Who is she? She is a choreographer, a dancer, a singer, a teacher, a promoter, a business owner (13 dance schools) and more all in the name of Bollywood. She is Honey Kalaria, and she is known as the Bollywood Ambassador to the UK. You have seen her work on films including Mohabbatein, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Bride and Prejudice. She has been involved in Bombay Dreams, Merchants of Bollywood, and several television shows to name a few. As the “Bollywood ambassador”, Honey works to promote not only the films, but the Bollywood dance style that is part of the genre we all love. Honey is getting ready to launch a new TV dance contest, The Bollywood Dance Championships, to find the best Bollywood dancer or dancers in the UK. I jumped on the chance to interview Honey and we talked and talked and talked all things Naach! Enjoy!
Tell us about Honey and your role as Bollywood Ambassador to the UK.
I am a dancer and choreographer and I tend to work as a Bollywood ambassador to the UK, really promoting Bollywood, getting people involved in Bollywood projects, perhaps developing East /West relations through Bollywood. Using my work and promotion of Bollywood as a vehicle I am educating, entertaining and informing people about Indian art and culture through the world of Bollywood. All the projects I tend to get involved in are Bollywood related and entertainment related.
You have worked with three of the biggies: Shah Rukh, Hrithik and Aishwarya! Tell us about those experiences.
Shah Rukh was fantastic! Shah was amazing to work with; we worked with him on a film called Mohabbatein. After that, I have also done some Bollywood concerts were I have been performing as well as him or we have met for a special function, etc. I really had a fantastic discussion with him during lunch on one of the movie sets. Just talking to him, finding out and experiencing what he was about was amazing. Seeing his professional attitude during work as well when he was filming was a very, very, very positive experience for me.
Hrithik Roshan is the most amazing person and I would say a golden star to his fans. We were filming on Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and we worked with him for quite a long period – 2 weeks. During that time, I saw the way he interacted with all the other people who were taking part in the film from dancers, to extras, to speaking parts, up to the artists and he was so friendly with everyone. Even people wanting photographs and autographs he would talk to them, spend time with them. I felt that he had a very nice human element to him. He really connected to people really nicely and very warmly.
With Aishwarya Rai, I mean she is a complete beauty. In real life she looks as beautiful as she does on screen. She has a very pleasant personality. I admire her dancing skills. She and Madhuri Dixit are two of the artists that I enjoy watching dance.
Let’s go on to your newest project.
Yes, the new project we are currently working on is the Bollywood Dance Championships. The contest’s aim is to provide a platform for and open up opportunities for the wealth of talent we have here in the UK. Because Bollywood is an amalgamation of so many dance forms, it includes belly dancing to hip-hop to Indian traditional classical dance to bhangra, this particular competition is open to people from different dance forms and different dance genres. This particular UK Bollywood Dance Championship is open to the whole of the UK and it could be, along with the wealth of talent at our dance academy- Honey’s Dance Academy, other dance organizations, professionals, or it even could be someone who dances in front of the mirror in their room and thinks they are absolutely amazing and people are clapping for them. (Laughs) This will be their platform too, because at the end of the day they are never going to get discovered if they keep staying in that room! We need to give them a platform to get it all out of their system: go on and get out your creative juices and go out there. The interesting part will be that it is a process that people can enjoy. The whole journey people will enjoy. The real idea, of course, is to develop more intercultural relations, develop that side, get people to appreciate each other’s cultures, appreciate each other’s dance forms along the way.
How will the competition work?
It is a 3-tiered approach – 3 phases. The 1st phase is that people will come in for an audition and they will get kind of “weaned out” – some people will go through and some people won’t. Let’s say we have 1000 applicants and entries. From that thousand, we will be selecting 360 that will go through to the heats. At the end of a series of heats, the judges will put 48 entries through. The 48 entries will then compete for the overall championship title. We have 8 categories (4-7, 8-12 13-17 18+) with both a solo entry and a group entry, and there will be winners in both categories in each age group.
The exciting thing about the project is that it is all going to be part of a TV series. Whoever takes part in the auditions and go through to the heats and then goes through the finals they will be part of a TV program. We may have television crews that are going to be following them and filming their rehearsals and things like that. Besides being on TV, which is good, even further than that, this will help to promote these artists and help them have so much fun along the way. Desitara.com, our online talent portal partners, will also be promoting every single entry online, so the world can see this wealth of talent that is available here in the UK. They will also allow the public to vote for their favorite dancers and performers. Although the judging process is a panel of judges that will select the winners, there will be also a winner for the public category online.
Besides just the final winner, you also hope other contestants get opportunities as well. Tell me what you hope will happen.
Not only are they vying for the title, but the idea is also to open up opportunities for the contestants. So if, for example, we find someone who has a fantastic face we may put them forward for a modeling assignment, or if we see somebody that has a really great personality we may put them forward for another reality program, or if it is a child artist and someone is looking for a role in a movie we will put them forward for things like that. The process is also going to be the fun part, where along the way there will hopefully be some nice success stories. In the championships themselves, the finals, we have VIP guests who will be attending the show. These VIP guests are people from the entertainment industry – there will be directors, producers, record companies, and various people that I feel that can provide more opportunities for these performers. So somebody might catch their eye, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the winning entry, it could be somebody who is performing that night.
