Himanshi Handa's 'Strange Freedom' Is A Moving Portrait Of A Dancer In Motion

A still from the film 'Strange Freedom- Portrait of a Dancer'
A still from the film 'Strange Freedom- Portrait of a Dancer'Himanshi Handa

Nature never stands still, so why should we? The wind disperses the grey clouds, the waves crash onto the shore with a graceful roar, and the autumn leaves fall ever so gently — Nature, in all its glory and through time immemorial, is in perpetual motion. If Nature stopped moving even for a fraction of a nanosecond, life as we know, would cease to exist. And what is life without the freedom to move? That’s what separates us from incarcerated folks and animals in cages. Nature, movement, and freedom are interwoven threads constantly complementing the tapestry of life.

These were the thoughts swirling around my mind when I viewed the short film, Strange Freedom- Portrait of a Dancer, directed by Himanshi Handa. The film captures the portrait of a dancer, Dev, as he gazes inward to explore what dance means to him. Through fluid movements and a deeply personal and introspective narration, he lets the viewers peer into those intimate moments that capture what he loves the most about dance and his inspirations from Nature. The film artfully captures how Dev’s ideation and movements are thoroughly inspired by the movements of Nature. During winter, the flowers die and in spring, they bloom again. In Nature, there is constant creation and re-birth and that is how Dev views his dance creations.

A still from the film 'Strange Freedom- Portrait of a Dancer'
Space, Form, Emotion, & Movement: The Sublime Hybridity Of Howareyoufeeling.studio

Despite the growing modernization of thought, even today, in Indian society male dancers are looked at with a scrutinizing gaze. Mainstream society would rather have their boys grow up to be stiff bankers or accountants than have them embrace the fluidity of the performing arts. It all dates back to an archaic understanding of gender and biopolitics wherein exists a binary where movement is seen as something essentially feminine and lack thereof, masculine. In the film, Dev explores what it was like growing up in such a society. It reminds me of Mahesh Dattani's brilliant play, Dance Like a Man.

Whenever we think of a portrait, we almost always think of photography or painting. There is a certain stillness in both those mediums. Using motion pictures or film as the choice of medium to capture the portrait of a dancer, whose identity and art is rooted in movement, indeed does justice to Dev's artistry.

"Dev had choreographed a music video I had directed for Shalmali Kholgade and on one of the evenings, while Dev was discussing the challenges of being an artist and a performer, he took me into his past where he spoke about numerous hardships at home, dropping out of school, finding solace in nothing but dance. This conversation with him made me think of wanting to explore his journey as an artist and get an insight into his inner thoughts where his passion/art became his language. I was so inspired by the conversation that me and my partner(DOP) picked up our camera and asked Dev to come shoot with us. It was so impromptu but felt like it fell together beautifully for us, as creators. I felt like it also helped me express myself better as a creator, especially when he said "Everybody in this world has something to say- they just need to find a medium to express it". Through filming Dev, I also found my inclination towards particular kinds of stories I want to tell."

Himanshi Handa, on her inspiration for the film

Watch the film below:

About The Dancer:

Dev Narayan Gupta
Dev Narayan GuptaHimanshi Handa

Dev Narayan Gupta is a long-standing member of Fullstop Crew, one of the oldest crews in the country. For over a decade, he has been involved in choreography, dancing, performing, and teaching with the crew all across India. Recently, he has relocated to Mumbai, where he is now working as a choreographer, dancer, actor, and creator. Some of his recent notable choreography projects include music videos for artists like Shalmali Kholgade, Monica Dogra, and Osho Jain. He has also choreographed various commercials for renowned brands such as Instagram, Google x Samsung, and YouTube India. Additionally, Dev serves as the Director of Choreography for Shalmali Kholgade Live and frequently goes on tours with Kayan, being a part of her live ensemble. Apart from his choreography work, he has also appeared in numerous commercials, showcasing his acting skills and representing brands like Bacardi, Hotstar, and Cadbury.

About The Director:

Himanshi Handa
Himanshi HandaHimanshi Handa

Himanshi Handa, a writer-director residing in Mumbai, India, has been involved in various projects for renowned brands such as Jaipur Rugs, Tata Capital, McDowell's, Plan India, as well as producing music videos for different artists. Presently, she is working on her debut feature-length documentary which revolves around an Afghan refugee teacher. In addition to directing, Himanshi possesses a strong passion for creating illustrations and portrait photography.

You can follow Himanshi Handa here.

You can follow Dev Narayan Gupta here.

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