursery rhyme. Now, Vijay, considered one of the best dancers in the industry, is doing just that — dance steps that are literally child’s play.

In the recent Tamil track ‘Jolly O Gymkhana’ from Beast, composed by Anirudh, the actor hops and jumps, keeping steps simple and easy to imitate. The result? 40 million-plus views on YouTube, partly powered by hundreds of Instagram Reels’ users trying out the steps.

A few months ago, everyone was imitating the actors of ‘Naatu Naatu’ ( RRR). And before that, it was ‘Vaathi Coming’, ‘Butta Bomma’, ‘Tum Tum’ and ‘Rowdy Baby’. All these superhit songs have one thing in common: the hook step.

Choreographers and directors are increasingly looking out for simple, easy-to-do dance moves, like tapping your thigh or rotating your shoulder, which audiences can recreate in the comfort of their homes. Audiences no longer want to just watch in awe as a star dances, now they want to do it too.

A still from Beast

A still from Beast
| Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Nelson, the director of Beast, says that a hook step has become an integral part of today’s cinema. For instance, in ‘Arabic Kuthu’, which has Vijay and Pooja Hegde grooving to catchy music, the moves were meticulously planned. “The reason we wanted a song like that in the first place was to ensure that everybody dances to it,” says Nelson. These steps, choreographed by Jani Master, have inspired audiences, from film stars like Varun Dhawan and Rashmika Mandanna, to cricketer Venkatesh Iyer.

Director Lingusamy is currently trying to crack that formula for his upcoming Tamil-Telugu bilingual The Warriorr, with the help of dance choreographers Sekar Master and Jani Master. “Kamal Haasan once told me about how popular producer Thevar (of Thevar films) selected his songs: he would listen to a track, and gauge whether his body moved to it. He used to give a go ahead only to songs that he himself moved to,” says Lingusamy, “Similarly, today, the fate of a song depends on its popularity on social media; so, we work on steps that are easy and simple.”

In sync with each other

Though Australian cricketer David Warner, well known for his fun spins on popular film songs on social media, has still not done a ‘Naatu Naatu’ Instagram reel yet, it is probably just a matter of time. After all, the hook step of director Rajamouli’s RRR track, revealed in November 2021, helped generate enough anticipation for the film to offset some of the challenges posed by multiple pandemic delays. The promo video showing actors NTR and Ram Charan matching steps in electrifying speed spawned several dance cover videos and Instagram reels.

A still from ‘RRR’

A still from ‘RRR’
| Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Choreographer Prem Rakshith, who had worked with NTR and Rajamouli for some of their earlier films, also put out a tutorial for the hook step on YouTube. The team filmed in Kyiv, Ukraine, for two weeks and had the local dancers grooving alongside the lead actors.

“Rajamouli wanted us to be in perfect sync so that even if a viewer plays the video slowly and observes carefully, our moves should match,” NTR stated during the pre-release media interaction. It took Ram Charan and NTR nearly 17 takes before the director approved of their synchronisation of the hook step. “It felt torturous at that time to do it repeatedly. Once the dance became a rage, I could appreciate Rajamouli’s vision,” the actor added.

Till date, newer dance cover versions of ‘Naatu Naatu’ keep popping up online. There is even a Laurel and Hardy mash-up.

Early in 2020, the ‘Butta Bomma’ song from Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo created a frenzy, with several TikTok videos imitating Allu Arjun and Pooja Hegde’s moves. Allu Arjun then followed it up with the hit song ‘Srivalli’ from Pushpa — the Rise. Its director Sukumar says, “We think of Reels or YouTube Shorts all the time, especially while writing dialogues or lyrics. That way, a buzz is generated among audiences, thus helping the film reach more people.”

Shanthnu Bhagyaraj, well known for his dancing skills, has just put out his cover of ‘Arabic Kuthu’. Along with his wife, Kiki Vijay, and her dance studio students, all from different walks of life, the actor has created an engaging choreography that is easy to replicate. “We wanted to do a blend of the hook steps that audiences are familiar with along with something of our own,” says Shanthnu, who routinely posts dance videos on his social media. The couple’s earlier cover of ‘Vaathi Coming’ fetched more than 17 million views and drew the attention of Vijay himself — who borrowed a step from it and danced during a stage show. “Doing such covers and getting all the hook steps right gives us a lot of joy.”

Cause for celebration

If Tamil and Telugu film industries are rocking the dance moves, Malayalam cinema isn’t too far behind. ‘Parudeesa’ and ‘Rathipushpam’, from the Mammootty-starrer Bheeshma Parvam, directed by Amal Neerad, have gone viral for their fluid synchronised dance moves.

A still from ‘Bheeshma Parvam’

A still from ‘Bheeshma Parvam’
| Photo Credit: Rathpurusan still

Choreographer Sumesh Sundar says some of the initial steps in ‘Parudeesa…’ were planned to enthuse youngsters to try it out too. “The hook step of ‘Rathipushpam’ is based on the movement of your hips,” explains Sumesh, “To get it right, one has to bend the body from the waist and then swing back. The dance is based on the dance concept of ‘lock’, where fast steps are paused for a bit before moving on to the next.”

Malayalam cinema also seems to have cracked the ‘wedding song’ formula; of an entire group celebrating a special occasion. If back in 2014, ‘Thodakkam Mangalyam’ ( Bangalore Days) was the rage during marriage celebrations, today, ‘Onakka Mundhiri’ from Hridayam is among the latest hits among social media users for covers and Reels. “In Malabar, on the eve of a wedding, relatives pitch in to help and grandmas sing, while they go about their work. Once that visual came to my mind, the rest of the song fell in place,” says director Vineeth Srinivasan.

The simpler, the better, seems to be the magic formula now. This has changed the way directors, composers and choreographers think… thus including song promos even for films that do not feature songs, making it a marketing tool. Adds Lingusamy, “A few decades ago, composers would specifically ask directors about which ‘reel’ in the film the song would be placed, and tune it accordingly. Today too, it’s the Reel that decides its popularity.”

(With inputs from Srivatsan S, Sangeetha Devi Dundoo and Saraswathy Nagarajan)

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