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Farah Khan

DAUGHTER OF a director of action thrillers, Farah Khan knew the film world inside out. But she couldn't have imagined her wild success today as song and dance choreographer, creating cult numbers like "Chaiyya chaiyya" (Dil Se), "Bole chudiyan" (Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham) and "Koi kahe kehta rahe" (Dil Chahta Hai). Achievements overseas include the West End musical Bombay Dreams, Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding and Vanity Fair.

Making her debut as director with the hit Main Hoon Na, she has fulfilled her aim to make a film that the family can watch together. Khan will choreograph less in the future, as her next film is lined up, again with Shah Rukh Khan. Here Khan speaks to The Hindu with her natural candour, unpretentiousness and a touch of mischief.

No jolts in your dance numbers — everything flows and blends, be it sets, lighting or costume. The camera is in love with the song. The editing is rhythmic. Do you work with all these technicians?

I work out colour co-ordination with art/costume designers, discuss lighting with my cameraman. I keep the cutting pattern in mind so that the cuts don't jerk. I know what to do after a close-up, when to cut wide, zoom. No formal training. I learn with every film, from every director, cameraman, editor (laughs) good and bad.

You rehearse a lot. Do the stars turn up?

On the sets, I'm relaxed, my dancers know what to do, they've tried costumes and lighting is planned. We just go and shoot. Saves a lot of time and money. Stars don't come for rehearsals. In my 10 years as choreographer, Shah Rukh never came for a single day. He says, "I'll do it over there, if I can't, you'll do something!"

Is Main Hoon Na a spoof on every Bollywood formula? Absolutely, but used differently, with little gags. I put in everything I love about Hindi movies. The script is not musical. The qawwali was not there at all. I introduced it because at that point, the film dragged, and a big dance was the answer, in a typical Shantaram set, all saturated colours. When in love, everything is pink, swans and doves fly in.

The violence didn't jell with the romantic comedy.

If I'd stuck to comedy, metro audiences and critics would have approved, but wouldn't be breaking records with hardcore rural audiences. You didn't think you were trivialising the Indo-Pak situation with a naive Mission Milaap?

My story is about two brothers. I kept it as simple as possible to entertain everyone for three hours. In London, Pakistanis tell me how happy they are that the villain was not a Pakistani but an Indian nationalist.

You gave space to every character. Did it happen in the script or on the sets?

In the script. But no way I could explain to Sushmita Sen with just six lines to speak, about her sari and hair flying, Shah Rukh swooning at her feet. It had to come out on the sets. Why Sushmita? Because I think she's the only one who can intimidate Shah Rukh Khan! Lucky (the character) is as arrogant, dumb and charming as my brother. Zayed's like that too, will say stupid things but charm you with a smile. Had to work hard with him (chuckles). Whacked him sometimes.

Didn't know you hit them, but didn't you say that in your next film you'll take only young people because you can shout at them?

(Laughing) Yes. With seniors and stars, you have to be polite! Even when they are as difficult as Naseer(uddin Shah) was. Poor Shah Rukh had just gone through his back surgery. Went to the physiotherapist in the morning, came back to get hung on those cables, do the cycle rickshaw chase. No other star would have allowed a scene where another person has all the drama and emotion while he simply looks on. Shah Rukh spent hours coaching Zayed for it.

Aren't you great friends in life? What's the secret of his charisma?

Shah Rukh and I didn't `get to know' each other. Past life connection? We instantly became friends. Look at his eyes! Everybody loves him. May not be the country's best actor or dancer but what energy!

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