My aim has always been to train, manage and promote the stars of tomorrow and open up opportunities and creating and making dreams come true. It is not really selling a dream but it’s opening up an opportunity to someone who can utilize it, to open up their own destiny. If luck is there, you never know what is going to happen. We have had some real amazing success stories with somebody who has just popped in as an extra and has been picked up on a set and has flown to India and has done a Bollywood movie. There are all types of fantastic stories that we have experienced in our Academy – Honey’s Dance Academy.
Speaking of Honey’s Dance Academy, tell us about the school.
Honey’s Dance Academy is a Bollywood training institution. The pool of talent we have got in the academy is amazing. Since Bollywood is an amalgamation of so many dance forms it tends to attract dance students from many different dance disciplines. We have had so many jazz performers, we have had contemporary dancers, we have had people who are hip-hop performers, and we have people from Indian classical trained background who perhaps want to modernize their skills. We have Western dancers, who perhaps want to bring in the ethnic style within their choreography or want to find out what is all this fuss about, why is everybody talking about Bollywood and why has there been such an explosion of Bollywood. We coordinate a lot of Bollywood productions in the UK and many times we have requests that they want Western dancers, so we find that we connect with a lot of the Western dancers who hear about the Bollywood industry and after getting involved really enjoy it and come back for more. We have people from all sorts of different backgrounds, but then having said that, we also have people who just want to come and keep fit, who may just enjoy the music and come along for a nice little evening out with their friends for a dance lessons. We also have that side of the spectrum of coming a long to classes were they are just doing it for fun and others who really want to go out there and compete and become somebody.
You have recently attempted to legitimize the field of Bollywood dance in the UK through accreditation and professional qualifications. What impact will that have on the perception of Indian dance?
I think it will have a huge impact. My God, I think this is going to be a historical event. See, I feel that what has happened is that Bollywood dancers are not being given the kind of respect that is due to them. People who are very good Bollywood performers and choreographers have to learn many different dance forms, not just one style, and that is just not recognized. Recently, I did choreography for a program called So You Think You Can Dance and I had to train the dancers. They all came from Western dance backgrounds and they all felt – oh, Bollywood will just be a bit of hip dancing- a bit of this and that. Then they all performed the choreography and they were like OH MY God we never realized it was so intricate, and these are all professionals. That told me that the perception is that you can just go up there and perform it. What they don’t realize is there is technique involved, there is clarity and the way to express the dance movements has to be clean and expressive. At the same time, I don’t think the standards have been established in the industry either – so if you were at a particular standard what level should you be? If you have these qualifications – what level should you be? I have been working on this for about seven years with a team. The first stumbling block was to persuade people to appreciate the fact that Bollywood is a dance form because people would say there is no such form. I said, well everybody is doing Bollywood dancing, there must be some kind of form there. (Laughs) Finally, that got accepted that, yes, people would appreciate the Bollywood dance form as a style. Then, of course, it is writing a syllabus including how a step-by-step grading would take place. Somebody must have written the first India Bharatanatyam syllabus or someone must have written the jazz syllabus and then maybe it was developed further along the lines and so I have tried to do this for Bollywood. We have done that and then came the to-ing and fro-ing with the Dance council. We developed it to a point where we felt okay, right, we are here now, we have got a standardized process that everybody can now follow. It will, of course, continually be developed, but at least we have got a starting point to get people to start taking the credited exams. The syllabus has now been accepted officially by the British Dance council and the World Dance Council. It is causing a lot of excitement in the industry.
You have recently worked on It’s A Wonderful Afterlife – tell us about that experience.
Ahh yes, It’s A Wonderful Afterlife, now that’s with Gurinder Chadha. That was a really exciting project, that was really good fun. Especially because I was a choreographer for the film and did a little quick bit part as well as a fun thing. I provided artists for the film as well, including the really nice junior professional dancers between ages 10-12. They are so amazing as performers; they melt people’s hearts the way they perform. They are so cute and really energetic and beautiful performers. As a choreographer it was great because Gurinder has always been a very professional director and a fun director, so being on the sets was definitely a very positive experience for us. The dancers loved working with her. Not just that, she is a bit of a maestro when it comes to creating East/West movies that are appealing to mainstream audiences that have the fun and comedy elements in it as well.
I will tell you a little experience that I had on the film. There was a part in the film were I am supposed to be teaching a Bollywood dance class. I didn’t realize there were all these zombies standing in the back of me (laughs!!). Suddenly I saw this little zombie dog walking around I was thinking, what is that dog doing in this place? I am teaching and I am trying to keep a straight face and I am being filmed and suddenly I looked behind me and there are these zombies and I thinking, AHHHHH! They certainly got a natural kind of expression for the camera (laughs). It was just fun. Everybody loved it, we laughed a lot and really enjoyed the whole process.
