Freeze Frame #100: Top Hat

Watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance is probably the single most enchanting thing I have ever seen in a movie. It is not just their grace and precision (Astaire was known to be a perfectionist and rehearsed indefatigably). It’s the sheer joy of their performance. They seem so happy dancing that it lights up my world.

The plot in Fred & Ginger movies is usually fluff, involving much by way of misunderstandings and falling-in-love-despite-best-efforts. Anyone who has seen a romantic comedy knows how these things work. It helps, of course, that both lead actors are quite likeable. Fred has a face that would make his portrait look like a caricature, but he’s got this whole nice-guy thing going for him. Ginger’s USP as an actress is the way her eyes convey so much mischief and playfulness when she smiles. Not many actresses have that quality. Madhubala and Audrey Tautou come to mind immediately.

Then there’s the dancing. What I remember best is a song in Top Hat where Fred and Ginger take shelter from the rain in a gazebo. He’s busy wooing her, so he starts singing and dancing to Isn’t this a lovely day. She watches him for a while, then starts dancing herself. To begin with, she just casually imitates his steps, then slowly it evolves into this breathtaking dance sequence. It was during this sequence that I realized what an amazing dancer Ginger Rogers was. She once famously said, “Whatever Fred did, I had to do backwards and in high heels.”

Aside: I think Karan Johar “pays tribute” to this scene in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai when SRK and Kajol take shelter from the rain in a gazebo and he asks her to dance with him.

Right at the end of that song, they sit down on the steps, tired and happy, and shake hands. For a moment there, you don’t see Jerry Travers and Dale Tremont, the characters they play in the movie. You just see two dancers congratulating each other after a very enjoyable dance. I loved that.

My wife once commented that I don’t seem to write too many reviews. This is true – I don’t enjoy writing reviews too often. I find it tiring to have to think about and evaluate the whole movie, instead of just a scene or two that engaged me in some way. With many movies, all I remember is specific moments that I thought were great. Sometimes it’s a beautifully framed shot. Or a scene set up so that it conveys volumes without a single line of dialogue. Or a perfectly delivered line. Or a sight gag that never fails to make me smile. I guess what I am looking for is a moment that encapsulates an entire experience. There have been many such moments, and they have a lot to do with why I am so in love with the movies.

The flip side is that they are sometimes very personal reflections. I am not sure if they convey anything interesting to someone who hasn’t watched the movie, or even to someone who has.

You tell me. If you haven’t seen the movie, has any specific freeze frame post made you want to watch it? If you have, do you (dis)agree with my assessment of a particular scene (insofar as I have actually assessed the scene and not just described it)?

ps: This post is an entry to the Reel-Life Bloggers contest organized by and


6 thoughts on “Freeze Frame #100: Top Hat

  1. Good post, interesting perspective.

    I’ve seen Mouna Raagam many times and for my money, a lot of the scenes with ‘Kokila’Mohan were very good.

    He has this bad rap as a ham, however this movie will remain his finest.

    Apropos your angle in this blog, one of the very first scenes we see him in-where he is patiently waiting for Revathy after she returns from her ‘dancing in the rain’ effort.

    I remember that I did not know the story when I first saw it. During that scene, when I saw his expression-calm, gentle and considered with just the hint of humour-I knew this was how he was going to be for the rest of the movie.

    As a reviewer of the day said “(Mohan’s) ice to Revathy’s fire”. Just a perfect encapsulation of their two differing characters.

  2. Soundar,

    Interesting that you should bring this up, because Mouna Raagam was to be my next Freeze Frame post! One of the scenes I planned to mention was this one. The other is the one much later, when a teary-eyed Revathy thanks her helpful Sardarji neighbour in Thamizh and his response to it is a jubilant “Po da dei!”

  3. Serendipitious!

    Look forward to your next post.

    Sometime in the future I will be posting on ‘whom do you look up to’. One of my nominations will be Mohan’s Chandrakumar.

    Another favourite scene is when Revathy’s dad says ‘KalyaaNatthil yethavadhu kurai vecchirundhaal etc’ and Mohan’s face reflects his emotional torment very well indeed.

  4. Sagarika says:

    I haven’t yet seen Top Hat, but your comment,”the single most enchanting thing I have ever seen in a movie” instantly brought to mind another musical that came by nearly two decades after this one…The only Hollywood musical I’ve seen (I will exclude “Sound of Music”, saw it as a kid), and was mesmerised by: Gene Kelly’s “Singing in the Rain”.

    I watched it nearly a decade ago and your references to the dancing and wooing, and the rain make me want to watch my favorite movie again, and then watch Top Hat to see how they compare.

    If Fred Astaire’s expression is anything like the tap-dancing Gene Kelly’s when he woos Debbie Reynolds, then I know exactly what you mean when you say, “They seem so happy dancing that it lights up my world.”

    And although I’ve never fully analyzed what it is that I love about the movies, it just occured to me that I too could very well be “looking for a moment that encapsulates an entire experience.” There have been many such moments indeed, and those frames lie buried in my subconcious, ready to be set free by the next “freeze frame” post (pun intended)!

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