We don’t know if you’ve noticed – but Katrina Kaif can dance. You’ll see it in item numbers that outlive the movie (try recalling the name of the film that featured Sheila Ki Jawani); in cameos that eclipse the heroine (Priyanka Chopra was the female lead in Agneepath, not Chikni Chameli Katrina); in sequences where her sinuous moves force even Shah Rukh Khan to keep up (Ishq Shava has some of the most complex steps in recent times); and at nearly every live act that turns her moves into talking points for days.
Every major actress has crossed a dance or item number off her to-do list. Priyanka Chopra (Babli Badmaash), Kareena Kapoor (Fevicol), Sonakshi Sinha (Go Govinda) and Deepika Padukone (Dum Maaro Dum) have all strayed into what was once vamp territory. But it is Kaif’s dancing that has the audience collecting the remnants of their jaws from the floor.
Kaif wasn’t always the belly-swinging, body-popping, ab-crunching dance queen she is today. In fact, she could barely control her limbs in Just Chill from Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya? (2005). So what got her from that to this? From what we hear, it was practice, practice, practice. Karan Malhotra, the director of Agneepath, says it’s Kaif’s hard work that’s paid off. "She believes that she’s not a natural dancer and puts in extra effort to overcome that," he explains. "While shooting Chikni, Katrina never once said that a step was too tough for her. She took 10 extra days only to practice."
Ganesh Acharya, who choreographed the song, says that Kaif learnt as she went along and constantly worked on her technique. "Only Katrina could have done Chikni Chameli."
But you wouldn’t have guessed that, watching her dance in earlier films like Jee Karda from 2008’s Singh is Kinng. Terence Lewis, who worked with Kaif in her initial years on a couple of stage shows, says he was forced to eat his words, when he saw her in Touch Me in Race (2010). "In Boom , she was wooden and had no dancing skills," he recalls. "Back then she found it difficult to catch the rhythm, her movements were very large and not graceful at all. She didn’t have that energy, like you say in Hindi, khul ke nacchna. But it’s like she went inside a tunnel and came out on the other side, completely transformed. Now when I look at her I am blown away."
All the right moves
Lewis adds that much of Kaif’s newfound appeal also has to do with her angelically pretty face, so the moves never look vulgar. "In Chikni, her steps were very direct, but it didn’t look bad because her expressions weren’t over the top [no lip biting, for instance]. Her face makes her look sweet, no matter what she does," he says.
Bosco Martis of the choreographer duo Bosco and Caesar, who directed her in Touch Me, the song where she came into her own as a dancer, puts down Kaif’s lack of expression to the fact that she has not grown up watching Bollywood movies, so the expressions don’t come naturally. "But she needs to let go a little and loosen up," he adds.
However, Kaif ends up doing tougher steps because she has choreographers like Vaibhavi Merchant to push her. In Mashallah, from Ek Tha Tiger, she creates a curve with her body while lying down wearing a white bit of barely nothing. It is an Arabic curve called taksim maya, which Merchant says is usually done standing up, but she asked Kaif to do it supine, and from what we saw, she nailed it. Having also choreographed her in Ishq Shava, Merchant says that the song had many complex routines. "There was street dance, krumping, hip-hop, salsa and the typical Bollywood-style dance," she points out. "Watch the long salsa shot, [it’s on YouTube]. She did it in one go."
But it takes a wee bit more than interest and hard work to become a dancing star. Kabir Khan, the director of Ek Tha Tiger, says it’s Kaif’s popularity and the way audiences respond to her as an entire package that matters. "All her ‘dance numbers’ came only in the last two-three years, since she’s become so popular. It’s about being good when the spotlight is on you."
From HT Brunch, April 21
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