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Making a move

Anuj Kumar
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TELEVISION As “Jhalak Dikhla Jaa” enters its sixth season, we speak to Karan Johar, Madhuri Dixit and Remo D’Souza, judges of the popular dance reality show, and find thatthey are taking fresh steps in their careers. Anuj Kumar

MANY TRACKSRemo D’Souza, Madhuri Dixit and Karan Johar, seen here in the 2012 edition of “Jhalak Dikhla Jaa”, return as judgesPHOTO: AFP
MANY TRACKSRemo D’Souza, Madhuri Dixit and Karan Johar, seen here in the 2012 edition of “Jhalak Dikhla Jaa”, return as judgesPHOTO: AFP

Karan Johar

At 41 we are seeing a new side of Karan Johar. Be it his dance steps, his eagerness to embrace realistic cinema, or his decision to adopt a baby, it seems he is in a mood to ‘escape’ from a few brackets. “I made only one film, which the media loves to call bubblegum romance, but I have been saddled with the tag of generating escapist cinema for 14 years.”

He surprised many with his newfound range in “Bombay Talkies”, and Karan says the film provided him an opportunity to come out of his zone and try something new without keeping in mind the commercial considerations. “I am glad that people are liking my segment,” says Karan, who has just returned from Cannes where “Bombay Talkies” was showcased. In the 100th year of cinema we expected him to stick to his strength. “You should leverage your strengths but you should be ready to learn something new as well,” he argues. “To me Hindi cinema is always about the celebration of life, dance and music, but when I got an opportunity to try something beyond my zone I lapped up the idea. The tonality of cinema has changed from the time I started, and the sooner one accepts it the better it is to survive in the entertainment business.”

In hindsight can we say that in the beginning he played safe as his father was facing losses when he took charge? “No, my first film was an ode to Yash Chopra, whose cinema I adored. But people tend to forget that I have also made ‘My Name is Khan’ and ‘Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna’. Both had serious themes.” And as a producer, he adds he is making cinema of all shapes and sizes. “Be it giving rich urban youth a reality check with ‘Wake Up Sid’ or backing a revenge action drama with ‘Agneepath’, we are exploring different genres. Now I am working with Emran Hashmi in ‘Ungli’. Only a couple of weeks back we had a small film called ‘Gippi’, and this week we are returning to the big summer entertainer variety with ‘Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani’. I give my directors complete liberty to express themselves.”

Of late Karan has begun to show us that he can caress the dance floor if he likes to. But the choice of song makes many curious. He loves to dance to the “Radha” song from his film “Student of the Year”. “I am a Punjabi and have dance in my DNA. Punjabis are born with two right feet and they don’t need an occasion or a particular kind of song to express themselves,” he answers. Karan is pleased with the way directors are integrating music and dance with realistic cinema. “In films like ‘Vicky Donor’ and ‘Kahaani’ music seems integral to the story. If we proceed this way, song and dance will no longer remain an unusual aspect of our cinema for Western commentators on cinema.”

Karan says when it comes to the selection of participants in “Jhalak…”, the judges have no say. Doesn’t he find it odd that somebody like Shweta Tiwari, who is known for her dancing skills, is competing against a novice like comedian Suresh Menon. “I agree, but my experience says it is balanced out by the audience votes because, invariably, people prefer a fresh face over somebody whose strengths they already know.”

Madhuri Dixit

Like Karan, Madhuri Dixit is also going through a transition. When she made a comeback a couple of years ago, the media ridiculed her fashion sense, her choice of brand endorsements, and eyebrows were raised on her sticking to the old rarefied ways of star culture when things had become a lot more democratic. Today we see a star keen to reinvent herself. Be it her active presence on social media or hiring fresh blood to look after her affairs, it seems Madhuri is game to play her second innings on competitive turf. “It is not an overnight transition. I have taken time to understand the changes in the film industry and have taken necessary steps. Even the films I have picked — “Gulab Gang” and “Dedh Ishqiya” — are not conventional choices.”

The latest, she says, is the launch of her online dance school Dance With Madhuri. “It is a unique concept. I was getting a lot of requests to teach, particularly after ‘Jhalak…’” She has started with her iconic numbers “Mai ne mai” and “Ek do teen” and promises to add more numbers in future. But can dance be taught online?

“We are getting tremendous response. Unlike the physical schools, here you can replay your steps and the steps of your guru as many times as you want. Some women don’t like to practise in front of strangers. Housewives don’t have the time to go out to a training school.”

It seems in her second innings her image as a dancer seems to be undermining her credentials as an actor. The recent euphoria around the “Ghagra” song from “Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani” is a case in point. It seems everybody was missing Madhuri the dancer and not the actor. “Dance is not just about movements; it is as much about expression and it is where my background in acting comes in and helped me become a better dancer. So you can’t separate the two and, perhaps, that’s why even celebrities look up to me for guidance.”

Going by what we had seen in “Ishqiya”, Abhishek Chaubey might expect her to mouth some profanities. “See, I have always tried to mould myself according to the demands of the role but I won’t say lines that I am not comfortable with.”

Remo D’Souza

In an industry where choreographers have bigger egos than stars, Remo D’Souza comes across as a friend who can tell you a step for your friend’s wedding. It is this attitude that makes him popular on dance reality shows. “Such shows are about the participants and not judges. If the participants are ready to toil, even the judges begin to look better and their comments make sense. Otherwise it is reduced to a charade.”

He agrees the format of “Dancing With the Stars”, on which “Jhalak Dikhla Jaa” is based, is much more difficult. “There the celebrities have to learn the dance forms in the true sense. Here it is Indianised or we can say, like any other thing, Bollywood-ised.” Another thing that stands out in “Jhalak…” is the increasing propensity to include actors, singers and models in the contest. Last year Isha Sharwani was a contestant. Now Isha is known more as a dancer than an actor. “Isha was known for one kind of dance, and ‘Jhalak…’ challenged her to come out of her comfort zone. As a judge what is important for me is the journey of a contestant through the series. Also, we should understand that in India it is not easy to make celebrities try something new. Having said that, this year we have a fine mix of participants. I have hopes from Shaan, and I have been told a cricketer is also joining the show as a wild-card entry.”

Remo tried to revive traditional Indian dance forms with his first attempt at direction, when he based his Bangla film “Laal Paharer Katha” on Chhau .“I try to pitch in for Indian forms whenever possible, but Western influence on our storylines is so strong that it is hard to find space for expression of Indian dance forms. However, in my films you will always find it. In ‘ABCD’, the climax was all about the superiority of our indigenous dance forms.”

Talking about the changes that he is seeing in choreography, Remo says, “Thank God we have moved on from times when at every possible opportunity actors used to go outdoors to dance with a hundred extras in tow. If you leave aside the item numbers, these songs are much more integral to the story, and dance is more about expression of inner feeling.” Remo says he tries demystifying dance. “Take the way ‘Badtameez Dil’ has struck a chord with the youth. Anybody can dance to it.”


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