He moved from anonymity to becoming one of America’s most visible faces in Hollywood as the ambassador of Bollywood dance, and in a career that spans 20 years, Nakul Dev Mahajan of NDM Production and Dance Studios, continues to break boundaries professionally and personally while peppering the American dance culture with an Indian flavor.
Mahajan’s rapid rise not only includes spreading Bollywood fever at the White House with the First Lady, Michelle Obama and coaching Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri on a Bollywood dance routine for the talent portion of the program, but also extends to working with his childhood idol, Paula Abdul.
Mahajan has also participated on NBC’s Superstars of Dance and ABC’s Good Morning America Oscar Coverage and is a returning favorite for his Bollywood choreography, on Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance (SYTCD) seasons 4 through 11, affirming for him that viewers in “America are loving this style of dance.”
In 2013, one of SYTYCD’s huge fans, the First Lady, inquired on Mahajan to assist the White House’s continued thrust to welcome diverse cultures and celebrate Diwali.
At the heels of the Davuluri win in September, Mahajan received an invitation to lead his Bollywood Master class in October 2013, in the State Dining room with 50 inner city children along with Michelle Obama.
Excited beyond imagination, Mahajan’s compared his comfort level with Mrs. Obama to talking to his “next door neighbor.” The rapport Mahajan established worked well as he was invited to return and attend the prestigious White House holiday reception as a guest that December.
By summer of the following year in 2014, Mahajan met singer, choreographer, Paula Abdul at an Emmy reception and was surprised that the television judge knew who he was.
“My room was filled with her posters, I saw her concerts and aspired to dance like her,” recalled Mahajan of his childhood idol. Abdul followed by booking Mahajan for a piece of choreography on her Avon Breast Cancer Crusade song and dance video called “Check Yourself PSA.”
As Mahajan humorously jostled with his new moniker as the “Bollywood guy” of America, the poignant realization that all that glitters is not gold as the saying goes, also became a reminder of the lifetime of altering challenges which morphed his private battles into a public story of perseverance.
Dancers are accustomed to pain due to their rigorous work, but after a year of ignoring a growing ache in his body, Mahajan, in 2012, was diagnosed with Stage 2 testicular cancer which had spread to his abdomen.
Nine weeks of chemotherapy and eleven weeks of quarantine from physical activity etched a new struggle of hope for Mahajan, a workaholic by nature.
His personal battle and pain was buffered by a gush of support from not only his public fans, family and friends, but also by two of his fiercest supporters, Khushy Naizi, his assistant director of his dance studio and his longtime partner who he married in 2014 after the 2013 lift of the gay marriage ban in California.
Now at the age of 40, Mahajan says he feels “better than ever” and is cancer free. With healing as a prime agenda, he is also taking more time to be with “family members like his mother, along with his modern family” who each suffered in anguish through the scare.
Reflecting on the birth of his career, Mahajan’s direction in life was carved via old Bollywood movies as a five year old boy who mimed Rekha and Amitabh Bachan dance movements.
But, fearful echoes of “boys do not dance, they play with forts” advanced a secret life as his passion shifted from the bustle of his living room to behind closed doors of his bedroom.
As years elapsed and regardless of his traditional Punjabi upbringing, Mahajan’s parents noted their son’s artistic tendencies and eventually showcased his talent at a Diwali gathering.
The 15 year old, had perfected numerous dance moves by then with no formal lessons and had learned to wed gesture, classical techniques of Bollywood dance with “Paula Abdulesque” styles. He was the “hit” of the evening and was soon provided formal Indian dance lessons by his parents.
By 2003 and as the founder and artistic director of NDM Dance Productions and Studios based in Artesia, Mahajan honed his reputation by “opening his first Bollywood dance school in North America,” which has serviced nearly 7,000 students from varying nationalities says Naizi.
The firsts, though are not lacking as although crediting the 2008 “Slumdog” phenomenon for giving a national face to Bollywood in Hollywood, Mahajan also pointed to his preceding daytime and prime time performances with shows such as NBC’s Passions and The Office which peaked the Bollywood dance curiosity.
NDM has five satellite locations through Southern California and via the meticulous selection of dance teachers who have perfected his brand of dance, a unique fusion of Indian dance and American, Western staples such as Latin and Jazz, is aiming to start new locations in parts of California.