Tag Archives: #HamidaParkar

The Powerful Dancing Legacy of Saroj Khan

Sarojji, you were a legend and one of a kind. A heartfelt salute for countless moments of cinematic joy and moves; for making a mark as a female choreographer in Hindi cinema – despite the odds stacked against you.

Saroj Khan’s life and 60 plus years of career were defined by her natural talent and love for dance – she transformed into an ethereal being when she put her dancing shoes on. A classic rags to riches story, her professional and personal journey was filled with pure love, dedication, hard work, passion, and candor.

While her aptitude for dance gave her everything, it also took a lot away. Sexism, exploitation, struggles, barriers… she didn’t let any of that stop her. Over the years, she worked with a variety and generations of stars from Sridevi and Dharmendra to Shahid Kapoor and Aishwarya Rai.

Saroj was born in 1948. Her parents, affected by partition, had fled from a wealthy existence in Pakistan to poverty in India, hoping to build a new life. At three years of age, she entered the film industry as a child actor, fending for her family, when her mother discovered her love for dancing by accident. To avoid the stigma of working in films, her name was changed from Nirmala Nagpal to Saroj.

At 8-9 years, Saroj had outlived her career as a young actor and turned to background dancing for a living. She had no formal training but picked up dance movements easily and quickly. In those years, as a group dancer, she identified herself as Anglo-Indian, had short hair, and mainly did Western styles of dancing –  jive, rock and roll, and acrobatics.

Her transition to Indian dancing was difficult. Western dancers were looked down upon by the classical-bent dance veterans. Nevertheless, she turned a chance to work with B Sohanlal into an opportunity, when she was called to perform acrobatics (Spot Saroj in video below at 1:42-1:441:52-1:58 and 2:04-2:16)  as a group dancer in Vyjayantimala’s version of Eeena Meena Dika from Aasha.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFHz5oYQuRY&feature=emb_err_woyt

Saroj changed her appearance from an Anglo-Indian to Indian to learn from Sohanlal, it marked her big break, and she became a part of his troupe, first as a group dancer and later as an assistant. At 13 years of age, she married her 38-year-old mentor, who had shaped her as a dancer. He was married with children but she was unaware and much in love. At 14, she gave birth to their first child. Her association with him lasted 5 odd years in which she learnt the finer aspects of dance and also discovered her knack for choreography. When he was away for a song shootingPL Santoshi (Rajkumar Santoshi’s father) inspired her to choreograph Nigahen Milane Ko Jee Chahta Hai for Dil Hi To Hai.

When Sohanlal refused to give their child his name, she walked out. It was the start of a long struggle but also finding her own feet as a solo professional. “I wanted to live my life as I wanted to live, without him,” she had said at a Ted Talk event. Those were big words from a young teenage mother, who also had to break professional ties with her ex-husband. Despite what happened, she continued to respect him and remained grateful for the learnings and livelihood. Not a justification but it gives context to her controversial casting couch comments in 2018. After the break-up, she went back to working as a group dancer and assistant choreographer for other lead choreographers. She was a good talent to hire, she could be the proxy lead whenever needed, without the money or credit.

Accolades and fame were still elusive despite support from actress Sadhana who gave her a break as a choreographer in her directorial venture Geeta Mera Naam (1974)Her talent wasn’t enough, she was still stuck. “I worked very hard – day and night – but I was not popular. Nobody accepted me as a choreographer, as I was female. That time, the rule was that only men can be choreographers or dance masters, as they were called then,” she recalled.

The road to A-grade success began with the Hema Malini-Dharmendra starrer Pratigya (1975) but the journey to popularity was still slow. Around that time, she also remarried second husband Sardar Roshan Khan and took some years off to focus on her family. She returned with Raj Babbar’s debut movie Jazbaat (1980) and this time the path was smoother. She was accepted whole-heartedly as a choreographer in the industry. Top directors like Subhash Ghai, Yash Chopra, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Mani Ratnam lined up.

Saroj was also known for her penchant for perfection and had a temper to unleash on anyone who didn’t meet her high levels. Though she loved actors who knew their dance, she also enjoyed guiding non-dancers like Jackie Shroff, Anil Kapoor, and Sunny Deol. Actors had to rehearse before they arrived on set. Madhuri rehearsed Ek Do Teen for over two weeks. Saroj demanded that Sanjay must rehearse Tamma Tamma (Thanedaar) as a signing condition. He did. She added a touch of femininity to Hrithik’s steps in Bumbro (Mission Kashmir).

