Legendary choreographer Saroj Khan passed away on Friday, aged 71. The younger choreographers who claim to have been inspired by her pay tribute to the legend.
Ace choreographer Farah Khan, who succeeded Saroj Khan as the most sought-after choreographer in Hindi cinema during the early '90s, opens up to Firstpost on the influence she had on her career. "Saroj ji was an inspiration to many, including me. I always said I didn't face any gender discrimination when I entered the industry because the reigning choreographer was a woman, and a formidable one at that."
"Her songs are some of the most legendary pieces of choreography in Indian cinema. And that's her legacy for generations to come," adds Farah.
Ahmed Khan, who today is also popular as a director with hits like Tiger Shroff-starrer Baaghi 2 and 3 among others, started working with the legend when he was a child. "Our association began at the age of 11, when I was acting in Mr. India. I used to call her Saroj aunty back then. At 16 again, I joined her, this time as an assistant. So it's been a long journey with her. We even worked on TV shows like Chak Dhoom Dhoom together. She was my second mother and I learnt a lot while working with her."
Ahmed recalls a recent interaction with Saroj Khan from two years ago. "Recently, we recreated her iconic 'Ek Do Teen' from Tezaab, with Jacqueline Fernandez, for my directorial Baaghi 2. That song was my tribute to her. Although Ganesh Acharya choreographed the new song, we went to her house to seek blessings. She showed us steps that could be included in the choreography. It was my dream as a student, and that got fulfilled."
He touches upon the lessons he imbibed from Saroj Khan as her student. "She's the woman who made choreography famous in the Hindi film industry. She only believed in work, and wanted to be on the sets till her last years. For example, I became a director and producer but she would tell me she only wants to choreograph till her last breath. She would always say she still has a lot to offer to the industry."
Ahmed also expressed disappointment at losing a number of colleagues at a time when coronavirus outbreak has confined everyone to their homes. "Her passing came as a shock to me. The situation of the industry is so bad in all aspects, not just work. Look at the kind of people we are losing. We are home quarantined, can't even go visit. It's a helpless situation."
Saroj Khan. Facebook
Vaibhavi Merchant mentions Saroj Khan as one of her primary inspirations. "Saroj ji, for me, was an institute, someone I really looked up to. The two people who inspired me to join film choreography were my grandfather and Saroj ji. Until then, the profession was dominated by male choreographers but she fought her way in, and became a force to reckon with. Her body of work is what every student of dance should learn from, about how she interpreted a particular song. She started working at the tender age of 12, and to maintain that legacy and success is remarkable."
She adds that her journey would not have been easy, but it helped pave the way for others. "One can't imagine the struggle she went through. It gave choreographers like Farah and me the mettle to pursue our own journey in the industry. Saroj ji proved that female choreographers are at par or even better than their male colleagues. She paved the way, and hopefully, we will continue the legacy. Even now, when she did Kalank, we looked up at the magic of Madhuri and Saroj ji coming together. My favourite combination while growing up were Madhuri ji and Saroj ji, along with Sridevi ji and Saroj ji, songs like 'Choli Ke Peechhe Kya Hai,' 'Chane Ke Khet Mein,' 'Mere Haathon Mein Nau Nau,' 'Morni Baga Mein Bole'... there are so many! I also enjoyed her Tandav pieces. Her body of work has been my Bible."
Ganesh Hegde recalls how he missed a chance at being Saroj Khan's student. "Saroj ji has always been an inspiration, from the time I was a child, and watched her work in Mr. India. She had seen me dance, and asked me whether I want to join her team. At that point, I was working with someone else but told her if I ever move out, I would definitely join her. Then I became a choreographer myself so I didn't get a chance to work under her."
But he continued to learn, on his own, from the seasoned choreographer that Saroj Khan was. "Another time when my song Main Deewana was released, during an interview, I took Saroj ji's name as my favourite choreographer. She immediately called me, and said she was honoured that I said she is my inspiration. So she was a very humble person though she will always be a legend. For someone of her stature to call and thank someone who had just begun choreography is really humbling."
He also raves about how Saroj Khan presented her heroines on screen. "She ensured that her heroines looked like goddesses and larger-than-life onscreen unlike today's heroines, who are presented as teenyboppers. I believe Indian songs won't be the same anymore, her Kathak with Mahuri Dixit, the fun and romantic songs with Sridevi and Juhi Chawla, that era is gone. I hope and pray more choreographers bring the 'Indianness' back to film songs but Sarojji was the epitome of this, be it 'Dola Re Dola' or 'Nimbooda.'"
Bosco Martis, from the popular choreographer duo Bosco-Ceaser, tells Firspost, "I was just going through candid videos of Dance India Dance, that I judged, and where I had interacted with her last. Knowing Saroj ji is knowing Bollywood. She was the queen, and gave choreographers the respect they deserve."
While he may not have worked with Saroj Khan, he has fond memories of conversing with her. "We have shared credits for movies, one that I remember is the Hrithik Roshan and Preity Zinta-starrer Mission Kashmir. She was shooting on another floor, and had visited the sets to see who Bosco-Ceaser are. She interacted with us an blessed us.
He adds that her contribution to the profession of choreography in Bollywood was unprecedented. "As a child, of course 'Ek Do Teen' had a big impact on me, and the fact that it was the first ever Filmfare Award given for choreography. That's something she gave to the dance industry and ensured we were on the map."