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    Memoir: Bosco Martis on Saroj Khan

    “Masterji, learning from your adaa, is the heaven above dancing to the steps of ek, do, teen?”

    Saroj Khan, yes, Saroj Khan! However much implausible it is, but she is not with us anymore. She left for her heavenly abode at a very early age of 71. Early because she was all the same; a dancing maestro, who had not yet retired, nothing was yet exhausting for her. Still, it took just a cardiac arrest and her feet stopped, never to dance again. Early dawn, first rays of the sun, a new day. 3rd July 2020. I was literally mortified when this particular news reached my ears. One word, unbelievable! She had left us all, late at night, silently, while we were sound asleep. How? Just, how? In the blink of an eye, I could perceive her smiling face, enjoying with us on the sets of Chak Dhoom Dhoom on one side and her unmoving, emotionless, lifeless countenance on the contrast. Again, improbable!

    Visualising someone as a fighter since the inception of the relationship gives you the feeling of that person being invincible, as if this bond is never to loosen itself. Our dear Masterji ‘is’ one of them. I have pledged to continue to sing of her in the present, because I do not require to understand the vacuum of her absence, I do not want to, even in the future. Masterji is Bollywood, Bollywood is Saroj Khan. Her aura is omnipresent, undiminished, eternal...

    As an independent choreographer, I have been in the industry for quite a long time now, for 27 years to be exact (and I can consider it to be quite long, no exaggeration!). Me and Caesar, we have tried to bring in the western style of dancing towards the last few years of the bygone decades. Yes, there were clashes, and inabilities, humiliation and no formal approval. But then, Rome was not built in a day! Yet what we feared the most was incurring Masterji’s wrath. Why? Because on the surface; we took her to be an orthodox, not wanting to give up her signature traditional styles. She was easily enraged by indo-western dance forms. Later, after getting more acquainted, I learnt that she did not like adulterated Indianness, or rather to dilute its purity under some foreign influence. She wanted to retain the lachak of the Indian heroines. That gave her the ultimate satisfaction of having created a work of art. What was western and trendy to us, was simply robotic to her, without humane feelings – exactly what a Bollywood diva cannot be, ever. Yes, her style was more inclined towards the feminine while ours was more of a uni-gender. No wonder that she has been the pioneer of female choreographers. Then again, she has known a choreographer’s then state of recognition – the parity between what we deserved and what we received. She, during our start, had seen the B’Town already, taken a walk, met with people. So she knew what was needed at that hour. And Saroj Khan emerged as a Hit Machine. I have always felt this, that her dance moves compelled you to see the music video over and over again; only listening to the song would do no good at all. The songs were incomplete without her vision executed through the performance.

    Having said that, now the secret formula, behind the genesis of the Bollywood Queens, is out. It is her, it is Saroj Khan, it is in and it is through Saroj Khan. The way of our conceiving the moves of the same song were different, and that made all the difference. It surprised me every time I was working with her on the sets. How can she? How can she every single time? I was awed and wanted to learn as much I could.

    The luckiest days (I would rather not say happy, I have always felt myself to be lucky to have met her!) with her, were those days when we could choreograph together and judge together.

    Before we actually met, I had worked with her in Mission Kashmir and Sharaarat. And that got her to take interest in us, as in who we were. We first got to know each other, and I remember it vividly (as I always will), on the sets of Anurag Kashyap’s Paanch [2003] at Filmistaan. She had come over from the other set just to meet us, to see what Bosco-Caesar looked like – the duo who were overflowing with western moves. She had this smile on her face, she could identify her passion for dance in us, same footing! We touched her feet, took her blessings and that miraculously worked wonders as my personal good luck charm. We have tried incessantly, through the years to remain honest towards our work for which we shared the same ardour.

    I hark back to this one particular memory. On the sets of Dance India Dance, Masterji practiced the ritual of giving a bakshish of a 100 rupee note, to the dancer who excelled. She liked our performance and I, yes I, received that prized possession from her. Can I express my ecstasy in words? Never! I have that video, luckily, and now I can only revisit the memories whenever I want to recharge myself and get inspiration. She brought her typical warmth and positivity to the reality shows. She always seems to be a super judge to me, because, you know, that pride of a lioness – I have worked with many big names, but no one has that boldness mixed with a motherly tenderness like her.

    With time as age caught up, her changing body-frame posed zero hindrance to her choreographic energy. It was miraculous. Be it Dola Re, be it Nimbooda, or be it Humko Aajkal Hai Intezaar – these have grown with time into cult songs – they have speed, they have grace, they have elaborate foot work, they have that flow; in short they have everything, worthy of their elevation with the passage of time. Her special touch was how she made them dance with their faces, nobody had done this before. She would take a song, break it up into its nuances and deliver up to five different expressions for each line. And this did not need her to be a size zero, her talent could not be fenced in any manner.

    Saroj ji was not only the first choreographer to win the Filmfare Award for Best Choreography, but the first to make Bollywood acknowledge that choreographers are not merely dancers, their merit warrants more than that. She made Sridevi, she made Madhuri Dixit, she made Aishwarya Rai, she made Meenakshi Sheshadri – Saroj Khan, single-handedly made them all, the dancing divas, into household names. That was an era without YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, but each lip could remember their songs, each kamar would try to replicate the groove – and that is the paramount of fame, when the choreographer, who is always behind the camera, gets known widely through the performance they have envisioned.

    Thank you for paving this smooth way for us, for taking all the hindrances on yourself and embracing us like comrades. Thank you Masterji!         

    Between takes, I have often tried to learn from her. And there she was; the showman in every sense of the term. Her number still remains saved in my phone, but my heart weeps frantically to even think that she would not wish me on my special days anymore, congratulate me on my achievements anymore.

    She promised... After she saw our work in Race and the song Gallan Goodiyan, she promised that she would choreograph the songs for my film when I would debut as a director. I am there now, sitting on the director’s chair. At the horizon, miles away, I can discern her halo. I know that she will inspire me and nurture me. I will always strive to walk down the path paved by our Masterji. My latest work remains a tribute to my Muse!

     

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    Bosco Martis is a renowned Bollywood choreographer, whose partnership with Ceasar Gonsalvis is legendary as the Bosco-Ceasar duo. They are pioneers in westernizing Bollywood dance and has been very dear to ‘Masterji’ Saroj Khan. Bosco is now directing his first film.

    Transcripted & compiled from Tell Me Your Story’s interview with Mr. Bosco Martis.

    Transcript by: Ananya Agarwal, Pursuing B. A. (English Honors), JECRC University, Jaipur, Rajasthan.

    Compiled by: Ankita Dutta

    Ankita Dutta has completed her post-graduation in English and is currently pursuing B.Ed. She is also doing an International PG Diploma course to become an English Language Trainer. Besides English, Bengali and Hindi, she is also adept in Sanskrit. George Orwell’s 1948 is her scholarly inspiration because of the subject matter and Orwell’s narrative technique. 1948 has piqued her attention towards the craft of storytelling which effortlessly blends with the reader’s fictional reality. Ankita’s research interests lie in the English postcolonial dystopian literature and she looks forward to pursuing this for her doctoral studies.

     

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