Shantanu Maheshwari is television’s newest poster boy. One of the top contenders of Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa Season 9, this cutie from Kolkata, who made his small screen debut with Channel V’s dance-based TV series Dil Dostii Dance and then graduated to MTV’s Girls On Top, is on a roll. He has been winning hearts with killer moves and boyish charm, not just in India but also abroad. Recently, this 25-year-old, along with his group, Desi Hoppers, got invited to do a special act on the popular International TV show America’s Got Talent.
How did America’s Got Talent happen? How was it to perform in from of those judges?
The show is now not only limited to citizens of the US but also entertainers in general from every field and country. The AGT team had approached us, Desi Hopper, directly to come up and perform in the show’s 11th season.
Our performance was on the very next day of us landing in Pasadena, California. We were totally jet- lagged but headed for the rehearsals almost right away. The show has a live audience. These guys buy tickets to watch the show and of course have high expectation levels.
We performed on two songs, Tukur Tukur from Dilwale and Turn Down for What by Lil Jon and DJ Snake, and fortunately managed to win the both the audiences and the judges over—we got a standing ovation and one thumbs up each from Mel B, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel and even Simon Cowell. We were really worried about Simon’s reaction as he is the toughest, but even he really liked what he saw on stage. He mentioned that he liked how we had stuck to our roots and incorporated the Indian element in our routine. It was an experience of a lifetime.
Tell us about Desi Hoppers. How was the group formed?
Last year, Macedon Dmello who was with my on my first show Dil Dostii Dance, and I were contemplating of participating at the World of Dance championship which happens in LA. For that we needed a six-member team. We went through an extensive audition via multiple ground events and handpicked the members. That is how the group was formed. Eventually we won the World of Dance championship. This entire journey was also filmed for the TV show, Bindaas Naach.
Now about Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa. In today’s episode, you performed a Broadway routine, which is very different from your you style of dancing . How was that experience?
My choreographer-partner Alisha and I had never attempted the Broadway before, so it was a bit challenging. We attempted tap dance for the very first time, in jazz shoes which are a bit slippery so we had to be quite careful. There were a few technical issues. But most importantly we had to get the right balance between dance and drama and get the footwork spot-on as that plays the most crucial part in this routine. But I am glad our hard work paid off! Although it was tough, we really enjoyed the rehearsals.
Do you think being pitted against Salman Yusuff Khan, a veteran Jhalak choreographer who has turned competitor this season, helped you push yourself harder?
Everyone has their own dance style. For me, the Jhalak journey has just been all about competing with myself and bringing out the best in me. I have been my own competition and each week I have tried to better my previous performance. Also, apart from perfecting the techniques, I also made sure that I bring out an X-factor every time I am on stage. So it’s been me just pushing myself to the very best.
And Jacqueline Fernandez absolutely dotes on you! Does it help being cute?
Jacqueline is a very humble and nice human being. And of course quite a beauty! It’s been great working and interacting with her. And about being cute, I would like to think it has more to do with my dance than anything else! But it is quite sweet of her to express it each time I perform
Tell us about your first memories of performing on stage.
My first memories of performing on stage were when I was in school. It was a dance competition, which I had taken part in. I was only around 8 years old at the time. My teacher had even complimented me on my confidence to dance on stage without getting shy. Other than that, I had even taken part in a few episodes of Boogie Woogie Kids. I was around 9 then. I remember being awestruck and quite excited. At that age being on television for me, was a big deal. I remember performing to Salman Khan’s Aisa Pehli Baar Hua Hai. The judges really liked it. So yes, those are my first stage memories which I will forever cherish.
You grew up in Kolkata, which hardly has a hip-hop culture. How did you get introduced to this dance form?
It is my mother who introduced me to dance. She would give dance lessons to the children of our building and that is where I started picking up the steps from. When I was just around seven years old my mom enrolled me in a Bollywood dance class. So that was the only dance form I got trained in. I picked up most of the other dance styles whilst participating in all my college dance festivals.
Apparently, you wanted to be a CA...
So back home in Kolkata, there are hardly much opportunities for commerce students. It is either doing CA or hotel management. The second was not really an option for me. And since I am Marwari, becoming a CA has always been given a lot of importance. So yes, there was a time when my plans were a bit different.
How did you land up in the television world?
Since I am a shy kind of guy, I had always imagined myself behind the camera rather than in front of it. Dil Dostii Dance just happened to me and initially I was a bit apprehensive. I thought of giving the audition a shot. It came as a surprise to me when I got the role. Then I just took each episode as they came and tried to give my best shot. The entire team was very supportive. But honestly, I never really imagined myself reaching where I am today, but the journey has really been an amazing one. I have grown immensely as a person, which is the best part of this journey.
Tell us about your first day/shot in front of the camera?
Well, my first shot in front of the camera was actually when I was 9 years old, back home in Kolkata. It was for a TV commercial. I remember being utterly confused and overwhelmed with so many cameras and lights and people all around. I was so disoriented that the actor who was playing my father had to once actually pull my head so that I face the camera.
You claim that you are a shy person. But when you dance, you hardly look like one…
Well, I am a shy person! But when dancing on stage, it all just magically disappears. But I must also admit that over the years I have become more confident and that helps me when I am interacting with people otherwise.
Do you think being a professional dancer can be a realistic long-term career?
After a point, it isn’t only about the dancing. There has to be a scope for growth in any career. If you are a dancer, after a certain point and age, your body eventually gives up and you can’t do all the things you once easily could. But, then you can always turn to choreography and direction. So, yes, if planned well, dance can definitely be a realistic long term career.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Hahaha! I am really not much of a planner and always go with the flow and try to make the best of the opportunities that come my way. Also, in this industry, one can’t really plan much.
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