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Tough, blunt and bold, judge Saroj Khan once again makes an impact on Nach Baliye 2
“Sarojji was bleeding,” says Pinky Chinoi, a dancer cum choreographer. “She would then go back to the trailer, put a new bandage and come back again.”
Chinoi, who is on the sets of Nach Baliye 2 at Film City, is talking about the shooting of a dance sequence for Vinashak, which starred Suniel Shetty. A day earlier, Khan’s appendix had burst and she had been rushed to the hospital for an emergency operation. In the end, 24 stitches had to be put to stanch the blood. But despite her doctor’s misgivings, Khan appeared on the set the next day, as she did not want to delay the shooting. “I told the doctor not to worry,” says Khan, with a smile, as she sits on a diwan in an air-conditioned trailer. “I would go inside the trailer and change the bandage, as the blood kept oozing out. Thankfully, the stitches did not rupture.”
Today, Khan is in the spotlight for her ‘take no prisoners’ attitude as a judge on the dance show, Nach Baliye 2. Like in the earlier show, she has struck a chord with viewers for her honesty. Of course, some call her style ‘abrasive’. But Raja Chaudhary, who was voted out last week with his partner Shweta Tiwari, supports the judge. “Whatever faults she points out is always correct,” he says. “Her bluntness is her personality. If she becomes soft, she will sound artificial.”
Khan says she is blunt because “I want them to be good choreographers, not copycats. For example: I know all the movements in Ek Do Teen in Tezaab. Now, if they show the same movements, I will not accept it. I am looking for creativity.”
For the young choreographers, despite the tough words, most of them are in awe of her. There they are, sitting outside Stage 7 in Film City, and Chinoi, who does choreography with Rajeev Khinchi, 26, says, “We respect Sarojji so much. She has been completely dedicated to her profession.” Vitthal Patel, an upcoming choreographer, says simply, “I have worked with Sarojji and she is fabulous.”
Khan has had a fabulous career, having done choreography for hundreds of films, and is now regarded as one of India’s greatest choreographers. She is now in her 55th year in the industry. Incidentally, her age is 58.
The family came to India from Lahore during the Partition. Her father died immediately because of throat cancer and there were severe financial problems. But dance came to Khan unbidden. At the age of two, she would look at her shadow and dance. In her business-oriented family, they had no idea of art. So, it was no surprise that her mother took her to the doctor and told him her daughter was retarded. But the wise doctor told the mother that Khan just wants to dance. He had contacts with the film industry and encouraged Khan’s mother to send her for some assignments.
Khan’s first scene was of her sitting on a cardboard imitation of a moon and singing. She was supposed to be actress Shyama as a child. She acted in several movies and when she was 10 years old, she became a group dancer and remembers dancing with Madhubala in Howrah Bridge. At 13, she became an assistant to dance master Hiralal. At 14 she did her first choreography for Dil Hi To Hai, directed by P.L. Santoshi, the father of Rajkumar Santoshi. In 1974, she got her first picture Geeta Mera Naam. Thereafter, she choreographed numerous dances for years, till Ek Do Teen in Tezaab rocked India in 1988 and there was no looking back.
“I had no idea it would have such an impact,” says Khan. “It was the fastest composed dance in my life--25 minutes. But it took me 17 days to teach the steps to Madhuri Dixit. She was a Kathak dancer and did not have a lilt. She trained from 10 am to 10 pm.”
The French connection
Earlier, as I wait to talk to Khan, I meet Julian Bouissou, 28, a radio correspondent of Europe-1, who is doing a story on dance in Bollywood and had just spoken to Khan. “The Indian film dance is fascinating for us Frenchmen because there are so many different elements, slow, techno and Indian classical, in one dance, while we are only adept at doing only one style in one dance,” he says.
So the French are also mesmerised by a dance form, which has also held India in thrall for decades. And yet, there is clearly a technique behind the skilful moves. “Don’t make it only a dance number,” says Khan, the winner of seven Filmfare awards for best choreography. “The story should carry into the dance and lead out of it. So the dance should not look like a patch.” She says it is important to look at the hands and the feet of the artistes. “If it is a cabaret, the palms will be open,” she continues. “If it is an Indian dance, the palms will be closed, like when you do a mudra. I also concentrate on facial expressions, which is my forte.”
Till Nach Baliye resurrected her in the public eye, Khan was going through a rather barren patch. She admits the younger stars are avoiding her. “It is only the producers and directors who want me. But that’s okay. I am taking it easy for a while.”
She has been ringside as a choreographer for forty years, an encyclopaedia of filmic history. So I ask her how have things changed over the years?
“The sincerity and the love of work is gone,” says this mother of three children, whose husband is a businessman. “The only thing that matters now is money. And how fast you can pull down another person and take his place.”