Saroj Khan made sure that no move went unnoticed, especially during practice. The legendary film choreographer got up to demonstrate an emotion that one of her assistants had missed – but not before touching the ground as though she were taking its blessings. It’s a small gesture, but also a sign of Khan’s tremendous respect for dance.
This is the known side of Saroj Khan, who ruled the roost between the 1980s and the 2000s. The unknown side is revealed by Nidhi Tuli in her 2012 documentary The Saroj Khan Story. The Public Service Broadcasting Trust production shows Khan shuttling between her home and sets and dance classes. A shadow hangs over Khan’s achievements – her daughter, Kuku, was ailing and died during the making of the documentary.
In tracing the journey of the woman known as “Masterji”, Tuli digs up archival footage of Khan as a child performer in the late 1950s. Since cinema was not considered a reputable profession in those years, Khan, who was born as Nirmala Nagpal, took on the name Saroj. She was a background dancer and assisted choreographer B Sohanlal before her first solo assignment in Geeta Mera Naam in 1974. Khan’s best work was between the late ’80s and early 2000s, during which she choreographed some of the most iconic songs of the period, including Hawa Hawai from Mr India, Ek Do Teen from Tezaab, Humko Aaj Kal Hai Intezar from Sailaab and Dola Re Dola Re from Devdas. Khan’s reign is over; Tuli’s documentary is a reminder of when she was at her top of her game.