It's hard to think that Saroj Khan -- one of the most popular and veteran choreographers in the Hindi film industry, who has been working from Nutan's era -- was recently out of work.
In fact, this year (2012), she has choreographed only three songs -- Gun Guna in Agneepath, Dil Mera Mukt Ka in Agent Vinod and one for Rowdy Rathore.
Saroj-ji spoke to Patcy N/Rediff.com about her long career, how Bollywood dance has worsened through the years, how choreographers these days cannot compose dance, and much more.
I was born in 1948. My father was a rich, educated, man in Pakistan so he did not have the habit of working.
When they left Pakistan, they lost everything and became very poor. My father later developed cancer and could not work.
I come from an orthodox family, but I turned out to be a freak! I used to see my shadow and dance.
My mother thought I was a retard and took me to a doctor who told her, 'She just wants to dance, so let her dance.'
The doctor suggested that she put me in the film industry since my family needed money.
I was the oldest of four sisters and one brother. I had to take care of everyone in the house.
'I choreographed my first song when I was 14'
In my first film, I did not get to dance. I played the young Shama in the film Nazrana. I had to sit in a moon and sing.
I started getting more offers and became very popular as a child artist, but soon reached an age where I would not get more roles.
At the age of 10, I joined a dancing troupe in the film industry and danced for one-and-a-half years. (Choreographer) Sohan Lal saw me dancing and made me his assistant. I was just 13.
I choreographed my first song Nigahein Milane Ko Jee Chahta Hai in Dil Hi Toh Hai, when I was 14. It was picturised on Nutan.
P L Santoshi (film-maker Raj Kumar Santoshi's father) taught me how to join movements and make them dance steps.
At the age of 14, I had a relationship with Sohan Lal, who was 43 then. I had two children with him, Raju Khan, who is a choreographer, and Cuckoo Khan, who died last February (2011) of liver complications.
Since Sohan Lal was not ready to give my kids his name, I married a Pathan and had one child by him.
'I had been in the industry for a long time, but I was not famous'
In between, I went to Kolhapur and became a Marathi dance director.
(Actress) Sadhana gave me a break. She took me as her choreographer; I was the choreographer for the first film that she directed, Geeta Mera Naam starring Sunil Dutt and Feroz Khan.
I also assisted P L Raj (musician Leslie Lewis's father) in Inteqam because Sadhana was the heroine.
After that I started getting movies. I did big movies like Dost.
I did the song Jat Yamla Pagla Deewana in Pratigya.
In 1977, I left the film industry and went to Dubai. I was 29.
I stayed there for three years.
I was looking after my brother and sisters and also my husband's first wife's son.
I placed them all in good jobs and then returned. None of them were in the film industry because when my father was dying, he made me promise that I would not let my brother and sisters join it.
In 1980, when I came back, Zarina Wahab had heard about me so she called me for her film Jazbaat. It was Raj Babbar's first film.
I told Zarina, I will do the song for free, but if Rajshri Production likes it, they have to pay me the price I quote.
They liked the song -- it was Ho Goriya Re -- and I started getting work.
I had been in the industry for a long time, but I was not famous.
'I composed Ek Do Teen in 25 minutes'
I did some films with Bindiya Goswami and Vinod Mehra.
Subhash Ghai called me twice for songs for Vidhaata, but I had other commitments.
Finally, I choreographed Pyaar Ka Imtihaan for him, which was picturised on Sarika.
He gave me my first big film Hero, where I did all the songs and everybody came to know that I can choreograph songs.
There was this notion in the industry that a woman cannot be a master (choreographers in Bollywood are called Masterji).
Tezaab changed my career and there was no looking back. I became so popular that actresses started fighting over me.
Now, the time has come when they don't want me. I have very sharp movements in my dancing which actress nowadays find it hard to do.
I feel actresses now don't like to work with me; they have never said it. I started getting less work.
Madhuri Dixit is one actress who gets all the moves right, she moves right, she smiles at the right time.
Dance choreographers nowadays don't have the power to tell the actors to give the right kind of expression that is required during the dance, but I see to it that my actors dance well and with expression.
All actors need to rehearse at least two days before the shoot.
If a song is extraordinary, then I myself dance as soon as the song plays, and whatever I do my assistants follow.
Within 20 to 25 minutes, a song is choreographed.
But if the song is dull, and we have to pep up the dance movements, then it takes me from three hours to one day.
I composed Ek Do Teen in 25 minutes, but Madhuri rehearsed for 17 days because she was not famous at that time.
It was that song that made her famous.
Govinda is the best dancer, according to me.
He can carry off anything, from serious to comic dance steps.
Sanjay Dutt does know dancing. I made him dance to Tamma Tamma in Thanedar.