Kareena fondly remembers Saroj telling her, “Perrr nahin chala saktiii to kam se kam face to chalaa!” (if you can’t work your feet, at least work your face!).

Saroj was hired to train Madhuri, who had done a few movies but hadn’t succeeded as a lead heroine yet. It won’t be an exaggeration to say Madhuri owes her success to Saroj Khan.  Ek Do Teen handed her stardom and a career on the platter. Ek Do Teen was out there and fun compared to the classic and subtle beauty of Oh RamjiMadhuri aced both.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MS5BLS2sIDM

There was a marked difference in Madhuri’s persona on screen post the Saroj influence. The oomph, confidence, and attitude that Madhuri imbibed in both her acting and dance performances were unmistakable learnings from Sarojji.

Saroj had a long association with Sridevi as well, whom she considered her daughter. There is no doubt that her partnership with Madhuri was more fruitful commercially but some of her most refined and creative pieces were with Sridevi.

They created wonders in the cult classic Mr. India with Hawa Hawai. I remember watching it in a seedy Mumbai theatre and being blown away. It was one of those surreal cinematic experiences where your senses are shot and the only way to get over it was to watch the movie many times over.

Ek Do Teen brought other achievements for Saroj. She bumped up her price, benefiting her assistants, and made sure choreography was valued for its true worth. She was proud of the students she gave the industry. Her unavailability propelled two of her assistants into success. She requested prodigy Ahmed Khan to choreograph Ramgopal Verma’s Rangeela (1995) which won him a Filmfare award for Rangeela Re. Farah Khan stepped in to do Pehla Nasha when she couldn’t adjust her dates for Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (1992).

Sarojji‘s style was a stamp, she dominated the 90s and left her impact well into the 2000s.

Not that Saroj Khan needed awards to prove her worth but hopefully they were sweet revenge for having to stay under the radar for decades despite her formidable talent. Portrayed with dignity and grace, her women could still be sensual and defiant within the traditional mold. As Kareena said aptly in her tribute to Sarojji: dance and expression will never be the same for us actors. I would add Hindi cinema to that. It’s an end of an era. Or perhaps, many eras.

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women, and social equity.

Thappad: The Slap That Confronts Patriarchy

Zero, one, two, three, four, five… how many slaps justify the end of a marriage? Whichever numerical digit you picked or didn’t pick after watching Thappad, if introspection is your thing, you will feel guilty for being a part of a system that feeds patriarchy, enabling men and women to diminish a woman’s status.

Thappad does a fine job of meticulously and neatly unpacking layers of permissiveness, hypocrisy and privilege which runs through Indian society and its people. How all of us casually, unknowingly, knowingly chip away a woman’s respect with words, sentences, action, inaction, behaviours, interactions and deathly silence. How the tolerance level for failing men is way higher than women and why they get away with worse and beyond, without many murmurs.

Marie Shear defined feminism as the radical notion that women are people. The writers don’t let this window of opportunity slip even for a nanosecond to prove it right. They even place the blame for the one slap where it belongs, which by itself is a monumental step, with the man. Yes, you heard that right! Not his work, not his mood, not his whim, not his fancy, not his mental illness, not the woman. Him. We live and perpetrate inequities to such an extent that even questioning bad behaviour or inhumane treatment becomes an extreme act or rebellion, when really it’s a justified fight for a little space, voice, breath, expression of emotion, and most importantly, respect.

The movie starts simply, Amrita (Taapsee Pannu) frantically stretches herself to manage the home front while her husband Vikram (Pawail Gulati) races up the corporate ladder, losing her own identity and desires in the process. At a party meant to celebrate his success, Vikram involuntarily slaps Amrita in front of guests forcing her to introspect and examine her place in the marriage. Is she happy, is she respected? The answer seems to be painfully obvious even though Vikram himself fails to comprehend the real issue. As in real life, not one person questions the man on the slap but some of them do expect that Amrita should let that pass. 

Breaking the mould of the Hindi cinema heroine with gusto is Amrita, who refuses to play the sacrificial lamb or be bullied into a happy ending. She takes her time and space to question the routine of her marriage. She rightly asks: why did he feel comfortable enough to deliver that slap in the first place? Such a relief to see a determined woman in the face of opposition by people around her, starting from her mother Sandhya (Ratna Pathak Shah), mother-in-law (Tanvi Azmi), brother Karan (Ankur Rathi), even her own lawyer Nethra (Maya Sarao) before she takes up her case. Supports include her father Sachin (Kumud Mishra), maid Sunita (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan), sister-in-law Swati (Naina Grewal) and neighbours Sania (Gracy Goswami) and Shivani (Dia Mirza).

