Bollywood’s classic yet contemporary choreographer Saroj Khan passes away at 71

The woman who kept stars on their feet


July 3, 2020

/ By / Kolkata

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Saroj Khan (1948-2020) had choreographed on more than 2,000 songs in her career spanning more than 40 years and was a three-time National Award winner.

From making actress Madhuri Dixit the Dhak Dhak girl, to teaching Sridevi the Hawa Hawai moves, Saroj Khan was known for breathing life into many Bollywood iconic songs. Known among the industry folks as Masterji, Saroj Khan was one person who kept all the Bollywood stars on their feet.

Born as Nirmala Nagpal in 1948, Saroj became a part of this industry while she was just a kid. She began her career as a child artiste, as a background dancer and soon started learning dance from B Sohanlal, the well-known dance master of his time.

She made her film debut as a choreographer in 1974 with the film Geeta Mera Naam. But it was in 1987 that she attained glory with Mr India. With the jive dance steps and comic expressions of Sridevi in the song Hawa Hawaai, to her sensuality in Kate Nahi Kat Te, Khan proved that she was indeed the Masterji of all trades.  “She was not just a genius at movement. She was a genius at expressions,” is how Shekhar Kapur, director, Mr India, remembers her.

From giving the world the Naagin (Snake) dance again through Sridevi in the song Main Teri Dushman, Dushman Tu Mera, from the film Nagina (1986), Khan proved to be the actor’s choreographer. She worked with Sridevi in several hits including Chandni (1989).

Besides Sridevi, she also worked with Madhuri Dixit to create memorable dance numbers in films like Tezaab (Ek Do Teen)Thaanedaar (Tamma Tamma Loge)Beta (Dhak Dhak Karne Laga), Khalnayak (Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai) that remain popular even today. Her last movie with Madhuri was Kalank (2019) for the song Tabah Ho Gaye.

Later in her life she was not only the actor’s choreographer but also a teacher for millions of students who wanted to learn dance. With her virtual dance class Nachle Ve with Saroj Khan on NDTV, Khan taught the steps of all her popular songs. Not only did she teach the steps but also the expressions in a way for the people to understand.

She had a successful career on the small screen as well where she was the judge and guest on several dance reality shows. If she ever liked anyone’s performance on the show she would give INR 101 to the contestant, a habit she picked up from her teachers.

Remembering her Amitabh Bachchan writes, “…her moves becoming famous for each artist she worked with and when she would see an artist give a good shot under her care she would call her or him aside and give a rupee coin as a gesture, as a pat on the back. Many many years later, during the shooting of a song sequence in a film I was doing, I, too, became a recipient of that coin, an immense achievement.”

Saroj Khan won National Awards for choreographing Dola Re Dola from Devdas featuring Madhuri and Aishwarya Rai, all the songs of Tamil film Sringaram, and Yeh Ishq Haaye from Kareena Kapoor’s Jab We Met.  “Masterji always told me…perr nahi chala saktiii toh kam se kam face toh chalaaaaa” (If you can’t express through your legs then at least express through your face),’’ is how Kareena Kapoor Khan remembers her.

It was this frank approach and at the attitude of a stern yet caring trainer that made Khan popular with all the stars that worked with her. It also helped her mould them into the dancers that she had imagined them to be.

“With Saroj Khan went the particularity Indian style of body movement. Her choreography defined the Indian woman in all her her forms. The seductive, the sexy, the traditional, the Devi. With her has gone the purely Indian form, adapted to Cinema. Modern, upbeat, but always Indian,” says Shekhar Kapur.

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