In the 14 years I have known him, I have never seen ace choreographer Shiamak Davar ruffled. He is as chilled-out as ever when we catch up at his downtown office, days after the release of his third music album Shabop! The living legend who has made dancing a fashion statement, a mass-appealing and highly-trained art and a mission all at once, makes little of his having choreographed a dance sequence for the Hollywood blockbuster Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol or his recent staging of a 1000-strong performance at the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi with A.R. Rahman.
And of course here's the scoop: the man is set now to produce a mainstream feature film with "a very strong soundtrack in these days when technology is ruling music and making it less soulful"!
It's been a long and challenging journey for Shiamak towards becoming a world-famous icon. "The humiliations I faced and the suffering they caused were good for me because they helped build my character. I have no bitterness," says Shiamak, who was ridiculed for being a pansy as he was "a boy who danced" when he started out almost 25 years ago. It was said that the girls who joined his class were "bad" (sic) girls who "nobody would marry". Today, there is a sense of quiet triumph as all those who laughed and mocked him ended up "sending their kids to me!" What's more, Shiamak has always been a firm believer in the maxim that anyone can dance - or should! "You do not have to be a great dancer to dance. You should just enjoy it!," he feels.
He has come up with Shabop!, his third album after Mohabbat Kar Le (which was a sellout) and Dil Chahe not so much for public consumption as for "my dear students". Says Shiamak, "I had composed these songs over the years, but let's face it - pop music is dead, so I would be a fool to think of it commercially. I have not even done any publicity for it, have published it myself, but I am really happy to have put all the tracks on an album besides in the digital domain."
He adds, "I do not look at them to become 'Kolaveris' on the charts, but I am sure you will see the improvement in my previously horrible Hindi and an increased maturity in my music and singing. I have also made a video that has been received well on YouTube."
All the songs except for 'Bebe' are scored by Shiamak, with this track written and composed by his close associate Glen D'Mello. "Zubin Balaporia, who's been with me for 20 years, has produced the album," says Shiamak. "And the title Shabop! means Shiamak's Hip-Hop but also has a deeper spiritual meaning."
One track on the album has a special significance to him: 'Inaam Hai Zindagi' (Life is a prize or reward). "Its lyrics are about my life and my experiences," he notes. And there are those two duets with "two lovely people" - Hariharan, by whose songs in Roja and Taal he was blown away by, and Shweta Pandit, who pleasantly shocked him by meeting him like a fan at an airport when she informed him that she hailed from a musical family and had sung in some Yash Raj Films! "I promised her right away that she would sing in my next album and she was so touched that I remembered what I told her so many years ago," smiles Shiamak.
Last but not the least is Shankar Mahadevan, who "always did backing shows on all my shows and in my first album. He came in to sing my lead track 'Zaraa Zaraa'."
Shiamak's limited work in films (Dil To Pagal Hai, Taal, Dhoom, Bunty Aur Babli and a film or two more) is with Yash Raj too and on the way is another of their films, Dhoom:3. But how did he get to do Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol? "Peter Cummings, who was involved with the film, and Michael Kaplan, who had worked in Burlesque, saw and loved my work on YouTube and traced me!", he says.
But these spectacular successes are not the be-all and end-all of Shiamak's career. "I have always laid greater emphasis on teaching. Money is important, but not all-important. I think that my life changed after I discovered the spiritual world of my gurus - the Bhavnagris - and read their book 25 years ago. My main aim is to serve and help people today. In the process, if I make money, it's great. If not, it's fine too. For me, it is a process of going within, for if I don't do that, I will go without!"
The dance pioneer of the nation in many ways (whose school, the Shiamak Davar Institute of Performing Arts, has branches all over the country), he is more than a little reticent to speak about his social work. The list includes picking children of labourers, street-kids and orphans and placing them in platforms like Dance India Dance and India's Got Talent and also teaching kids suffering from cerebral palsy, autism and even those who are on crutches. All this is done through his Victory Arts Foundation and Shiamak personally counsels and helps the children. The noble work has now spread to Canada, with Australia and London to come. "You will be shocked to know how much the children over there are physically handicapped," he says.
"My credo is empowerment through Education. I want to change the lives of people through dance and music," he goes on. But do the youngsters, at that juvenile age, understand his deep philosophies and share them? "I imbibe therapy in the dances itself," he replies. "We pray before and after classes. The discipline mixed with fun directs them towards that depth. My choreography reflects this too, and I am increasingly getting partial to Sufi numbers. Today, the spiritual dimension interests me more than the earthly. I am into a lot of inner reflection and introspection."
He concludes, "For me, it is all about 'Can I help someone and save him from depression?' Dance is all about using energy that is stored within for constructive use. At an impressionable age, children can use this up on sex, drugs, crime and other destructive habits. I make them channel it instead into dancing."