Hers is a palatial duplex home with two terraces, facing the sea near Dadar's Shivaji Park. Vaibhavi Merchant is relaxing on her couch. Over cups of chickoococonut ice cream, I want to know:
Despite being around for a decade now, you're still not in the top rung?
I don't see it that way. If somebody wants Ganesh Hegde, they'll go for him. When I started, I knew I'm not here for my bread and butter. I've become a choreographer because I love dancing. I'm selective about the projects I do.
Lately, you've become the flavour of Yashraj Films.
I'm a horrible lobbyist. I've never made a conscious effort to be a part of Yashraj films. I was roped in for Dhoom. Shaad Ali and Siddharth Anand had seen my work. They wanted me to choreograph their films.
I ended up doing more than one film.. but I'm also doing films outside the banner. Doing Aaja Nachley was absolutely Aditya Chopra's call. I didn't push him for it. And look, how have people reacted!
<b1>Are you hinting at Saroj Khan?
(After a pause) Her reactions are all over the place. Madhuri Dixit is every choreographer's delight and she is Saroj Khan's prodigy. It's okay for her to be upset with the fact that Madhuri is working with someone else, but she shouldn't be upset with me. From what I can remember, she didn't even like Kajra re. It's stopped bothering me now. I can't help if she wants to get upset.
How were your relations with her?
Cordial. We did Dance Dance together. But then, at her stature, it's important to give way to newer men and women.
She must understand it will never affect her position because she is regarded as the mother of choreography. Her reactions sometimes sound as if she takes herself too seriously..
Have you made non-dancers dance?
Yes, but it's difficult.When I go on the set, I have to look confident about what I'm doing with them because their confidence level is low. I have to make sure they don't look stupid with the movements.
With actors like Kunal Kapoor and Konkona Sen Sharma who are absolute non-dancers, it takes nearly eight-ten days. It was quite a challenge to choreograph them.
Have you had a tough time working with anyone?
Mr Sanjay Leela Bhansali. He'll make you toil till he gets what he wants.
Haven't you faced flak for your choreography in Umrao Jaan?
Yes, I have. There were straight comparisons with Saroj Khan. I'm from the Jaipur Gharana, trained in pure kathak. Some critics were brutal with their comments.
I remember one foreign paper praised it. Maybe Indian critics were looking for some oomphy, vulgar dance movements.
Have your songs ever been reshot?
Fortunately not. But I've been asked to reshoot other choreographers' works. Once Shaad Ali had asked me to reshoot
Chori pe chori
. The Bhatts too asked me to reshoot
Tumsa Nahin Dekha
because they had changed the heroine.
There's talk about
Jhoom Barabar Jhoom'smusic but not the dances?
Neither the press nor the public has seen all the songs. The press is not commenting on it because they don't want to go back on their words. Right now, the title tracks promos and visuals in theatres are making some noise.
Why didn't you promote your Australian musical
The Merchants of Bollywood?|
The international press has been generous to give it great reviews. The troupe has completed a nine month tour.. by far the longest for any stage performance. They'll again tour from September.
My sister Shruti has anchored it. I wanted to bring it to India, but my producers didn't find the right auditoriums in Mumbai. The producers might check out auditoriums in other cities as well.
Would you do television again?
Don't remind me of those reality shows. The channel guys tell us to pass bitter remarks and almost bring down performers to tears.. to boost their TRP.
The next time, I'll slap the person who tells me to do something like that. I think I'm just not cut for TV shows. I can judge a contest only if I'm allowed to be objective.
<b3>Your uncle Chinni Prakash and aunt Rekha don't choreograph now.
They do some work in the south movies.. but their work here has reduced for reasons best known to them. I miss their work though.
There was also news about fallout with your grandfather Hiralal Merchant.
Hiralalji was not Merchant. It's assumed to be that way. I always had some innocent differences like any child would with the grandfather. The fallout was made up for the musical to add some drama to it.
At 31, are there any plans for marriage?
I'm at shoots for almost 15 hours in a day. By the time I'm home, I only have the energy to sleep. I don't party either. I might just make five minute appearances for friends occasionally. I've been unlucky in love twice. Now, I'm immune to the idea. Somebody has to literally come after me. I'm a simple woman but I can bulldoze over any man.
The person has to be patient and make some effort to understand me. I'll never make the first move. My parents once were planning to put an advertisement for a groom for me. It's funny, really.