Dancing with a star
Choreographer Shabina Khan talks about Naach Meri Jaan, brothers Salman and Sohail as dancers and the challenges involved in creating the catchy yet magical signature step with Aakriti Narang
Shabina Khan has been choreographing for superstar Salman Khan since the days of Dabangg and says the sessions are all about shared pleasure and meaningful pursuits. “Each time I’ve worked with him, I’ve felt that he has become a better actor, a better dancer and a better person,” she tells us.
Shabina has choreographed Naach Meri Jaan in Tubelight. There are only three songs in this film; Radio was done by Remo D’Souza, Naach Meri Jaan was done by her and Tinka Tinka is the director’s song. “A lot of sections of Tinka Tinka are linked to my song. Naach Meri Jaan, as a song, takes the storyline forward. It portrays the relationship between the two brothers with special reference to how they make food for each other, eat together, play together, cycle together, go to the market, the village together and dance together. They enjoy their lives together. This song comes at the beginning of the movie and it showcases all the characters in the film. Tinka Tinka was shot by Kabir Khan and is very closely linked to this song, but it is a director’s song. It’s the background song.”
This is not the first time that Khan is working with Salman Khan. Prior to Tubelight, she has worked with him in Dabangg, Jai Ho and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. On working with Salman, she says, “Every day on set is a learning experience. I have been working with Salman ever since I have been doing film choreography. It’s been a long time. In terms of dance, I truly believe that he has his own style of dancing. I call it the ‘Salman Khan dance’. When practising for Naach Meri Jaan, he was very energetic, he loved the signature movements that I had created and as usual he didn’t rehearse much for the song. Normally, he doesn’t rehearse much for songs. He practises two or three times on set and then goes in for the final shot; he’s very quick in that sense.”
The amount of time it takes to choreograph a song really varies, depending upon when it appears in the film, the characters present for the duration of the song and its contribution to the overall movement of the storyline. As for Naach Meri Jaan, Shabina says, “This song took a long time to create because its context was very vast. Technically speaking, I had to work a lot on this song. Behind all the hunky-dory fun that you see going on in the song, a lot of effort had to be put in from the technical perspective. We were shooting in 2017 a song that was set in 1962. Hence, there is not much material available about villages, the lives of people or prevalent dance forms at that time. I had to do lot of research in this regard. I met Kabir Khan, understood from him what he wanted from the song and went through the whole script of the film. The song is a very important part of the film so I had to work hard.
“Another reason why it was difficult for me was because of the characters of Salman and Sohail, who are not typical heroes. So I couldn’t give them a glamorous entry, riding a bike with wind flowing in their hair. The film is very realistic. So making a step for Salman’s character was very different from making a step for Sohail on account of their different characters.”
How can we forget Salman Khan’s overwhelming fans and their soaring high expectations? In relation to this, Khan elaborates: “Also, one of the greatest factors to take into consideration was Salman Khan’s immense fan following that is naturally desirous of a signature step. They will then copy this step themselves. So taking into account Salman sir’s fan following was very important. Apart from adhering to the character types, I also had to make sure the signature step was something very modern even though it is set in the past. This was quite challenging. There are two signature steps in this song.”
Shabina prepared meticulously to make her numbers a big success. “Before showing Salman our steps, we rehearse for three, four or even seven days. We have to be ready with around four or five signature steps. In case he doesn’t like the first one, we present the other options. Sometimes what happens is that he likes the beginning of one step and the ending of another. In that case, we combine the two steps together.”
Tubelight will be the first film after Veer in which the two brothers are seen shaking a leg together. When it comes to who is the better dancer, Shabina says, “They are both great dancers in their own respect. It is not true that they can’t dance. They’re both good dancers and their steps look good on their body type. In an effort to better understand the two protagonists, I tried to put myself in their characters’ shoes. My younger brother has started working as my Assistant Choreographer. Therefore, I applied the song to my own relationship with my brother. We both sat down and evaluated how brothers and sisters, or siblings more generally, behave with each other.” For two days, she tried to get into the zone of the song with her brother before they began choreographing.
She recalls a funny incident: “There is a musical beat that goes as follows: chamma chayi, chamma chayi, chammak chammak chayi. The music is of Pahadi origin. I was choreographing those beats for the song and I did it on the spot, on set. The shoot for the song took place in Kullu Manali and I was trying to do that one typical step. The dancers were copying me. When I completed the step, I looked up to see Salman sir, Sohail sir watching me. They too joined in and I had everybody dancing to my steps. Even people from the camera department, the Assistant Directors, female fans of Salman who were standing on the railings laughed and clapped. The love the audience has for Salman Khan just radiates everywhere.”
As for the other song in the film, Shabina says there was no sense of competition with Remo D’Souza. “We were in our own zones. As choreographers, we see the bigger picture. If our song does well, the movie does well and vice versa. So when the film does well, we know that we did well too. Radio is a great song.”
She began her own journey as a dancer through the encouragement of her mother. However, she did not stop studying simultaneously. “Then at one point I had realised that the money I earned through dance was majorly supporting my family. Initially I had assisted Ganesh Acharya. I worked with him for five years and I loved what I did. Then I assisted Prabhudeva for a year. I did one song with Saroj Khan. I’ve learnt dance from Saroj Khan and Madhuri Dixit. I loved their nakhras. At the age of seven, according to me there was only one choreographer in the Indian film industry who’s name was Saroj Khan. For my younger sister and I, Saroj Khan was the best and we wanted to be like her. I never got the chance to work with her for more than a song but that one song that I did with her was the best song of my life. I would call myself the combination of Ganesh Acharya, Prabhudeva and Saroj Khan.”
She describes her approach to choreography as follows: “Dance and choreography are two sides of the same coin. Personally, whenever I get a song to choreograph, I like to dance on it myself. Alone, in a room I go crazy.”
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