I loved the subtle ways in which the writers bring out the vagaries of everyday existence and our own blind spots. That moment when the progressive father realises he has been an ignorant husband is a hallmark scene. The dilemma of the lawyer who benefits from her in-laws repute, lives within an abusive relationship even as she fights for women’s rights. The maid who has no one fighting for her, the way she battles her own violent husband with spirit. The moves in the legal chess game, as the story progresses, with a delightful cameo by Ram Kapoor who plays Vikram’s lawyer Pramad. Many, many such satisfying moments to cherish in a balanced, exceptional movie.

It is a must-watch not only for its message but for some stellar, well-rounded performances from an ensemble cast. Taapsee Pannu delivers her career best performance, supported strongly by Geetika Vidya Ohlyan (the Soni actress, outstanding, once more), Maya Sarao (effective), Pavail Gulati (excellent, he dishes his final scene sincerely), Dia Mirza (graceful), Ratna Pathak Shah (layered), Tanvi Azmi (natural), Kumud Mishra (superb) and Ram Kapoor (entertaining).

Hat tip to Anubhav Sinha (co-writer, director) and Mrunmayee Lagoo (co-writer) who deliver a living, breathing master stroke, conveying a crucial message with the balance, love and dignity it deserves. Every character is layered, living a dichotomous existence, highlighting our systemic and collective responsibility effectively.

Thappad is subtle yet strong in its message, devoid of unnecessary drama, yet sends the message loud and clear that we jointly tolerate, contribute and benefit from patriarchy. The spunky female fights the good fight and no justification is offered for privileged male behaviour. This slap is designed to fight patriarchy and it does.

rating: 5 out 5

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women and social equity.


Thappad (2020). Director: Anubhav Sinha. Writers: Mrunmayee Lagoo, Anubhav Sinha. Players: Taapsee Pannu, Pavail Gulati, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Maya Sarao, Dia Mirza, Ratna Pathak Shah, Tanvi Azmi, Kumud Mishra and Ram Kapoor.  Music: Anurag Saikia, Mangesh Dhakde. Theatrical release: Benaras Media Works, T-Series.

Top 10 Original Shows You Must Watch!

1. Unbelievable imdb Rating: 8.5/10 Netflix
Unbelievable is based on Pulitzer-winning article “An Unbelievable Story of Rape.” It is by far the best sexual assault series I have watched and one of the best original dramas in Netflix history. The first two episodes are eerily spot on, depicting in great detail how rape cases can be handled drastically differently and affect the lives of already traumatised survivors.  It’s based on the true story of teenager Marie, who is raped in her own bedroom and then accused of lying about the incident. The show is painful, careful and gritty to watch, focusing on the effect the style of questioning can have on survivors. Get through the first episode like a Boss and I promise you will not regret it. Two great detectives Merritt Wever and Toni Collette are introduced, both women, who chase the rapist as he has since committed multiple offences. Kaitlyn Dever steals your heart as Marie.

There’s a tie for number one place.

1. When They See Us imdb Rating: 9/10 Netflix
Another exquisitely painful watch is When They See Us, based on the real story of Central Park Five. This Netflix path breaking four-episode mini-series by director Ava DuVernay is relentless in its pursuit of truth and justice. She shows us the circumstances that forced five Harlem teenagers of colou\r into confession, for a crime they did not commit in 1990 and their release in 2002. They admitted to violently raping and assaulting 28-year-old New York banker Trisha Meili on April 19, 1989. It lays bare the racist, corrupt, hateful system that enabled this to happen. The assault is spine-chilling and no way condones what happened. DuVernay skilfully depicts the trauma and cruelty inflicted on the boys. Not that it needs an award stamp, but the series won Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor (Jharrel Jerome) and Outstanding Casting in a Limited Series or a Movie. Plus, the Gotham Independent Film Award for Breakthrough Series Long Form.


2. The Handmaid’s Tale (3 seasons) imdb Rating: 8.5/10 Hulu
‘Blessed be the truth.’ In The Handmaid’s Tale, Elizabeth Moss has emerged as my top favorite actress just for the way she plays her characters. She breathes fire into Offred, a fertile handmaid forced to have sex with Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and birth a child for him and his wife Serena (Yvonne Strahovski). Offred lives moment by moment, hoping to reunite with her daughter. Margaret Atwood’s dystopian world is perfect in its creation as well as execution with a fantastic supporting cast. Its similarity to the assault on women’s rights  in the US is eerie.

