Bollywood’s beloved ‘Masterji’ Saroj Khan passes away due to cardiac arrest
While fans are still reeling under the shock of Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide, even going on to the extent of demanding an investigation into the sudden demise of the actor, the Indian film industry has been hit by another terrible blow. Ace choreographer Saroj Khan suffered a cardiac arrest and breathed her last on Friday, July 3, 2020, leaving the entire industry in a state of sorrow. When I had met Bollywood’s ‘Masterji’ at an event in Nagpur, the veteran choreographer had spoken about her struggles before making it big in the industry and had also poured her heart out talking about the respect she had earned in all the years and her protégé Madhuri Dixit-Nene.
Born as Nirmala Nagpal in 1948, Saroj Khan’s family had migrated to India during the Partition, where the legendary dance director began her career in films at the tender age of three in the film ‘Nazarana’. By the time she turned ten, she became a background dancer, where she met her future husband and choreographer B. Sohanlal. Post marriage to him, her personal life soon hit a roadblock and she moved on in life, making choreography in films her primary goal. Saroj Khan went on to assist many dance directors before getting her break as a solo choreographer in 1974. She did not receive acclaim until thirteen years later in 1987, when Hawa Hawaai from ‘Mr. India’ created quite a stir among cinephiles. Sri Devi’s comic expressions, along with jive, mixed with polka dance forms were an instant hit with the audiences. Saroj Khan even made the sensual Kaante nahin kat tey look easy on the eyes.
The Mother of Indian Choreography’ as she was named, had finally arrived on the scene with her perfect dance moves that depicted the exact emotion the actor was performing on screen. In her own words, it was Madhuri Dixit, who understood what she wanted to convey through her dance and brought it to life with her flawless expressions and graceful moves. Although there was news of rifts between Masterji and her protégé, Saroj Khan was still very vocal about Madhuri being her favourite student. Out of all the A-list actresses she had choreographed, she said Madhuri was the best. One might tend to forget the name of a movie, but once songs like Ek do teen, or Dhak dhak karne laga, or Choli ke peechhe, or Chane ke khet mein start playing, avid fans are sure to clearly remember each dance move Saroj Khan conveyed through Madhuri Dixit.
Saroj Khan’s way of emphasizing an actress’s expressions on the camera to convey most of her choreography was the hallmark of her work. She made dance easy for everyone and was a name to reckon with in the industry in the early 90s. Her pairing with Madhuri and Sri Devi in movies like ‘Chandni’, ‘Thanedaar’, ‘Nagina’, ‘Beta’ and ‘Sailaab’ to name a few, had the audiences gushing.
Saroj Khan did not restrict herself to only a mix of Kathak and Bollywood dance moves, but also included traditional dance moves as and when the music demanded. With three National Film Awards for best choreography in the years 2002 (Dola re dola, ‘Devdas’), 2005 (Tamil movie ‘Sringaram’) and 2007 (Yeh ishq haai, ‘Jab We Met’), Saroj Khan had hit the right notes. A career that spanned more than four decades, Saroj Khan had choreographed at least 2000 songs, while also making a few quick cameo appearances in films. She also appeared as a judge on some dance-based reality shows on the small screen, where her unabashed comments were something the contestants swore by.
With movies like ‘Chaalbaaz’ ‘Mohra’, ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’, ‘Lagaan’, ‘Guru’, ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’, ‘Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi’, and the most recent ‘Kalank’, Saroj Khan had made a lasting impact on the audiences with her choreography. Each iconic Bollywood number in the 90s and 2000s had Saroj Khan’s imprint on them and it was evident in the moves. The subtlety with which she planned each dance move showed through her actress’s hard work on the big screen and that was her biggest achievement. While people go gaga over an actor performing a dance routine on celluloid, they hardly remember to give credit to the choreographer, who put in all the sweat to make it possible. But such was not the case with Bollywood’s Masterji, because she had earned that respect for herself with her perseverance.
The firebrand dance director did not shy away from speaking her mind and one such incident created quite a furor in 2018, when she defended casting couch in the Indian film industry. As per reports, Saroj Khan had recently complained of breathing problems, for which her Covid-19 tests were carried out. Her result had come out negative and she was soon to be discharged from the hospital, but fate had other plans. She suffered a massive cardiac arrest early on Friday morning and was rushed to Guru Nanak Hospital in Mumbai, where she breathed her last. Her last rites were performed in Malad. With another Bollywood gem lost to time, several industry stars mourned her death and paid tributes on various social networking sites.
Saroj Khan is survived by her son Hamid Khan and daughters Hina Khan and Sukyna Khan.
A terrible blow indeed! Rest well, Masterji!