When words are just not enough….by Rujuta Vaidya July 5 2020, 4:55 am Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins, 20 secs
I write this with a heavy heart, says Rujuta Vaidya as she remembers her time-spent learning dance choreography from the unparalleled to date, Saroj Khan, her Masterji.
As my mind grapples with so many emotions - her passing is still a little surreal. For me it is the loss of my mentor; an inspiration, an idol and most importantly, the wind beneath my wings.
I came to Mumbai two decades ago with a dream - not to be a big Bollywood star or work in the industry for that matter, but simply to imbibe an iota of Masterji’s singular creative genius. All I would ever think while growing up was that if I ever met my idol, Saroj Khan, I would have just one humble request - to show me one step – just one step that I would carry as a badge of honor with me for life.
With that in mind I made my way to the city and I feel so blessed that my deep, honest desire turned into a 20-year relationship with one of the greatest choreographers that the industry has ever seen.
Below is a clip of the New Jersey workshop along with an Interview that I have taken with Masterji:
As a kid I was obsessed with Bollywood and was particularly fascinated by the color, the richness, the grandeur, the celebration & the grace of songs and dances in film. Over time, it dawned on me that I was gravitating towards a particular style. On digging a little deeper I came to understand what “Choreographer” meant and that the work I admired most originated from one single force - Saroj Khan or Masterji as almost everyone calls her, disciples and stars alike.
To me Masterji was a magician of sorts who could transform any actress into Aphrodite.
The Universe has a funny way of putting us in the right place at the right time as long as we believe that it can. Synchronicity. And, it was synchronicity that connected me with Saroj Khan in the year 1999 in New York City. When we met, I managed to put forth my request with nervous sincerity and was left utterly gob-smacked when she actually agreed to let me visit and learn from her.
The next year I packed my bags and headed off for my “Bombay” adventure with no expectations, a lot of gratitude and a palpitating heart, excited to be under the tutelage of my idol. It all felt a little surreal.
Masterji took me under her wing and gave me what would become my foundation of Bollywood dance artistry. My time with Masterji was not merely a dance lesson; it was more a lesson in Indian dance history. Every movement that Masterji would choreograph had a meaning or story behind it. She didn’t just choreograph to the beats of the counts. She choreographed to what the music told her to do. She always had a story to tell, the way all traditional Indian dance forms do.
Masterji had this seamlessly beautiful way of fusing Indian folk and classical dance and then giving it a modern twist to fit into the landscape of Bollywood. She could close her eyes and choreograph a full song in 20 minutes, and she could do that same song in 20 different ways as well. It wasn’t about counts and beats for her. It was about feeling, poise, grace and expression, or as the Indian dance world calls it, “adaa”. No choreographer to date has been able to capture “adaa” as beautifully as Masterji.
Each of the 2000 odd songs that she choreographed had something unique about it. She taught me how important, or better yet, critical it was to embrace the adaa and build around it. It saddened and angered her when she saw choreography that was a mash of mechanized dance steps with no relation to what the song was saying.
She always wished every single choreographer would respect and care for the art of dance, as much as she did.
Below here is a clip from the workshop I hosted and assisted Masterji on in NYC in 2012:
Masterji was truly God gifted and one in a million, with a life fraught with challenges, but nothing that could keep her down. I was lucky enough to have heard so many of her stories, directly from her - funny ones, poignant ones and inspiring ones. And while on the one hand I will miss those moments deeply, in the same breath I cannot be anything but grateful for these stories, which will guide and inspire me every time I step under the lights to direct a song.
She was a force of nature like no other choreographer ever was or ever will be. The magic she spun spanning 6 decades of definitive Bollywood history will remain one for the ages. She lifted me and countless others and took us to a celestial world of dance that will forever be etched in our hearts. I am lucky and blessed to have her spirit watch over me from here on.
Rest in Rhythm Masterji.