Superstar-choreographer Saroj Khan and epic filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali go back a long way. Recalling his warm and very fruitful association with Saroj Khan SLB says, “The first time I worked with Sarojji was the first time I directed a film. In Khamoshi: The Musical Sarojji choreographed Helen Aunty’s dance. These two legends had worked together in any number of films together. I had decided that whenever I turned a filmmaker I wanted to work with them. What a joy it was to see these two ageless divas at work together! I had looked up to them all my life and there they were in my film.”
SLB recalls Saroj Khan as adaptable artiste. “Sarojji’s mind was ever-alert to changes. She was spontaneous and always eager to embrace changes. This ability to adapt and be adjustable is what fascinated me about Sarojji’s brilliant mind. She could create 30 movements out of the same musical beat. She understood the importance of a beat. It was sacrosanct for her.”
SLB recalls Saroj Khan’s choreography in his films from Khamoshi: The Musical, Hum Dil Chuke Saanam, Devdas and Saawariya with great affection. “She was an absolute genius. Her rhythm patterns were so unique that one couldn’t imagine them being interpreted in any other way. When she came to see the rushes of her work in Nimbooda in Hum…Dil De Chuke Sanam she said. ‘Yeh mere achche kaam mein se hai.’ She came to Hum …Dil De Chuke Sanam after doing all those blockbuster songs with Madhuri Dixit, and if she still rated Nimbooda so high then you can imagine how much this meant for her.”
SLB says the most difficult choreography for Saroj Khan was ‘Dole Re Dola’ in Devdas. “Not only did she have to match the steps of two superstar dancers Madhuri and Aishawrya, Sarojji was also not well. She was at times lying down on studio floor and choreographing Aishwarya and Madhuri. On the day Devdas released Sarojji was in the hospital. Aishwarya and I went to meet her. Sarojji in her semi-conscious state asked, ‘Dola re dola pe paise miley ya nahin?’(did the audience shower coins on Dola re dola or not)?’ Imagine her passion for her work. Even in that state she wanted to know if her work was being appreciated.”
Sanjay also recalls Saroj Khan’s passion for her work while shooting ‘Maar Daala’ in Devdas. “She came straight to the set from Canada after a 2- hour flight. Who but Sarojji could do that? One of my favourite dances in my cinema is in Saawariya with Rani Mukherjee. Sarojji represents that old-world choreography what Bollywood is all about, she represented that world. That legacy of Bollywood dancing blossomed in her creative space.”
Sighs SLB, “She was wonderfully outspoken. I loved her professionalism. For Nimbooda she would be at the Mehboob studios at 8 am even before the gate opened. When I arrived I’d see her sitting at the gate reading a newspaper. ‘8 baje aaya kijiye,’she would scold me. I enjoyed every conversation with her.”
According to SLB Saroj Khan’s biggest contribution to choreography was this: “She brought stardom to choreography, just like Salim-Javed brought stardom to scriptwriting. There were great choreographers before her. But Sarojji brought an aura to choreography. She was as important as Madhuri Dixit to the songs they did together. I think she was a legend in her lifetime and we should never forget her contribution to Indian cinema.”
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