Saroj Khan: Grand dame of choreography


She did not expect anything from anyone. She couldn’t have gone. 📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. She kept asking Saroj ji to change the step again and again. I laughed a little and she said, “I am serious, I am very sexy.” With that mane around her head flying with the whizz of the fan, she got up to dance. She didn’t have the PR skill because she believed, like it should be in an ideal world, that her work will speak for itself. Saroj ji did that once, twice, and then she got exasperated and said, “Ab isse sasta movement kahan se layun”. One such time she was choreographing a new actress who couldn’t get the dance step right. There was something about her relationship with her children; I never asked. And considering her brilliant body of work, she should have received it years ago. She looked at me and simply said, “No, I am very sexy”. She said, “Jab yeh gaana filmaya ja raha tha tab main peechay dancer thi.” My eyes widened. One time I asked her, considering how demure heroines used to be in the earlier times, and since she was trained in those times, she must’ve gone against the grain to be able to do all these fabulous sensuous numbers. In the same breath, she’d talk about how she had composed the brilliant Bharatanatyam sequences in Sringaram (2007) by recalling temple sculptures. I had to find out. She understood how it worked but still got disappointed each time. I had spent almost two years with her, making a film on her, and had seen her closely… I don’t know how I dropped a glass bowl to the floor, it shattered like a wind screen, into a million small pieces and I stood in the kitchen with the phone, a cloudy head and lots of glass on the floor. My phone rang on July 3 morning asking me for a quote on Saroj ji because she had passed on… I thought I was calm but I wasn’t. It resulted in some beautiful interviews and I was grateful. She was wary of me at first, wondering what I was really after, would I let her down? But the first day itself, she was on a roll, she wanted to tell me everything. I couldn’t take my eyes off her, I knew what she meant. Soon after her daughter Kuku fell ill, and although she honoured all her work commitments she never spoke on camera with the same feeling as the first time; she was always preoccupied. When I met her and told her that I wanted to make a film on her, she was nonchalant and said, “Okay”. It took months and in one case one whole year to get an interview, but I waited. I felt I owed her more. Madhumati was made in 1948 and here was this Grand Master Choreographer in 2008, what a journey it must’ve been. Her friend from an earlier era who used to sometimes give Kathak classes at her academy, told me, “Saroj ki body mein nagin hai… attract karti hai.”
On some days Saroj ji would be so chatty, full of stories, irreverent, and would delight in recalling expressions of people when they first saw Dhak dhak karne laga (Beta, 1991). I told her that I’d like to come and just watch her work. (Photo: Nidhi Tuli)
I told her we’ll do the interviews slowly, we’ll unfold the story at different places. © IE Online Media Services Pvt Ltd

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Saroj Khan I became very fond of her during the making of the film and to her credit, she did keep in touch. Grateful that Saroj ji heard her peers speak with love and admiration. So I started visiting her, sometimes at her dance academy and sometimes at her shoots. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
For all the latest Entertainment News, download Indian Express App. She always portrayed herself as a tough person, but she was soft and vulnerable, detached yet emotional. I was really just interested in capturing her genius, sadly on a shoestring budget. A name so big that she became the first face of Hindi film choreography. But with Kuku’s illness, my time with her became less and less, I had to find other relevant people to speak to. Saroj Khan choreographed hits like “Hawa Hawai”, “Choli Ke Peeche”, “Nimbooda” among many others. She would forget about me often. I remember that moment on a reality dance show when Saroj ji was judging a couple dancing to Daiya re daiya chad gaya paapi bichchua from Madhumati. Written by Nidhi Tuli | Pune |

Updated: July 10, 2020 5:39:01 pm

Filmmaker Nidhi Tuli shared how the late choreographer Saroj Khan was full of stories. Broke but determined. So we kept shooting, she slipped into nostalgia, hardships, warmth of colleagues and actors, her first marriage, the breaking of it, all of it on that one day. A feeling that I gathered she had experienced often. I burst out laughing and had to leave the floor but what a great expression that was. There was so much more to say, I always wanted to go back to chat some more, shoot some more, fill in the gaps… I never did but kept thinking about it…
From this one film of mine I could never move on; I could never move on from Saroj ji. I thought we’ll get her to repeat some of that later, but that never happened. On other days she’d be very matter of fact or even cut and dry, and I’d just be there listening, watching, trying to get a handle. She really wanted a Padmashri, a recognition from the government. She wore her genius ever so lightly but she was an incredible woman who made a name for herself in a male bastion. And then I started shooting, some days I’d ask her and book my camera and sound person for the next day and land up on time only to be told that the rehearsal has been cancelled. She had no filters and spoke exactly how she felt. I felt incomplete about the film.