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REVIEW

Call Me Dancer—Film Review

14 February 2023
  • Written by
    Justine Sutton
  • Photographed by
    A. Arthur Fisher
Leslie Shampaine (Director), Lauri R. Wirichs (Producer) at SBIFF 2023
Leslie Shampaine (Director), Lauri R. Wirichs (Producer), Film: Call Me Dancer

As this richly detailed documentary opens, a young man appears, Manish Chauhan, practicing his street dance moves in his native Mumbai, India. With a skill for back flips and other acrobatics, he begins to dream that he could be a professional dancer.

Directed by Leslie Shampaine and Pip Gilmour, Call Me Dancer premiered on Thursday, February 9 at Santa Barbara’s own SBIFF. The following night it opened the Dance on Camera Festival at New York’s Lincoln Center.

Though he is talented and dedicated, Manish’s path is not without challenges. The son of a taxi driver, he is expected to complete his university education, which his parents have worked hard for; and settle into a well-paying job, supporting them, as Indian culture dictates. His family doesn’t see dance as a viable career, a commonly held belief in their culture.

Manish is accepted as a student at Mumbai’s DanceWorx Performing Arts Academy, but quickly finds that the ballet he is required to study is entirely different from the style of dancing he has mastered. 

DanceWorx ballet master Yehuda Maor, an Israeli former dancer, sees promise in Manish and takes him under his tutelage. Soon, Amir joins the school and it is clear that at age 14, he is not only enormously talented but positioned for a bright future in classical ballet. 

Yehuda sees an opportunity to set up an atmosphere of healthy competition to encourage both students. But very soon Amir is offered a full scholarship at the Royal Ballet in London. At 21, Manish is learning that though he is a good dancer, he has started in ballet too late to hope for such a career.

Yehuda, who has become like family to Manish, remains a stalwart mentor and champion, finding him a patron of the arts who supplies the funds necessary for his years of training. 

After he has been accepted into a contemporary dance company in Israel, thanks to Yehuda’s connections, filmmakers approach Manish with the opportunity to play himself in a feature film detailing his and Amir’s rise to fame. Ironically, this is the exposure that finally supplies Manish with some economic reward, setting him right with his family, and provides future career opportunities. 

Cinematographers Neil Barrett and Abhijit “Hojo” Datta have a real feel for capturing dancers on film, resulting in sequences that are celebratory, even transcendent. 

Certainly, hard work, a bit of luck, and no small amount of his own charm contribute to Manish’s eventual success. The real satisfaction of this film is in witnessing his endless enthusiasm and dedication to dance, his absolute joy in movement.

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Santa Barbara International Film Festival photo from State Street