Obituary: Saroj Khan (1948-2020)

‘Masterji’ Saroj Khan made film industry dance to her moves

‘Masterji’ Saroj Khan made film industry dance to her moves

Saroj Khan. File photo

Nonika Singh

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, July 3

In a season of untimely deaths, Bollywood woke up to yet another sad morning. Ace choreographer Saroj Khan, whose iconic dance moves repeatedly made India go ‘dhak dhak’, passed away on Friday. The ‘Masterji’ of the Hindi film industry, in more ways than one she created a new lexicon of Bollywood dance: fluid, spontaneous and high on ‘adas’ and rare chutzpah. In her dance pieces heroines oozed a rare sensuality.

She taught more than a thing or two to even trained dancers like Madhuri Dixit, who is on record saying that it was from Saroj Khan that she learnt the rudiments of Bollywood dance. Filmmaker Subhash Ghai would tell Madhuri, “If you can even recreate 70 per cent of Saroj’s moves…”

If Hindi cinema has its own grammar and flavour, it owes its uniqueness to our inimitable song-and-dance pieces. Without a doubt, Saroj Khan, the first woman choreographer and three-time National Award winner, holds an unrivalled position in this realm. If under her guidance Madhuri, Sridevi and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan grooved to perfection, she “made dance look so easy”, as Akshay Kumar avers in his tribute.

Of course, the path she created and the niche she carved out not just for herself but for others to follow was not without its challenges. Born Nirmala Nagpal, she was rechristened Saroj by her conservative business family, who did not want the world to know her real identity. Child artiste in ‘Nazarana’, a background dancer, an assistant and finally a choreographer with her first independent venture ‘Geeta Mera Naam’, she would go on to rewrite the rules of Bollywood dance.

Working behind the scenes, she not only gave visibility and stature to choreographers but, as actor Nimrat Kaur tweets, she immortalised stars.

Today, thanks to a spurt in dance reality shows, many choreographers, some of whom have graduated to becoming directors, might be household names. But the crown of dancing queen will always belong to Saroj Khan. In a career spanning four decades, if song after song ‘Ek do teen’ (‘Tezaab’), ‘Dhak dhak’ (‘Beta’), ‘Kaate nahi kat te’ (‘Mr India’), ‘Choli ke peeche’ (‘Khalnaayak’), ‘Madhuban mein Kanhaiya’ (‘Lagaan’), ‘Dola re dola’ and ‘Maar daala’ (‘Devdas’) became immortal, much of the credit goes to her.

Active till last, she choreographed her favourite muse Madhuri in the song ‘Tabaah ho gaye’ for Karan Johar's ‘Kalank’. Though she learnt dance from film choreographer B Sohanlal, whom she married when she was all of 14 and he 41, she considered PL Santoshi her real guru. In an interaction during her Chandigarh visit, she had revealed how it was Santoshi who initiated her into the art of choreography. For her Bollywood dance was an art form whose aesthetics she maintained till the very end.

In an interview, she may have been caught off-guard, especially her remarks on casting couch that created a furore, but a misstep in her dancing library of over 2,000 songs is near impossible to pin down. As long as Hindi cinema lives, her dancing heart would clearly keep beating.

 

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