Vaibhavi Merchant interview: Didn’t want to go all Besharam Rang on Katrina Kaif | Bollywood - Hindustan Times
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Vaibhavi Merchant interview: ‘I didn’t want to go all Besharam Rang on Katrina Kaif in Leke Prabhu Ka Naam’

ByDevansh Sharma
Oct 26, 2023 06:22 AM IST

In an exclusive interview, Vaibhavi Merchant talks about kicking off the year with Besharam Rang in Pathaan and ending it with Leke Prabhu Ka Naam in Tiger 3.

Ace choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant has had a great year at the movies, with Besharam Rang (Pathaan), Tum Kya Mile, Kudmayee, Dhindhora Baaje Re (Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani), Not Ramaiya Vastaviya (Jawan), and now, Leke Prabhu Ka Naam (Tiger 3).

Katrina Kaif in Leke Prabhu Ka Naam and Deepika Padukone in Besharam Rang
Katrina Kaif in Leke Prabhu Ka Naam and Deepika Padukone in Besharam Rang

(Also Read: Leke Prabhu Ka Naam: Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif bring another banger with Arijit Singh. Watch)

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In an exclusive interview, she talks about designing the song and dance of the Tiger franchise, and how Katrina Kaif and Deepika Padukone, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan are different as dancers. Excerpts:

Leke Prabhu Ka Naam is the successor of two chartbusters, Mashallah (from Ek Tha Tiger) and Swag se Swagat (Tiger Zinda Hai). How did you manage to establish a sense of familiarity with the characters and their world, and yet slide in some novelty?

I've witnessed the journey of Zoya and Tiger from the meet-cute to the marriage and having a kid to a twist in Tiger 3 that I can't talk about. Mashallah came at a point when they celebrated togetherness, the fact that an Indian spy was accepted by Pakistan. Swag Se Swagat was also a celebration of love, peace, and harmony because Tiger proved that he may have abandoned his country, but he's not a deserter. Leke Prabhu Ka Naam is also a way to leave the audience going out of the theatre with a celebration of the two characters. But they're all different because I can't pay a homage to myself. I have to treat every song like it's my first.

While Dil Diya Gallan is a love anthem, to me, the definitive song of Tiger and Zoya's relationship is Laapata from Ek Tha Tiger. Two spies, from India and Pakistan respectively, gone rogue yet are in love with each other. Would you agree?

You've hit the bull's eye. We shot that song in Cuba, and it was the first time a Hindi film was shot in that country. The GDP of that country is low, but there's so much culture and warmth because people are peace-loving and harmonious. The two superspies vulnerable in love, we see the other side of their tough demeanour. There's always a tension between Tiger and Zoya, like India and Pakistan, whether it's all resolved or not. But when we see the world through their eyes in Laapata, we realise there's so much more to the world if we rise above the India vs Pakistan discourse.

The Tiger franchise has been one continent-hopping ride. How did you execute the logistics of the three celebration songs that you've choreographed?

Honestly, I was asked to shoot Mashallah at Bangkok. But I told them it's too hot there in May. So we cleverly camouflaged with a set in Film City. We stuck to the theme of Morocco and the other places they shot Ek Tha Tiger at.

We got to shoot Swag Se Swagat at Naxos, a beautiful Greek island. But it's very breezy so we faced weather challenges. It was a tough terrain. We had to jump three aircrafts to get there.

Thanks to Swag Se Swagat, we had a responsibility. Pritam and Maneesh Sharma entered as the new music director and director respectively. But Salman, Katrina, and me have been constant since the start.

You did your breakthrough film, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), with Salman. How has that equation changed over the years?

Working with Salman is a joy for me. There are very few people who call him by his name. I don't call him Bhai, and he likes that. We go back a long way. In fact, I was a Director's Assistant on Karan Arjun. There was Salman, Shah Rukh… even Adi was on the set to narrate Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge to Shah Rukh. So we were all cosmically connected somehow.

