Legendary choreographer Saroj Khan passes away at 71
Saroj Khan's collaborators in the film industry remember the ace choreographer
Legendary Bollywood choreographer Saroj Khan died of a cardiac arrest in Mumbai on Friday.
In a career spanning over four decades, Saroj Khan choreographed over 2,000 Bollywood songs, after starting out as a child artist and background dancer. Some of her biggest hits as a choreographer were Hawa Hawai from Mr. India (1987), Ek Do Deen from Tezaab (1988), Dhak Dhak Karne Laga from Beta (1992), Nimbooda Nimbooda from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), Dola Re Dola from Devdas (2002), and Ye Ishq Hai from Jab We Met (2007).
She was a mentor and frequent collaborator for stars like Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla, and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Her choreography was known for her mastery of classical Indian dance forms which she fused with catchy Bollywood hooksteps. On television, she had judged the dance reality shows Nach Baliye, Boogie Woogie and Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa.
“Saroj ji was sheer magic,” reminisces Juhi, who collaborated with her on films like Chandni, Hum Hai Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, Lootere, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, Yess Boss, Ishq, and Gulaab Gang. “She made her heroines look like queens. She did not have the most typical look or figure but when she danced, you could not take your eyes off her.”
Juhi remembers shooting for the film Karobaar: The Business of Love (2000) in Cape Town, South Africa. There was a seductive number that she was nervous about, and agreed to perform only if Saroj Khan was choreographing it. On her request, director Rakesh Roshan rang up Saroj in Mumbai. “She was the busiest, most-sought after choreographer at the time,” Juhi recalls. “Yet, she agreed to finish her work and fly over to Cape Town to shoot the song with us.”
Saroj had trained actor Amrita Rao for her Bollywood debut Ab Ke Baras (2002). The musical romance featured popular tracks like Aaya Mahi, Deewana Aate Jaate and Pyaar Mohabbat.
“I was intimidated and in awe of her vigilance for perfection,” shares Amrita, who had no formal training in dance before the film. “I remember during my initial rehearsal at Filmalaya Hall, Madhuri Dixit's manager Riku Rakesh Nath dropped in and Saroj ji referred to me as ‘Yeh mujhe young MD ki yaad dilati hain’ (She reminds me of young Madhuri Dixit). It was a compliment for sure because Saroj ji's strive for perfect facial expressions was as important as the dance movements.”
Southern star Priyamani recalls a similar experience during an ad shoot in 2014. Saroj, who was known for her meticulousness, arrived in Hyderabad and asked for a practice session with the actor. What struck Priyamani most was Saroj's insistence on perfecting her expressions before the shoot. “Normally, choreographers just focus on practising the steps first. But Masterji told me you have to express even when you are rehearsing, whether it is for an ad or a film song,” Priyamani shares, calling her demise a great loss for the industry.
Director Vivek Agnihotri had collaborated with Saroj on Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal (2007). The song Billo Rani, an item number featuring Sana Khan and voiced by Richa Sharma and Anand Raj Anand, was a popular hit from the film. “She was a strict dance master and would shout at big stars John Abraham and Bipasha Basu like an elderly school teacher,” Vivek shares. “She was the only choreographer in the industry you would break down a song into every single freeze frame. She would show each ada and mudra to me herself. That is something I will never forget.”
Saroj is survived by her husband B Sohanlal, son Hamid Khan and daughters Hina Khan and Sukaina Khan. Her last rites were performed at the Malvani cemetery in Malad on Friday morning.