3. Mindhunter (2 seasons) imdb Rating: 8.6/10 Netflix
You don’t want to miss the exploration of the mind of a serial killer in Mindhunter. Made with precision, intrigue and science, it follows two FBI guys Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff plays real-life John E. Douglas) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) who unite to form a behavioral science unit and study serial killers in the US, drawing from a unit set up in the 1970s and 80s by the FBI. Ford’s interest in psychology and interviews with these killers messes with his mind as he becomes obsessed with his interviewees. Show creator Joe Penhall and executive producer David Fincher borrow from their favourite Zodiac to create the unmistakeable world of Mindhunter which is detailed, with some great acting and surprises to keep you hooked.

4. House of Cards (6 seasons) imdb Rating: 8.9/10 Netflix
House of Cards was Netflix’s original winning horse, and it’s no wonder that it’s bingeworthy, with many twists and turns and Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) under its belt to keep you entertained. The show maps Frank’s journey to power from Speaker of the House to President of the United States. His wife Clare (Robin Wright) is close behind, wanting her share in it, until they betray each other. An impeccable supporting cast —Molly Parker, Michael Kelly, Reg E. Cathey, Constance Zimmer, and Corey Stoll — holds it together.

5. Narcos (3 seasons) imdb Rating: 8.9/10 Netflix
Crime fest Narcos tracks the rise and fall of Colombian honcho Pablo Escobar and the Medellín drug cartel. Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha ties together dramatized scenes and real news footage with Scarface and Goodfellas treatment to depict Escobar. It also shows the Colombian drug trade and how cocaine traveled from South America to the United States in the 1980s with Escobar’s help. It keeps its drama engaging and is an intriguing historical examination of the drug trade.

6. Stranger Things (3 seasons) imdb Rating: 8.8/10 Netflix
Set in the small town of Hawkins, Stranger Things transports you to the horror of the 80s with a vengeance and delivers a spell-binding sci-fi series in an ode to Steven Spielberg. Children rule this show. Strange things happen when 12-year-old Will Byers goes missing and his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder’s comeback turn) believes he has been taken by supernatural forces. A mystery girl Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) with superpowers helps Will’s friends find and rescue him. However, after his return, Will is not the same. The show gets creepier as more people get involved in the events. Definitely a must watch even if you are not a sci-fi fan for its ace production, spunky characters and grandiosity. 

7. The Crown (3 seasons) 8.7/10 Netflix
Everyone’s watching The Crown so you should too. Who would want to miss out on royalty? Plus it’s excellent television – ensemble acting, stunning production value, and historical precision. The series tells the life story of Queen Elizabeth II across time with an intimate view. It starts with her 1947 marriage to Prince Philip of Edinburgh. Clair Foy plays her in the first two seasons and Olivia Coleman in the third. Creator, writer and producer Peter Morgan unfurls the royal family history slowly, but surely, creating a winner.


8. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2 seasons) imdb Rating: 8.8/10 Prime
When Amy-Sherman Palladino is involved, one can be assured diamond standard levels of quality and some more. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a refined, wicked and delightful period drama about a housewife from the 1950s who ends up doing stand-up comedy when her marriage unexpectedly breaks up. It’s funny, witty, and heartwarming. Rachel Brosnahan plays Jewish housewife Midge Maisel whose disappointment leads her to a career in the comedy world. Go for it!


9. Fleabag (2 seasons) imdb Rating: 8.5/10 Prime
Phoebe Waller-Bridge plays Fleabag in the title role, as a woman who tries to go about her modern life in London even as she also holds on to grief and some secrets. She has a bossy sister, creepy brother-in-law, imposing stepmother and an estranged dad to tackle. Uniquely shot, it’s deeply intimate, hilarious, sexy, yet it embraces its characters’ flaws beautifully. It’s the most creative, distinguished, original piece of work and comedy by Waller-Bridge. Phoebe secretly converses with the camera in Season 1. In Season 2, Andrew Scott, the sexy priest, is on to both her and her secret. Do not miss this.

10. The Boys (1 season) imdb Rating: 8.8/10 Prime
Don’t get put off by the title The Boys thinking there are no girls. This superhero show is serious business and not a copy of anything really. It challenges the notion of superhero by deconstructing all the super-powered heroes and villains down to their motivations, intent and challenges. The series follows a group of vigilantes who have decided to police the super-powered heroes alone, and are abusing their abilities and taking advantage of the trust the public has placed in them. Corporate greed and the media follow them close. A memorable and unique perspective on superheroes. An average guy Hughie holds the baton as he learns to stand up and fight. A bit gory, but trust me, there is payoff. Stick on.

 

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women and social equity.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.