We look at a song from the audience’s perspective – Uma and Gaiti
[dropcap]”C[/dropcap]horeography if you look at the word itself is not necessarily just dance,” say the talented choreographers Uma and Gaiti. The versatile duo have showcased their innate talent across various mediums ranging from music videos, television shows to Bollywood films and more. Adept at most dancing styles, they recently choreographed Vidya Balan in Ghanchakkar and up next is the song ‘Aiyo Ji’ from the upcoming film, Satyagraha.
In a freewheeling chat with Pandolin, the ingenious duo talk about their passion for dance, journey into films, the various mediums they choreograph for, their inspirations and much more.
When did you first discover your passion for dance? What prompted you to take up dance professionally?
Gaiti: Dance has always been a part of my life. I actually discovered dancing at a very young age but didn’t know until later that I would grow up to become a choreographer. I actually wanted to be an athlete. When I was in college I professionally started dancing. It has been a gradual process from there.
Uma: Ditto for me too. I was a natural at dance, gifted with it. The conscious decision to take it as a profession is always a tough one, especially for a man. Plus since we were in Delhi we didn’t know the kind of avenues that were there and how big it could get. It was more or less organic and unplanned.
Did you receive any formal training? What are the dance forms that you’ll specialize in?
Gaiti: Our training would be the same as we started off together. We trained under 5-6 international teachers in ballet, contemporary, jazz, modern etc. There was extensive training for about 5 years when we were in Delhi. Once we finished that we came to Mumbai, Mumbai of course was about Bollywood. Then we started shooting and it’s been almost 9 years here.
[pullquote_left]Bollywood and TV are both different languages. With kids there is so much you can do; it’s like painting on a canvas and sketching on paper.[/pullquote_left]
Uma: We have trained in more or less all styles of dance. Starting with ballet, contemporary, a little bit of Latin which happened with experience as we keep doing shows and workshops, so it’s more of self training, hip hop which is more like on the job training and so on.
How and when did you’ll meet and come together as a team?
Gaiti: We have always been a team. We met through dancing i.e. when we were training and after that we left together and even the decision of coming to Mumbai was a joint one. So we have been in the same mental space with regards to what we wanted to do and that’s how it has worked and ever since we have been together.
Which medium did you’ll encounter first, films or television? How did your journey into Bollywood happen?
Gaiti: We never thought that we would come to Mumbai. It was literally an overnight decision. I wouldn’t say that we were done with training because there is no end to training. But we wanted to move on and see what was lying ahead of us; the avenues that could open up. We got a call from a friend who was in Mumbai and he suggested that we come here and check it out. That checking out lasted for 9 years.
Uma: Bollywood happened first. It happened through a music video that we did for Shaan, post which music videos kept happening. And then it took a while, not too long but we got our first big break in Ram Gopal Varma’s film – Darna Zaruri Hai. It was almost within 6 months of being in Mumbai. We were doing stage productions etc. but in terms of camera experience, music videos were the only work that we could showcase. When we got out first film it was more like a nervous celebration.
You’ll have been associated with several reality shows on TV including the most recent, India’s Dancing Superstar. How is it choreographing for television shows versus Bollywood?
Uma: For us there was no restriction on the medium. It was not like we were doing just videos or only films and so on. It was all sprinkled in spurts. Television wasn’t huge and rampant in terms of choreography and dance shows back then. Now suddenly every channel has atleast one or two big dance shows. Our first television experience was an audience participation – interactive show that happened on MTV called MTV Dance Crew, where we were teaching and instructing. From there on, when the reality dance shows started happening, we always got calls because at that time there were only a handful of choreographers.
[pullquote_right]Not every project requires dancing. Even people walking in a crowd without crashing into each other, doing specific activities in a stipulated time is also choreography.[/pullquote_right]
Now because of these dance shows there are many younger, upcoming, potential choreographers that are a product of it. We then did the second season of Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, which I was a part of. Then in the third season, we overlooked the show, we were the supervisors/head choreographers. Right after Jhalak, we did Dance Premiere League where we were judging and choreographing which was the format of the show. A few years later we did Footloose on Channel V where we were judging again. Post that we overlooked and supervised Dance Ke Superstars. The latest show that we just wrapped up was India’s Dancing Superstars.
Bollywood and TV are both different languages. With kids there is so much you can do; it’s like painting on a canvas and sketching on paper. With celebrities you need to work within their limited or expanded vocabulary and don’t have the luxury to experiment much. Simultaneously you need to make them look good too. With a star it isn’t about the growth of the person as much, it’s more about making that person look the best possible ever. With kids you have the stimulation to do what you want creatively, and you can really advice the person to try new things and so on.
You’ll also work on several commercials. What exactly is the role of a choreographer in commercials?
