So, I believe you were to perform at Cannes?
I was supposed to, but my mother fell ill. She was hospitalised in Mumbai. She’s my top priority. I had to fly down immediately to attend to her. There can’t be anyone more important for me than my mother.
What have you been doing in Canada?
I was in Vancouver setting up a VAF (Victory Arts Foundation) centre there. Children who’re dyslexic, slow, mentally and physically challenged, even the ones who’re economically not in a position to afford dance academy lessons can come to any VAF center in India or anywhere else in the world.
How did you go about building a niche for modern dance? Did people accept it easily?
When I started, there were so many people around who’d laugh at me, criticise my ideas of taking modern dance to a different level. Today, India is not just identified with Kathak and Bharatnatyam, the contemporary dance form is a healthy mix of classical and western movements like salsa and jazz.
Today, it’s a great morale booster when those same ‘critics’ congratulate me on my success. I’ve performed at every international venue to represent Indian talent. My academy is doing great, more and more people between 4 and 80 are joining in. Things have changed a great deal over the last two decades. Men weren’t perceived to be dancers at all. When I started, people laughed not only at me but also the male students I had. I’ve faced great amounts of criticisms to be where I am.
How come you haven’t done a private album after Dil Chahe?
I’ve not had the time—I’m also a little lazy. I’ve wanted to cut an album for over three years now. For some super bizarre reasons, I have been pushing it for a next time. The next time never comes.<b1>
Hasn’t recognition come in late for you?
Better late than never. I’ve strived for it but I’m not exactly craving it. Awards for film choreography are sad. They go by popularity. There have been so many instances when a better choreographed song didn’t win because it was less popular. I can’t lobby for awards, though it happens all the time. I get them when I most deserve them, like I did for Dhoom 2. Many other deserving choreographers haven’t been awarded for their work. It’s all in the game.
Who are the most promising new dancers?<b2>
There are so many today, most of them males. There’s Shah Rukh Khan who slogs like a dog when I’m choreographing him. Hrithik Roshan is great. I wish Shahid Kapur stuck around for a little longer with me. He’s an excellent dancer but still needs to compose himself a little. He’s too enthusiastic even now when he dances. Infusing too much energy is also not good. Saif Ali Khan has shown tremendous improvement. Among the women, Preity Zinta and Aishwarya Rai are good. Karisma and Kareena Kapoor pick up steps quickly.
Has your choreography been copied?
Zillion times. Sometimes, top choreographers have aped my dance moves verbatim. They may either have changed the prop or the costume colour or both. And they’ve even won awards for it.
How do you maintain your body?
At 45, I regularly exercise, have a balanced diet and I pray. I think if I still look young it’s because of my strong faith in the Almighty. That’s all you need to maintain your body.
Do you choreograph and dance for private weddings?
Not really. I don’t do it... my troupes perform.
What about the Bachchan wedding where you performed?
Rubbish! Oh Khudai! I never performed at the Bachchan wedding. I just went there as a friend for about half an hour to wish the couple. Some frivolous news reports said I choreographed their sangeet and wedding. Some even said that I danced with Jaya aunty. I mean... how ridiculous was that!
Why are you doing fewer films?
I’m too selective about the projects I choreograph. I’ve turned down nearly 90 per cent projects that have been offered to me. I disappointed Ajay Devgan recently. I turned down his film as well. I do films only if I find the music good and I see enough creative freedom in the project.
Do you feel you’ve achieved what you wanted to?<b4>
The day I feel that way, I’ll retire. I haven’t achieved even one hundredth of what I have to.
Some think unmarried men like you are gay..
Some people just don’t have work to do.They even go to the extent of calling married men gay. Isn’t that sad? One’s sexuality is too personal to be talked about. And the way it is talked about here is disgusting! It used to bug me earlier... but over the years, I’ve realised there’s little that can be done about this. One has to learn to live with these allegations. I know I’m not gay, so whoever says otherwise can well take a walk.
Have you ever faced deceit?
Lot of times. Quite a few of my assistants and even some who came to learn from me left mid-way to open their own classes. I didn’t mind them leaving but its annoying that they don’t know the basics of the exercise, dance movements and they’re out to teach.<b3>
Did you ever fall in love?
I was in love once with Rachel Reuben. We were seeing each other for nearly four years. Then, for some reason, we broke up. She’ll always hold a special place in my life. We’re still in touch. She’s a wonderful lady. She was among the first seven people who joined SDIPA when it started.
Why didn’t you ever marry?
I didn’t find someone worth it. You need to find someone you instantly connect with... a soulmate. I loved Madhuri Dixit for her warmth and sweetness but never thought beyond that. If I find someone nice, I’ll marry now.