What would Bollywood be without their pulsating moves! But dance directors and choreographers say often the biggest opportunity comes by way of luck – and not necessarily talent. Many have begun to rely on platforms like the internet, television and stage shows for their bread and butter.
Around 500 choreographers work in filmdom, says Dharmesh Tiwari, president of the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE). Yet it is names like Saroj Khan, Farah Khan, Shiamak Davar and Vaibhavi Merchant who have ruled the roost for many years.
“Luck is very important,” said Shampa Sonthalia, whose first solo project as a choreographer was “Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa 4” where she teamed up with TV actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
“It is not so easy. Of course, you need talent and hard work, but luck is also very important. You just have to be at the right place and the right time; otherwise entering Bollywood with a decent project is not at all a walk in the park,” the 30-year-old told IANS.
Three years into the industry, she is still looking for “the right opportunity”.
In general, struggling choreographers earn anything from Rs.20,000 to over Rs.100,000 per stage show.
Otherwise, the film industry is quite mediocre – for a song, which costs Rs.5 million-Rs.6 million, an experienced choreographer might just get Rs.700,000-Rs.800,000.
For newcomers, whatever comes through from producers is good enough. Usually they get Rs.50,000-Rs.100,000 per song, depending on the banner.
Established choreographer Remo D’Souza, who has spent almost over 15 years in India’s multi-billion-dollar film industry, was rejected in his first brush with Bollywood. But his talent, passion and persistence kept him going.
“I had a group of friends with whom I used to dance. The choreographer for ‘Rangeela’ needed some backdrop dancers; so we went there. All my friends got a chance, but they rejected me because I was dark. But the assistant choreographer noticed my talent, and insisted they should include me. That was my first break,” he said.
But Remo says the new generation of struggling choreographers are in a great phase.
“In my time, we had to run from pillar to post hunting for work. But the struggle has simplified over the years. They have the technology and internet, through which they can make their own dance videos and post it to producers. Then they have reality shows.
“Entry to Bollywood is definitely not easy, but the industry has opened to new talent over time,” he said.
The small screen has proved a saviour for struggling choreographers. With shows like “Jhalak Dikkhla Jaa”, “Nach Baliye”, “Dance India Dance” and the upcoming “Just Dance”, they get to display their talent.
A few names like Rajeev Surti, Longinus Fernandes and Bosco-Caeser, Geeta Kapoor, Terrence Lewis, Ashley Lobo and Sandeep Soparrkar have also become known in recent years.
Fame doesn’t come easy in this field, says Longinus Fernandes, the man behind the award-winning song “Jai ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire”.
“I started in the late 1980s and later choreographed songs like ‘Khaana ka peene ka’, ‘Musu musu’, ‘Jaan leva’…the songs became a hit, but I kept wondering why no was one talking about me. I also choreographed for ‘Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar’, but still no one knew me,” said Fernandes.
“It was only after I took up TV show ‘Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa’ in 2006 that people started knowing me by name. TV is a broader medium for many choreographers these days, but apart from talent, they need to have some sort of zing, conviction to get a foothold.”
Proper training in not just dance but choreography too is a prerequisite, he advises.
“All strugglers need to understand – why should a producer spend Rs.5 million-Rs.8 million on a song if you don’t have enough experience? Just because you have done a TV show doesn’t mean you are accomplished enough. People need to educate themselves.
“The primary thing is to join a dancing school and learn choreography, then do stage shows, musicals or music videos…and then assist a big name in Bollywood for nothing less than three years – a good idea before one starts on his own,” said Fernandes, who feels managing a massive crew is an art that a choreographer must master.
A few schools where one can learn the nuances of dance include the Saroj Khan Dance Academy, Shiamak Davar Institute of Performing Arts (SDIPA), Ashley Lobo’s The Danceworx and Terence Lewis Contemporary Dance Company.
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)