'Kareena has never learnt Kathak, that's why the mujra was difficult for her'
Why did it take 22 hours for Kareena to do the mujra with Dil Mera Muft Ka in Agent Vinod? Because she did not come for rehearsals.
I taught her all the steps on the sets.
She had no time as she was on some outdoor shooting. On the sets, any song takes time.
Actually, it's not 22 hours... you can't count like that. We shot for six days.
The nazakat (softness) and adah has gone completely out of the industry; this generation has not seen it.
This song will bring it back.
Indian songs and music are coming back.
The song in Agneepath (Gun Guna) was totally Indian. Slowly, we will find our way back.
This mujra song will bring back the trend of mujra.
Dil Mera Muft Ka is a duet between Kareena Kapoor and Mariam Zakaria. You never see two girls dancing in a mujra, but it is done in Bollywood.
Hiralal had choreographed a duet mujra on two girls, Rani and Madhumati, for the song Aankhon Aankhon Mein in Janwar.
The dance was a masterpiece. I have tried to create that kind of dance.
I did not demand two girls, the story demanded it.
Mariam introduces Kareena in Pakistan. Saif is dressed up as a security officer. Mariam will start the dance and Kareena will join in. I have choreographed this dance in the Kathak style.
Kareena has never learnt Kathak, that's why it was difficult for her.
The trained Kathak dancers in the industry are Rekha, Hema Malini, Aishwarya Rai, Madhuri, and Sonam.
I have choreographed many mujras, one was for Bindiya Goswami in Vishal, which was superb, then it was Maar Dala in Devdas and that was extraordinary, with Sridevi in Gair Kanooni that was also set well, then there was a mujra in English, Babu Desi Mem in the climax and one with Hemaji.
'Esha is not as good a dancer as Hemaji is'
I choreographed a tandav with Hemaji.
She is a brilliant dancer, but she is a stiff dancer, though now she has opened up.
Before, she had that Bharata Natyam style so it would take time to loosen her body.
One day I was assisting P L Raj in Dharmatma and we were shooting the song Meri Galiyon Logon Ki Yaari Baadh Gaayi.
She had to do a movement that she just couldn't do because of her Bharata Natyam training.
I got tired, sat down and instructed her from a chair, but she called me to her and insisted I show her the steps.
As soon as I got up, the huge overhead solar light fell on the chair where I was sitting!
I told Hemaji, 'From today onwards this is your life.' Since that day we are best friends.
Unfortunately, her daughter is not as good a dancer as she is.
'Nowadays, dance choreographers don't compose dance'
I have a hat-trick of Filmfare Awards, in 1989, 1990, and 1991, for Tezaab, Chaalbaaz and Sailaab.
If Chinni Prakash hadn't taken an award in 1992, I would have got a double hat-trick as I got it in 1993 and 1994 too, for Beta and Khalnayak.
Dola Re from Devdas gave me 17 awards that year.
I have three National Awards (Devdas, Sringaram, Jab We Met).
Dance has changed completely over the years. It does not have value.
One dance movement is copied by all, whether it is Bosco-Ceasar, Shiamak Davar, Remo or others.
They don't create the dance from the heart, they just watch others.
Farah Khan and Vaibhavi Merchant have a few steps which they keep on repeating in all their songs. They don't have their own identity.
Only Chinni Prakash and Ahmed Khan have their own style.
Choreographers used to have a unique style, whether it was Hiralal, Sohan Lal, P L Raj or Oscar Vijayan.
Look at my songs... they are all different because I choreograph according to the lyrics, and not the rhythm.
Nowadays, dance choreographers don't compose dance. I compose all my dances.
I teach my assistants the steps and they teach it to the actors during rehearsals.
But when we are shooting, I dance and show the steps myself.
I know Vaibhavi Merchant does things like this. I had no work so my assistant went to her for a group dance and he told me that Vaibhavi puts on the music and asks all her assistants to dance their best steps. Then she selects and says follow these steps for the song.
Where has the creativity gone?
'Sheila Ki Jawani is better than Munni Badnam Hui'
Sheila Ki Jawani is better than Munni Badnam Hui. The songs wasn't that good but the dance was better. That was the saving grace.
Farah Khan did not choreograph Sheila Ki Jawani; (her assistant) Geeta Kapoor did. Farah Khan admits it.
That's why when she took the award on stage she said, 'Geeta, this is for you.'/
Why couldn't she give the credit in the film credits?
Farah can't dance. She doesn't even know to give the count. Sheila Ki Jawani is better than the other item numbers.
I thought Chikini Chameli was vulgar because he (Ganesh Acharya) emphasised too much on one hip movement and her bust. The song is not done like a lavni. He went for out-and-out vulgarity.
My life is about my family.
I don't attend parties.
I don't socialise.
I don't ask for work.
I don't sit near the feet of any hero and tell him I made a film and have losses of Rs 8 crore, please give me work.