Shabina Khan is a force to reckon with in Bollywood. She started off as an assistant of choreographer Ganesh Hegde for the 1996 film, Khamoshi: The Musical, starring Manisha Koirala and Salman Khan. She later assisted ace choreographers like Ganesh Acharya [Master ji], Prabhudheva and late Saroj Khan. She soon turned an independent choreographer for filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma’s 2003 film, 'Mein Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon'. And, there has been no looking back for her since then. Shabina recently launched 'Reality in Reality', an initiative through which she wants to provide a platform to dancers to show off their skills. Apart from this, she has choreographed for Salman Khan's Radhe and will be making Aayush Sharma dance for Antim. In an interaction with the Cinema Journal, Shabina spoke about her journey as a choreographer in the film industry and working with stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Govinda, Sunny Deol, Madhuri Dixit among several others. Excerpts from the interview:
How did you get your independent break as choreographer?
Ramu sir [filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma] is the one who gave me my first break. Actually, he had seen me assist Ganesh masterji for the song 'Nikal le bhaiye sambhal le bhaiya'. It was a peppy and foot-taping number. He saw me and said, 'Yeh ladki kamal dance karti hai’. Then one day, when I was shooting in Chennai, I received a call from Ramu sir’s production house. In fact, he had actually called up masterji [Ganesh Acharya] to ask about me. But, I was not working with him then. However, his production house managed to get my number and called me to audition for 'Mein Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon'. I was given an opportunity to choreograph two songs.
I was surprised as I didn’t have much understanding of cameras. But with director Chandan Arora’s help I shot all the songs. Later, Chandan also taught me editing and it was then I realised its importance. Later on I thoroughly learnt editing as well.
Did you always want to become a choreographer?
Dance is in my blood... dance is everything to me! I was 14 when I started working. I participated in dance competition. Then I got a chance to work with filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali in Khamoshi while assistant my guru Ganesh Hegde. I very young and didn't know the workings of the film industry that well. Undeniably, I started liking working behind the camera. I always wanted to 'create', and this thought of showing off creativity through dancing crossed my mind. Thus, tried my hand at choreography.
You have worked with Madhuri Dixit Nene. Any anecdotes you would like to share about her?
I have been a fan of Madhuri Dixit Nene since childhood. I remember I was assisting for Pukar, and when I saw her on the sets, I started crying. Everyone then told her about me being her fan. Madhuri ma'am smiled and said, 'If you are my fan then sizzle and show me your talent...' After I danced on the entire song, she instantly said, 'Aaj toh mein tumhari fan ho gayi.'
And, you have also made Sunny Deol dance...
Whatever steps Sunny Deol performed, he would say, 'I enjoy doing this much only…so make me do this much only.’ I was assisting Ganesh masterji. And, an assistant’s job is to make the star dance to their tunes. While I taught Sunny to dance, I felt he was like a child. I really loved this quality of his. Sunny was very sweet and would simply say, 'I can’t do this it won't be possible for me to do it.’ Then, I would show him the steps and he would follow me like a baby.
What about working with Amitabh Bachchan? How was that?
I was wonder-struck when I saw Amitabhji. When we met on the sets of Ram Gopal Varma's film Department, he asked me politely, 'Batao masterji pehla shot kya hai...' I was speechless and almost choked. He was sweet enough to comfort me and recount stories from his past.
You have been an assistant choreographer on many of Govinda’s movies. Do you think we need more dancers like him?
Govinda is an exuberant dancer, and it becomes difficult to take eyes off him when he dances. Dance is lost in the pseudo aristocratic world. I want dance to come back as not many people are dancing. Their dance seems to be like an exercise regime. Looking at Govinda, Madhuri and Sridevi perform any dance number would enlighten you. I’m not blaming anybody, just requesting everybody to get dance back minus acrobatics.
Choreographers Remo D'Souza, Ahmed Khan, Prabhudheva have turned directors. Do you want to try your hand at direction too?
I do get directorial offers, but I am focusing on B You and Reality in Reality. I like to take life as it comes. I have no intentions of turning to direction at the moment.