By Shruti Ganapathy She is the name behind several hit dance steps in Bollywood, having sculpted and taught Bollywood dance to leading actresses such as Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi and even Aishwarya Rai. A popular saying in B-town relates that if you need a hit, then you need Saroj Khan. Fondly called Masterji by all those who love and respect her in the industry, Saroj Khan talks of her journey in Bollywood, her struggles to get accepted and her love for dance. “I never learnt dance from anyone”, says Khan. “I often used to watch my shadow and dance. That’s how I learnt. I never dreamed that one day I would become a dance director.” While dance was always a passion, Khan began to work at a very young age to support her family. She worked as a child artist in the film Nazrana and later as a background dancer. It was during this time that choreographer B Sohanlal started polishing her dance skills, which eventually led to a choreography assignment. “Masterji (B Sohanlal) went to Europe to shoot for Raj Kapoor’s movie Sangam. And there was a song that he was to picture for director P L Santoshi’s movie Dil Hi To Hai. As I was Masterji’s assistant, they approached me to picture this song, Nigahein Milane Ko Jee Chahta Hai, which I did with the help of the director. I was only 14 then.” Khan had to struggle during her initial days as a choreographer simply because she was a woman. “Of course producers and directors didn’t believe in me because I was a woman”, she says. “They had the impression that dance direction was a man’s job. That was until director Subhash Ghai approached me to choreograph songs for his film Vidhaata. Then came Ek Do Teen from the movie Tezaab. And Filmfare acknowledged my work by giving me an award for it. “That was also the first year when Filmfare recognized choreography as a separate category in film-making, thus opening doors for all other choreographers.” So what has changed in the way Bollywood choreographed its songs from the 1950s until today? “When I started working, dance directors in Bollywood had their own identity. Their creations had their signature and simply by looking at the way a song was picturized, one could make out who had choreographed it. We would create movements and dances according to what the song demanded. We never copied. Nowadays I feel there is no more creativity happening in dance. Choreographers simply watch English videos and ask artists to dance in a similar way. “If someone was really interested in learning Bollywood dance, I would encourage them to watch the yesteryear songs that have been choreographed and learn facial expressions and postures from those artists”, she says. Over the years Khan has worked with many well-known actresses, be it yesteryear favourites like Nutan or today’s heartthrobs like Kareena Kapoor. Who was her favourite actress? “My favourite actress was and will always be Vyjanthimala. I also like Madhuri Dixit very much”, she says. Saroj Khan is a part of Dance Diaries to give local talent the opportunity to train withexemplary choreographers and dancers. She will be conducting a four-day workshop in Toronto, from March 25 to March 28 for students interested in learning Bollywood dance. For registration and more information visit Sansrkiti Arts.