Saroj Khan
Saroj Khan Image Credit: Twitter

Long before Bollywood dances were simply acrobatic and borderline vulgar with their hyper-sexualised moves, there was Indian choreographer Saroj Khan who injected grace and soul into Hindi songs.

Prolific choreographer Khan, who died in Mumbai on July 3 due to a cardiac arrest, breathed life into more than 2,000 Hindi songs with her masterful dance movements.

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According to reports, Khan was buried at 7am in a cemetry in Malad in Mumbai on July 3. Khan's family will hold a prayer meeting after three days.

Update: Khan's funeral
According to reports, Khan was buried at 7am in a cemetry in Malad in Mumbai on July 3. Khan's family will hold a prayer meeting after three days.

Called fondly by Bollywood insiders as ‘Masterji’, her collaboration with top actress Madhuri Dixit is a bright spot in her career spanning four decades.

Their songs like ‘Ek Do Teen’ and ‘Dhak Dhak’ from the 1990s were bona fide blockbusters where the actress’ expressions were as important as those graceful moves. Khan wasn’t a choreographer who depended on a tribe of skimpily-clad background dancers, but relied on the actors and their exaggerated expressions to do all the talking.

Her dance moves that were executed by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in love triangle ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ and late actress Sridevi in ‘Hawa Hawaai’ were masterclasses in blending classical moves with popular Bollywood tunes. Her choreography with Rai Bachchan and Dixit in ‘Dola Re’ in the lavish period romance ‘Devdas’ is proof to her spectacular talents as a choreographer.

Early career

Born as Nirmala Nagpal, Khan joined the Hindi film industry as a child artist in the film ‘Nazrana’ and soon became a background dancer. She worked under choreographer B Sohanlal, who later became her husband.

She burst onto the scene as an independent choreographer in 1974 with ‘Geeta Mera Naam’, but fame and success courted her much later when she began working with the likes of top actors like Sridevi and Dixit. Khan won several awards in the choreography department for films including ‘Tezaab’, ‘Chaal Baaz’, ‘Beta’ and ‘Khal Nayak’. She was honoured with the Indian National Award three times in her career, along with bagging several popular Bollywood awards.

While her career flourished during the 1990s, it started waning in the last few years. But Khan kept herself relevant by judging reality TV shows like ‘Nach Baliye’ and ‘Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa’.

She famously met with actor Salman Khan claiming she was ‘out of work’ in 2019 and needed films desperately. She reportedly had a fallout with Salman Khan in 2008 while filming the dance for ‘Andaaz Apna Apna’, but the two made up a decade later.

According to reports, that rift between her and a superstar cost her a few plum projects. She was also a purist at heart, who believed that being classy can never go out of style. Khan was openly critical of choreographers like Shiamak Davar and believed that their dance moves were acrobatic rather than fluid, classic motions.

Views on 'casting couch'

However, Khan’s life wasn’t always smooth and fluid. The self-made choreographer had to apologise for her bizarre logic around sexual misconduct at the workplace. In April 2018, she expressed her views on the casting couch as a means for providing livelihoods for aspiring actors. Her problematic and unsympathetic take that sexual misconduct in Bollywood takes place with the consent of the woman or man in question (“At least they don’t use and dump you. They give you work”) unleashed a barrage of criticism against the choreographer. Khan apologised for her views on the sensitive subject, but she wasn’t easily forgiven by digital warriors and actors.

Interestingly, she has also spoken up against alleged sexual abuse of backup dancers by her colleague Ganesh Acharya. Khan has openly spoken about dancers being exploited under the hands of powerful choreographers.

An eventful life

Her life wasn’t as perfect as her choreography, but it was definitely an eventful one. In an interview with Gulf News, her daughter Sunaina Khan described her mother as an ‘absolute legend’. The daughter, who was struggling to maintain her composure over the phone, is convinced that her mother will now make Sushant Singh Rajput, Sridevi, Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor dance together in heaven. These actors also died recently.

Khan was also a ‘Masterji’ of re-invention. She also tried her hand at writing stories for Bollywood films. She turned screenwriter for films including ‘Dil Tera Deewana’ and ‘Khanjar’, but this wasn’t as successful as her dancing career.

Despite the ups and downs, Khan’s success in Bollywood makes her a portrait of anti-nepotism. She was a self-made choreographer who made it in Bollywood through her own steam. There’s no denying that she brought out the best in the likes of Madhuri Dixit, Rai Bachchan and Sridevi. She could a bust some serious Bollywood moves, but Khan made it look spectacularly classy and effortless.