Salman doesn't know me as Vaibhavi. He knows me as Jinkoo, my nickname. And there are very few people who know me as that. So we go beyond films. If I ask him to come on time, he will be there because he knows I won't torture him and I'll get it done quickly. It feels effortless to him because I've already put in a lot of effort to make it seem like that. It's also how Salman dances: the swagger comes from his ease.

Katrina has a little belly dance-like bit in the song that took me back to Ishq Shava in Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012). From that film to Dhoom 3 to now, Tiger 3, how have you seen her evolve over the years?

Yeah, it's a belly dance, but not Arabic like Mashallah. It's a little Afrobeat meets Oriental. Katrina is just programmed to move her waist like that. It's a muscle memory she can't get rid of. She's so fit, she's worked hard on it, and she knows that.

But in the start, Katrina had a lot of anxiety and insecurity that stemmed from not knowing you better. She was always used to work with a set of people. By the time of Jab Tak Hai Jaan, she was comfortable working with me. See, I also think like her. I don't compete with anyone, but myself. I gave as much to a Band Baaja Baaraat (2010) with newcomers to a Jab Tak Hai Jaan with a legendary filmmaker. So Katrina understood that if I'm crazy, Vaibhavi is crazier. If I'm going to be hard on myself, she's going to be harder on herself.

How do you balance the dancing techniques of Salman and Katrina? One doesn't rehearse at all, and the other can't get enough of rehearsals?

(Laughs) Yes, you never have to tell Katrina to reherarse. She'll rehearse so much that you'll ask her to stop. There is one actor who doesn't rehearse at all, and one who rehearses even before she's taken a flight to the location. But that's what our job is: to bring everyone together. As technicians, we're just people managers. We manage not only actors, but also the background dancers, the DoP, and the costume designer.

You started the year with Besharam Rang in Pathaan. Since it's from the same YRF Spy Universe as Tiger 3, did you anticipate there will be comparisons between the songs?

See, when I was introduced to Rubai, Deepika's character in Pathaan, my brief was just that she's supposed to entice the Pathaan character. There was no info about her backstory. It was her intro song. So I just approached her as a femme fatale. She's Bo Derek from James Bond.

Deepika had also done a bunch of traditional roles, like Padmaavat. So when she came into Besharam Rang, she wanted to go all guns blazing. So I didn't want to shoot it like a typical Hindi dance song. I wanted it to be languid like a chic fashion video. Something I did with Katrina in the Dhoom 3 title track.

But Zoya is very different from Rubai. She's the wife of Tiger and the mother of a 10-year-old. So it's all character-driven. Rubai is meant to entice Pathaan, Zoya is dancing with her husband (laughs). She's just celebrating.

How different are Katrina and Deepika as dancers?

Katrina comes from a place of anxiety. She wants to make sure she doesn't disappoint anybody. Deepika came in as the completely opposite. She's a quiet worker. She did her rehearsals silently. She does her homework. Katrina also does her homework, but she's like, “Dekho, dekho, main apna homework karke aayi hu.” She needs a sign off from me on everything, including her costumes. Deepika worked on her costume herself. Katrina is that front bencher who's a teacher's pet. She's very hands-on. Deepika is that mid-bencher who comes with a certain ease.

You said you worked with Salman and Shah Rukh on the sets of Karan Arjun. But you've also worked with them separately over the years. How different are the two as dancers?

Shah Rukh does his homework well, rehearses a lot. He's a teacher's pet who feels upset if he's not in the Top 2. But Salman doesn't care. He's also a teacher's pet, but you just love him for who he is: either take it or leave it. He'll show you he's not a hustler, but he actually is one. Otherwise you can't be sleepwalking through franchises like that. They're magic together. They have so much love and respect for each other. I feel if Tiger vs Pathaan happens, the actresses would have a tough time because their bromance is going to take over.

Tiger 3 is slated to release in cinemas on November 12 on the occasion of Diwali.

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