Choreographer turned director Farah Khan grew up watching films with dupatta clad women running around trees with men in white shoes following them. “Essentially PT exercises” in Farah’s perception.
Described as “dance sequences” they were middle aged women cast as college girls by paan chewing masterjees. Once Saroj Khan entered the scene, dance masters were replaced by choreographers and tree sequences with Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit numbers.
As a student in the snobbish St Xavier’s in Mumbai, Farah never dared to show any interest in Hindi movies. However, back home she rehearsed Helen’s cabaret numbers despite the space crunch in the less than 200 square feet tenement that they lived in. Even that stopped once the record player was sold off after her father went bankrupt.
Films happened by accident. When a producer wanted her to find dancers for his film, she agreed to do it on the condition that he names her his assistant. Later during an outdoor shoot when the choreographer walked away half way through the shooting, Farah was asked to chip in. The song was a hit. It was neither the masterjee variety nor straight choreography. It was what Farah would perhaps call a “concept”.
That was just the beginning. Far from treading the beaten track, Farah was hell bent on changing the way songs were shot in Hindi films: Why shouldn’t Hindi music dominate dance floors? Why can’t the young rock to it? Why can’t there be a party tonight?
The thought stayed with her and by the time she did films like Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Main Hoon Na and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, she, to quote her “changed the look of the dance”. Mildly put because the ground reality is that if India is rocking to hit numbers like Shaava shaava or gori, gori or Om shaanti om the credit is entirely Farah’s. That apart, her peer group has something else to thank her for: It is for elevating their status from Dance masters to Directors of Choreography. That spot boys continue to address her as mastejee is another matter.
But Farah’s scene was not about working for others. It is about “me myself” and occupying center stage. Hence the restlessness, the impatience and the need to move on from the Choreography Director label: “No more..enough of disco and wedding songs….” Farah threw up her hands.
What convinced her was a chance remark of a colleague who said: Bewakoof ho itni achchi dukan band kar rahi ho (You are foolish to shut such a successful shop). That was it. Farah neither wanted to run a dukaan (shop) nor be a dukandaar (shopkeeper).
She shut “shop” but did not go out of business. Blockbusters Main Hoon Na and the very recent Om Shaanti Om which she directed raked in enough for her to say: “Why should I (work)?”
Even here Farah changed the rule. Unlike women her age, she gave up work to bring up her triplets. Today, Farah agrees to meet people only when it is “sleeping time” for her babies. For her, Motherhood is her greatest achievement: “A smile from my baby means more to me than any award”.
Consequently, she is past caring what happens in the work world. And this is how it is going to remain till her kids are old enough to travel with her.
As things appear, even on the sets Farah is likely to divide time between her kids and training stars to dance.
Probably the “my kids are my world” syndrome is a result of the neglected childhood Farah had. Her parents split up and while her mother struggled with a housekeeping job in a hotel, Farah and her brother Sajid were on their own.
Professionally things were tough on two counts: women trying to check her meteoric rise and men disrupting her shooting. With Farah in business, others were out of work. A senior choreographer even agreed to halve her price but Farah was the flavour of the season, as it were. That apart, unions opposed her because she refused to cast the “extras” in her song.
Hell bent on a talent hunt, Farah did not relent.
Despite selling dreams in her films, Farah is a realist. She is candid about the casting couch phenomenon in Hindi films. Like she is about the male domination in Bollywood: “Be it in the choice of roles or remuneration, men have an advantage. Women oriented films open to a lesser audience” Farah told HT.
Not the one to change any of this, Farah says the formula is to take the “gender off you” and let go the “woman tag”.