I had seen how she dance , how she made others dance and dance their ways to dizzy heights because of the steps they had taken according to her guidance.
I had talked to her each time I met her during the shooting of one of her dance sequences and I kept mentioning her in my column and some of the articles I wrote about people and films I was witness to.
I kept postponing my promise to write about her and then I was out of action and couldn’t visit studios and watch shooting and talk to stars and star -makers after I met with that ghastly accident which put an end to all my moments .And now look at what has happened !
“Master ji”Saroj Khan has danced her way into eternity and I have to keep the promise I made myself and I have to write what may read like an obituary but is certainly not .
It is and will be and must be seen as the piece I would have written when she was alive and so very full of the joy of living and dancing which was not only her way of life or making a living,but was life itself for her.
I remember Saroj Khan ever since I started my career but I came to know her better only after I met her during the shootings of films made by Boney Kapoor, Subhash Ghai ,N.Chandra and Rajiv Rai among many others.
We first talk at length during the picturization of the song, “Kaate nahi kate din ye raat “from ‘Mr.India “in which she was giving a new life to Sridevi and their were several times during the sensuous dance performed by Sridevi when I and many like me wondered whether “Master ji” was better when showing Sridevi her steps and moments or whether Sridevi was .
I don’t have to say how that one dance made a very big difference to Sridevi’s career.
One afternoon we sat in one of the make-up rooms at the Filmistan Studio and she told me a little about herself….Saroj (also known as Nirmala)was born a Hindu with her name, Saroj Kishinchand Sadhu Singh Nagpal and had crossed over from Pakistan with her family.
She had played her first role as a three year old girl in a film called “Nazarana”.
Dancing, she said came to her naturally and she had started by dancing in a group of dancers.
Sohanlal,a leading choreographer of the sixties was her guru who not only taught her how to take dancing in films seriously,but also married her even though there was a big age gap between them and the marriage didn’t last long.
She then married Sardar Roshan Khan and had two daughters and a son .Her husband died and she was a mother who brought up her children all on her own.
She got her first break as a choreographer in a film called “Geeta Mera Naam “which was directed by the very popular actress of the sixties, Sadhana and then their was no stopping Saroj Khan from dancing the dance of success.
It is beyond imagination to believe that she choreographs two thousand films in forty years and worked with all the leading directors and stars both male and female.
She will be best remembered for the dances that she choreographed for the films made by directors like Yash Chopra,Subhash Ghai ,N.Chandra and Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
She literally changed the career graphs of actresses like Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit, Manisha Koirala, Meenakshi Sheshadari, Aishwarya Rai and ……How many more names should I take ?
She was also at her best when choreographing the dances of actors like Govinda ,Shah Rukh Khan who called her his first teacher in the industry, Akshay Kumar and even Amitabh Bachchan.
When she was Incharge of a dance sequence ,even the best and the most experienced directors had to sit back and leave her to herself till the dance or the song and dance was picturized.
She had complete command over the camera and knew how to use it to get evey sequence in a dance captured to perfection.
It was exciting to see a woman calling the shots when there were big male directors who had so much confidence in her that they had no other choice but to let her have her way.
It was the best tribute paid to her talent which many directors and stars said had no other parallel or alternative and she never once failed to live up to the expectations people had of her.
There were other dance directors who were in the competition with her, like P.L.Raj , Vijay-Oscar, Chinni Prakash, Shiamak Dawar and a young competitor like Vaibhavi Merchant, but the competition didn’t make any difference to the woman who was accepted and respected as “The Queen Of Dance ”
With all the talent she was blessed with and how she got the best from other talented artists, she had to win awards and laurels all over and she crowned it all by being the first choreographer to win three National Awards and eight Film fare Awards .
She deserved a biopic on her life ,but she was happy with a docudrama made on her life and her passion, dance.
I could write a book about her if I had spent more time with her and if she had more time to spend with me,but that was not to be because or some conspiracy hatched by time and it will be one of the major regrets of my life and career.
I remember how I had asked about her being converted to Islam and she could tell me the real story only after years of my first meeting with her.
She said she was a Hindu, but had decided to get converted to Islam because she didn’t find all the reasons to be happy as a Hindu.
In her story she told me about her conversion she had said that she had gone to the Jumma Masjid in Bombay and told the Muslim clerics that she wanted to get converted.
They asked her if she was forced or pressurised to get converted and she had said that she was doing it out of her own free will.
She had also told me how she had told the clerics that she had lost her baby girl who she saw in her dream in which her baby kept calling her from inside a Masjid asking her to come and join her.
I had forgotten this story told by her till this morning when news about her going away from this life spread all over and my young friend from Dubai, Zain Hussain who keeps in touch with everything and everyone associated with the film industry called me and confirmed the story about Saroj Khan’s conversion.
Two hours later, I saw Saroj giving a live interview and I heard her telling the same story about her conversion.
There maybe many other stories about the choreographer who everyone who was anyone and even those who were none respected in the same manner,but know those untold stories will have to remain untold.
I was guilty when I started writing this tribute to Saroj ji or “Master ji”as she was popularly known,I still feel guilty, but I hope a little of my guilt is washed away after this little attempt I have made to make up for what I couldn’t do for her when she was here alive, alert and on the move all the time which she said was what kept her kicking .
Dancing, she had said was the best panacea for all ills, pains and even depression. It is difficult to believe in what she believed, but what’s wrong in giving her believe a try ?
And whenever someone very dear and close dies, I am tempted to believe in what my favourite human being Dev Anand once said and I give you what he had said about death which he had a strange hate and love relationship with.
He had told me, “why do people make death look so scary and something to be sorrowful about ?
Why can’t we think that there could be a better life waiting to welcome us after we leave this world ? ”
I don’t believe in illusions like heaven or hell, but there are times when I would like to believe in such illusions.
And this is one time when I would like to believe that there is a heaven and Saroj Khan has been welcomed into that heaven by a group of angels who dance according to the movements she had taught Madhuri and all the other actresses on earth.
Thank you, heaven for welcoming a favourite woman of our earth !
MAI SWARG MEIN BILKUL NAHI MAANTA . LEKIN JAB KOYI SAROJ KHAN JAISI INSAAN MAR JAATI HAI AUR LOG KAHETE HAI KI UNNKO KHUDAH NE SWARG MEIN JAGAH DI HAI , TAB SWARG MEIN MAANNE KA JI KARTAA HAI.