The real 'Dhak Dhak' girl

“A lot is written about stars but when it comes to sourcing information about the people behind the scenes, very few records are available,” rues filmmaker Nidhi Tuli. Tuli, whose previous documentary Ladies Special received good reviews in the film circle, followed legendary film choreographer Saroj Khan for nearly two years and filmed her latest documentary, The Saroj Khan Story.

A still form the documentary The Saroj Khan Story by Nidhi Tuli. 10-year-old Saroj Khan seen here as a background dancer in the song Aiye Meheraban from Howrah Bridge (1958). From a group dancer, Khan went on to become an assistant choreographer at the age of 12, teaching the likes of Vyjayanthimala

“In 2008 I was watching the reality dance show Nach Baliye where a couple performed to the song “Chad Gayo Paapi Bichua” and Sarojji very casually mentioned that she was a background dancer in the song. I felt that here was a story and a journey waiting to be heard,” recalls the director. Tuli says when she was finally introduced to the choreographer, and when she mentioned about her keenness to make a movie on her, Khan agreed, nonchalantly.

“Sarojji was very non-interfering and not difficult to work with. But getting through other people in the industry, having to wait for their replies, was very difficult,” says Tuli, “I needed a clip of her receiving a particular Filmfare Award, but their team had lost the entire footage,” she adds. Tuli finally got the clip from a collector who had recorded the programme on a VHS tape. Through the documentary Tuli tells the story of Khan, who started work in the industry as a three-year-old child artist. By the time she was ten, Khan lost her father and took up work as a background dancer.

Choreographer Saroj Khan

In the 57-minute-long documentary Tuli has concentrated more on Khan as a dance genius, “While on my way to interview Dr Vyjayanthimala in Chennai for the documentary, I spoke to Sharadha Ramanathan whose movie Sringaram was choreographed by Khan. People would ask her why she had signed a lady who choreographs “Dhak Dhak” songs for Bollywood, for a Bharatanatyam routine (Khan is not trained in this dance form) especially since there were several better dancers available in Tamil Nadu.

But Sharada said that she saw the beauty and efforts in those songs, and stood her ground.” Khan won a National Award for the movie. Also featuring in the documentary are Subhash Ghai, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, N Chandra and Madhuri Dixit among others. “I haven’t covered every aspect of her personal life and when she first saw the movie, she pointed that out. But later when the movie was screened at a film school, and she saw the kind of response the students gave and the discussion that followed, she was amazed at how the youth connected and loved her in the film. I had to make the decision to stick to the time duration, which was earlier fixed at 55 minutes. I had enough material for a sequel!” says the director. “She has undergone a lot of sad moments in her life but dance has made her forget it all,” she signs off.

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