Hooray for Bollywood!

A Slice of Britain: One thousand competitors, crammed into a London hotel, prove that Indian dance has never been more popular
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The Independent Online

With thick make-up, dyed aubergine hair, a bright turquoise shalwar kameez and bindi sparkling on her forehead, Karina Gniazdowska blends into the crowd of Asian girls around her. That, she tells me, is the point.

"No one believes me when I say I'm Polish," says the 18-year-old, who has lived in Reading for the past three years. "I wear these clothes when I'm not performing, too: I love them. I love everything about Bollywood: the music, the storylines..."

She is in her element. Traditional Indian music blares down a corridor of the London St Giles Hotel yesterday, now filled with women sporting saris, jangling gold bangles, bare feet and heavily kohled eyes. Karina is one of around 1,000 people competing in the first round of the UK Bollywood Dance Championships, the winner of which will bag a role in a Bollywood film.

As the worldwide market for Bollywood films has grown – boosted by the phenomenal success of the British director Danny Boyle's runaway hit Slumdog Millionaire in 2009 – so too have the opportunities in the Indian film industry for non-Asian stars, with Kylie Minogue, Denise Richards and Sylvester Stallone all appearing in Bollywood films in recent years.

The hopefuls here today will have to jump through several hoops to secure their own big-screen role. Three hundred people will go through to the second round of the competition in May, before the numbers are whittled down to 50 for the final at the O2 Arena in July.

With slicked-back hair and all-black outfit, Rahul Velani, 11, looks the complete professional. Or he would, were he not sitting cross-legged on the floor hunched over his Nintendo DS.

His mother, Sara, 42, is taking a bit more interest in proceedings. "I do quite enjoy it," she says, smoothing her pink kurta, a traditional Indian top. "He got through to the third round of Britain's Got Talent. The downside is the travelling."

If the glamorous professional dancers of Bollywood Vibes, who make a living performing at weddings and corporate events, are less than impressed with the sticky carpet underfoot and the flashing neon lights, they certainly aren't showing it.

Rictus grins in place, the six girls shimmy through their performance, coin belts jangling in time with the music, hands twirling elegantly into a prayer position to finish. It goes well, but Olivia Heiser, 32, admits they may struggle with the singing required in most Bollywood films. "We're all professional dancers, but we don't sing at all. Only one of us has a good voice."

Members of the all-girl dance troupe Storm, meanwhile, sport sheer red trousers slashed from thigh to ankle and tiny cropped corsets. All around there is more than enough pale flesh. Indeed, Western performers' willingness to peel off their clothes for roles has been cited as one of the reasons behind what may be a growing backlash in some sections of the Indian community. Last month an Indian nationalist politician called for white actresses to be banned from Bollywood.

But not everyone is convinced Brits have got what it takes to cut it in Indian cinema. A Brit herself, dance teacher Daisy Potter, who runs Bollywood classes in schools in London, says: "They don't really have a natural aptitude. Bollywood is about rhythm, hip movements, and the flow of the body, which a lot of people don't have."