Meet Joya Nandy Kazi, Hollywood's go-to-choreographer for Indian traditional dance and Bollywood style dance routines.
Los Angeles-based Joya Kazi is making waves in Hollywood as the go-to-choreographer for Indian traditional dance and Bollywood style dance routines.
Recently awarded at the US Telly Awards for a commercial choreographed and featuring her as the lead, Joya's dance portfolio includes television, films, commercials, live shows and music videos.
She was the first South Asian on the judging panel for the World Choreography awards, the Oscars of dance.
Having done shows with Shiamak Davar, Priyanka Chopra, Hrithik Roshan, Ranveer Singh, Allu Arjun and other stars, Joya was part of the IIFA Awards in Tampa, Florida, in 2014.
She has also worked as a choreographer with sporting teams like Sacremento Kings and the Dallas Cowboys.
Among her students, she includes Bollywood star Jacqueline Fernandez and Avantika Vandanapu, who will be seen next in Disney's Spin.
Joya's most highlighted work has been her choreography and dance performance in Mindy Kaling's Netflix show Never Have I Ever.
Disturbed by the incorrect representation of Indian dance and culture in the West, Joya has made it her mission to bring authentic Indian classical dance and to present it in its valid forms.
"My approach has always been to present Indian traditional dance in a very dignified way, but also in a modern way so that both the East and the West can be proud of it," Joya tells Rediff.com Contributor Abhijit Masih from her dance studio in Los Angeles.
Joya and her dance company -- Joya Kazi Unlimited -- provide a bridge between traditional Indian classical dance and the Western entertainment universe.
Joya Nandy Kazi was born in south Mumbai's Breach Candy Hospital to Hindu Muslim parents.
Her mother is a former journalist and producer and her father a former model and actor and pilot.
Her father, who appeared in commercials for Weekender, Bajaj Auto and Iodex in the 1980s, had auditioned for the role of Prem in Maine Pyar Kiya, which made a star out of Salman Khan.
"Every time that movie comes on, my Dad's a little bitter," says Joya, cracking up.
The family moved to the Bay Area in California for a better life, balancing American culture with their Indian heritage.
"Unfortunately, not everyone has the heart capacity to understand inter-religion love and my parents just wanted to provide me a life full of opportunity, devoid of any sense of prejudice," explains Joya about her parents's decision to move to the US.
Joya recalls being first fascinated by Indian classical dance when she saw Michael Jackson's music video Black or White, where the King of Pop is seen dancing with Yamuna Sangarasivam, an Odissi dancer.
"That is somebody who looks like me and is dancing with someone who is the love of my life. I can do that too," Joya remembers about her first encounter with Indian culture outside her home.
Joya started training early, with the support of her Bengali mother who encouraged her to learn Indian classical dance and would drive Joya around to her various dance classes in the Bay Area.
Between the ages of 4 and 14, Joya learnt Kathak, Bharata Natyam, Odissi, Kuchupudi, Manipuri and Kathakali.
"Wherever I could get education in dance, my mother would drive me there and all of my training I have received here in California," says the dancer-choreographer.
A Bollywood show headlined by Shah Rukh Khan in the early 2000s ignited young Joya's decision to make dance her career.
At the SRK show, she was blown away by dancers from Shiamak Davar's troupe. "It was such an eye-opening moment for me. I just could not get my eyes off the dancers, even though there were all these stars on the stage like Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai," remembers Joya.
Soon after, on her 16th birthday, her dad gifted her a car.
Her mother's gift was the advice to get in the new car and 'fly like a bird'.
That was when Joya established her dance company -- Joya Kazi Unlimited.
"In the last few years, I have branded myself to be a representative of Indian dance to make sure that the way Indian dance and culture is represented in the West and the mainstream media is more authentic, of a higher standard and without any stereotype," says Joya about her mission.
And that is how Mindy Kaling came calling when she had a requirement for an authentic Indian dance performance for one of the episodes of Never Have I Ever, her show on Netflix.
Apart from the excitement of working for a big-budget Netflix production along with Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, Joya was also given full freedom on choreographing the dance sequence, costumes and the casting of the dancers.
Impressed by her choreography, Mindy decided to cast Joya in the show to perform a special dance puja.
Joya Kazi is not content with providing Bollywood dance routines to Hollywood; she has also done work in India.
She participated in Remo D'Souza's dance reality show Dance Plus in 2017, which was an incredible experience for her as it was the first time that she visited India after moving to the US.
The journey opened doors to connections and projects in Mumbai that has Joya really excited and maybe coming together in the next few months as things get back to normal after the pandemic.
Joya is currently working on a show, Rhythm India, which is set to premiere at the Redlands Bowl in Southern California on July 16. It is a journey of dance and celebration through the temples, villages and modern stages of beautiful India.
Lauren Gottlieb, the Hollywood girl in Bollywood, has also connected with Joya and they recently collaborated on a special Madhuri Dixit tribute.
"So far, all of my focus had been on developing my dance career, but there have been so many times that the universe pushes me to be on screen and I have now realized that this is something I don't want to ignore anymore," she says.
"I feel now is the time for me to open my eyes to other things and explore."
Joya Nandy Kazi has made Hollywood notice her as the Bollywood girl and hopes to now make inroads in Bollywood itself.
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com