Uma: It is very project driven. Not every project requires dancing. We recently shot a commercial which just required movement, not dance. You become a semi-director because things have to be precise. Choreography if you look at the word itself is not necessarily dance. Even people walking in a crowd without crashing into each other, doing specific activities in a stipulated time is choreography.
Gaiti: It is not just for commercials. Even in movies, for example the song with Ranbir in Rockstar, didn’t require him to dance. Infact our brief was to make him look like a non-dancer. That’s why a lot of choreographers are getting into direction because you actually become the director of the song, of the music that is being played. And you visually take the story telling forward, so choreography is everywhere.
You’ll have choreographed Ranbir Kapoor for Rockstar. Ranbir being a brilliant dancer how was the experience of working with him?
Uma: It was really nice in terms of how big a star he is and the charisma and the fan following he commands. That translates in his work and all of his associations. It was a lot of fun working with him. But fortunately or unfortunately the song didn’t demand too much of choreography. So that hasn’t been juiced out of us and we look forward to the time where we get to make him dance much more.
What went into the making of a song like ‘Duhaai Hai’ in ABCD, considering it’s more of an emotional number?
Gaiti: Remo had approached us and told us the story behind it. We were also not just there for this song, but were consistently choreographing a lot of the studio sequences and also trained the entire cast of ABCD for 2 months in contemporary and technique before the film started. So we already knew what the whole film was about and understood the story. When we told Remo about the way we were looking at the song, he agreed with us in the first go itself as we were on the right track and gave us the freedom to shoot ‘Duhaai Hai’ the way we wanted to.
[pullquote_left]With item songs there is only that much you can experiment. The end product has to be the same; it has to excite the audience and at the end of the day, it is an entertaining song.[/pullquote_left]
You’ll have also choreographed the item number ‘Imported Kamariya’ in Shanghai. How different is it to choreograph an item number in comparison to a regular song? What are your views on the burgeoning item numbers in Bollywood?
Gaiti: It depends on a lot of things. With item songs there is only that much you can experiment. The end product has to be the same; it has to excite the audience and at the end of the day, it is an entertaining song. When it comes in between the film, it is like a breather so it has to be captivating. Whether it is an item song with a girl in it or a man, it has to be visually appealing. Item numbers have become a selling point for some of the films since there are so many films coming out and you need to make your presence felt.
Uma: The one underlying thing is that you have a product or a subject and you have to optimize it and make it look exciting and appealing to the audience. If it’s a man doing an angry dance like a tandav as opposed to a hot girl who is suppose to look sexy, it is more or less the same, just the approach may vary. It is mainly your understanding of the different emotions that you can work with. These kind of songs have always been there, only the term ‘item songs’ has been coined recently. But what is also happening now is that in many cases these songs are just there for the sake of it and are not associated with the film at all.
Where do you’ll majorly draw inspiration from while choreographing? Any artists that you’ll look up to?
Gaiti: We always look at a song or any work that we do from an audience’s perspective. Like if I were the audience, what is going to excite me about it, what is the visual appeal and how is it being portrayed. We step out from a choreographer’s point of view and step into a lay man’s point of view. That has been our approach, especially with item songs. They are focused upon so much, so there has to be a difference between sensuality and vulgarity. I’ve always liked Saroj Khan’s work. The kind of stuff she did was fantastic and I draw a lot of inspiration from that.
Uma: You get inspired by the things you see around. So the more aware you are, the more it helps. And of course you need to be a dreamer, push from what you see and take it to another level.
Which has been the most challenging song that you’ll have had to choreograph?
Uma: That is really hard to answer because it is unfair to compare two projects. One could have a lesser mover or one could have lesser number of days to shoot etc. So there are so many things involved and everything comes with its own excitement and own difficulties.
Over the years what are the key changes you’ll have seen in dancing styles and choreography in India?
Gaiti: A lot of new styles have come in and there is a lot of experimentation that is happening with dance styles. Bollywood by itself is not a technical style; it has always been an amalgamation of different styles. Initially these styles weren’t defined but now there is a clear definition of a lot of styles that have come in. Now you can see an entire song that is salsa based or based on Latin dance styles and so on. There has been a huge change because of these reality shows and the new kids working with new styles. There is more awareness now. Even the good dancers in Bollywood have started trying out new styles. The change has come and it is fantastic.
These days there is also a trend of choreographers setting up dance schools. Do you’ll also plan to follow on similar lines? Tell us about your future plans.
There are no plans as of now. We have always thought about it but no plan to go the institution way as of yet. In terms of projects, the latest song that we completed is another item number, ‘Aiyo Ji’ for Satyagraha. We just shot a commercial with Arjun Rampal. And there are more commercials and some other big projects in the pipe line.