“Chamma Chamma” (China Gate, 1998)

I love Baz Luhrmann movies, and I was 18 when Moulin Rouge! came out, so it hit me perfectly square between the eyes. The final set-piece is set to “Chamma Chamma.” I was pretty disappointed the first time I heard the real version. I’m still kind of disappointed in it.

The song moves slowly, with a heavy beat and little variation. Urmila Matondkar’s choreography is controlled but is also often slow, and not particularly flashy. (Of course, slow movements often require more skill than fast ones.) She is beautiful, and the outfit she wears is featured on the movie poster. Her hips are hypnotic. Her backup dancers are in much plainer clothing; while this helps Matondkar stand out, it makes the dancers look frumpy.

The women dance in the center of town; a few cut aways show other women watching, but the dancers are mainly surrounded by men. Matondkar dances with a variety of men, including the age appropriate hero as well as several much other men. Their limbs flail; the lack her control and skill. Matondkar’s smile is tight; a talented woman surrounded by less skilled but more powerful men. We know this dance.

It’s not bad. It’s not as sexist as some item songs, but it’s not exactly feminist, either. The song itself is fine and will certainly settle into your brain.

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