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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

The Final Cut: In Conversation With Farah Khan

Ever since her first feat as a dance director in ‘Pehla Nasha’ from the 1992 movie Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Farah Khan has achieved great success. Her feisty yet compassionate demeanour speaks for her 30+ years of experience in the Indian show business. Having performed internationally, she shares a close-knit relationship with the UK. Some decades ago, she made her Broadway debut in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams.

Now, she gears up for her first UK Dance workshop. It marks the first event by Avtar and Manjali Panesar’s Navish Media Co. But despite all this, nervousness is a sentiment that seeps in. The workshop will teach either a song (or songs) that are originally choreographed by Khan. This will be followed by a Q&A/photo opportunity with Farah and the attendees. It takes place on the 18th and 20th of August in London and the 19th in Leicester.

The beauty of her choreography is the fusion between Western appeal and its Indian essence. Especially the signature steps. To date, some of her award-winning numbers include ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ (Dil Se), ‘Ek Pal Ka Jeena’ (Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai), ‘Woh Ladki Hai Kahaan’ (Dil Chahta Hai), ‘Idhara Chala’ (Koi… Mil Gaya) and ‘Munni Badnaam’ (Dabangg) among many more. Farah grew up watching MGM Musicals and Gene Kelly, with Singing In The Rain as her favourite musical of all time. She is influenced and inspired by the tap-dancing, Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson in my teens. Simultaneously, she adored Hindi movie songs.

“As a child, I used to dance like Helen. When I was four years old, I would go to the table and perform a sort of cabaret. I’m an untrained choreographer who has not formally learnt the dance. The best thing about Bollywood is that anything goes. You can do a Bhangra with tap-dancing in it and would look completely natural. I love the Desi Govinda moves, those are my favourite ones,” Khan says. She adds: “Bollywood means everything mishmash. Anything goes, just like my movies.”

Across all her directorial ventures, Farah pays homage to classic Hindi film tropes. For instance, the Shammi Kapoor style dancing in Main Hoon Na‘s ‘Gori Gori Gori’ song, references in Tees Maar Khan and Happy New Year. Of course, Om Shanti Om is itself a love letter to Bollywood. Through opulence and humour, it bravely addresses flaws within the Hindi movie industry. Historically, potboilers have been directed by male filmmakers like Manmohan Desai. Even at a time when female choreographers were scarce, Farah alongside Saroj Khan was the leading face. She definitely has been a trailblazer who stood against patriarchal norms. Farah does not credit hurdles due to gender politics.

“I faced the hurdles because I was very young and different from what was happening in the industry. It was not because ‘oh, she’s a girl so she can’t do this movie’. The resentment came after my first film Main Hoon Na. People thought ‘How dare a girl make an action movie like this? It’s a boy’s club.’ I don’t see it as a gender thing because, in Bollywood, it’s about whether you know (or not) your job. They’re not really judging you on gender. There’s no studio system like in Hollywood,” the director clarifies. She further explains: “To hear well-wishers, the people and directors I had worked with, b*tching about me, it hurt a lot then. But then you get used to it.”

Even though most of her movies succeed at the box office, the rampancy of double standards of critical reviews on commercial Hindi films seems to be a more concerning issue for Farah. “Critics are a pseudo lot, right? This has been happening perhaps since cinema was invented. You see 70s films like Amar Akbar Anthony were torn to bits, but we call them classics now,” she expresses. Sardonically, jests: “It’s become easier for producers to pay critics in return for four stars. It’s a racket.” She also expresses disappointment at how awards ceremonies have become just regular ‘TV Shows’ and lost their credibility. But ultimately believes: “Awards will come and go, but the movie should live on.”

Next year marks ten years since Khan last called the shots as a filmmaker. Since then, she has participated in reality shows as a judge or host to make ends meet particularly due to personal commitments. “My kids were 4 or 5 years old after and I’m glad I spent a lot of time with them. Happy New Year took a toll on me it was the most difficult film I made. It was the biggest movie with 7 people in every frame. After that, I had a couple of scripts but things did not fall into place,” Khan says.

“Then the landscape changed for some time. There were these small Interland movies which were doing well. Which then left me wondering whether I wanted to make this huge commercial movie. Then the pandemic happened. Eventually, a movie will be made when it has to be made.”

Farah, despite her fiery nature on-set and witty humour, seems to be equally compassionate and assured of life. Under her mentorship, she has honed some of the finest talents in the Hindi cinema landscape… Be it choreographer Geeta Kapoor or superstar Deepika Padukone. Gathering three decades (and beyond) of experience, Farah describes her evolvement as a person: “I’m wiser and don’t panic that easily anymore. I do not stress about things. I’ve realised that all the things I stressed about are all in vain. Because what is yours will finally come to you. I want my life to be stress-free and want to be happy.”

Be a part of FARAH KHAN’s Dance workshop with Navish Media Co. Taking place between 18th and 20th August 2023. Buy your tickets here.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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