What inspires your choreography?
You know, the music inspires it and the actual brief of what it is about. I need to understand the feel of what the project is about, what are we trying to convey through the project. What are the musical elements trying to portray through the instrumentation and lyrics, etc. In Bollywood, it is not just a physical body expression, of it is also a facial expression, so you have to appreciate and understand what the story is to get it right. What I love in Bollywood is the fact that its very versatile so if you are doing just a dance performance on stage you can literally be so creative with the project. You don’t need to do just contemporary dance or just Indian classical; you can amalgamate and really come out with some wonderful fusion created ideas.
I always believe that Bollywood is a progressive art form. That is my way of describing Bollywood. I think it is progressive because in the 60’s it was rock and roll and you had songs that would have a rock and roll appeal to it – rock and roll music with Indian lyrics and you had all these rock and roll dancers who were doing Bollywood dancing to rock and roll steps. When the Beatles came out you had Bollywood films with four guys there looking like the Beatles and singing to an Indian song. It’s like, what’s going on? (laughs). In the 70’s, you had disco dancing; you had break dance in the 80’s. By the time it was the 90’s you had a bit of hip-hop and street coming in. The point is that it is beautiful, because at the end of the day it is like a photo. It captures what is going on in that point of time and it brings it into the industry in a way that will appeal to the masses.
Bollywood is becoming much more known in the UK but it is also making a splash in the Americas. I mean, So You Think You Can Dance in the US has had Bollywood numbers, at the Olympics this year one of the skating couples did a Bollywood number. Have you seen that and do you see that growing even more?
Definitely. In 1997, I set up Honey’s Dance Academy and I had almost every single person saying to me it’s not going to work. I said to them, Why, why won’t it work? I couldn’t understand, and they said nobody knows what Bollywood is – how are you going to get the students and how are you going to get people interested in Bollywood? I had made a statement at that time: If people don’t know about Bollywood and if there is no demand for Bollywood well, it is time, and it is going to be my mission to go out here in the UK and teach people and educate them about Bollywood. Since that time, I have done so many projects right from creating a Bollywood workout video which went to number 1 in the fitness charts, to working with Andrew Lloyd Webber providing dancers and doing the promotional tours for them, to different TV programs that I got involved in. I have noticed that at that time when a journalist would talk to me and say, so what is this Bollywood? We would educate them and then talk about the story. Now it’s: Hey, you been working with Shah Rukh Khan again. What are the movies out there with such and such right? And these are Western journalists who want to know about what is going in the industry. I have seen that happen, that transformation take place from 1997 until now. In my work I have been quite actively involved in promoting Bollywood, but it has its own snowball effect. Once it starts and once people start hearing about it then there are more films being produced in the UK there are suddenly more dancer are being invited to be part of it, more stories are out there, then people are watching TV, people are watching the musicals. It has got to a point were there is kind of a Bollywood explosion taking place. I think it will definitely continue because first of all we are turning into a more global industry were people are able to just jump on a plane and go to a different country in just a few hours now. We are also appreciating each other’s cultures; there is a lot of talk about peace and harmony, intercultural relations and cultural integration. There are lots of things like that happening which is conducive to what Bollywood is about. I feel personally that it can only grow and it will never go downwards. I know Bollywood is going to be even bigger in other parts of the world that haven’t heard of Bollywood yet.
Many years ago, I did a program called Channel 4’s Bollywood Star and we were short listing candidates to go to Bollywood and get a role in a film. I was the only one who was saying we should let the Western artists go through because they have got the acting skills. There are going to be many fusion Bollywood films taking place in the future and these guys can establish themselves there and do a lot more work in the industry when people are looking for Western artists to be a part of their film. Everybody said no, you need to understand the language, you need to understand the culture… lalalalaa. The point is that now we so many intercultural Bollywood films where they are casting people from the West. The US has begun to embrace Bollywood. If Bollywood can be established really well the way it is being right now I think the world will definitely hear of it.
What to you makes a good dancer?
First of all, you need to feel the music inside and you need to express through the heart and the soul, not just through the physical body, because when you perform you give out an energy to the audience. That energy can’t be mechanical; it has to be full of expression and feeling, so that people can connect with you. I feel that dance is about expression through the face and body, especially with Bollywood dancing. This is one thing that could be lacking in many Bollywood performers and if they could add that cherry to the icing, if they could include the facials with the Bollywood dance, it brings the whole dance to life. That is very important for me, facial expressions and of course feeling from inside. I think dance is also about passion, it is about creativity, and it is about expression and it such a great way to communicate through dance. Performing artists are very creative individuals, they want to perform and it is through the body movement you can express what you are trying to say.
I understand exactly what you are saying. I was a ballet dancer, and it is the sparkle in your eyes, the feeling you put in each step – that is what engages the audience.
Exactly! That is what you need to feel. I have seen so many dance performers will go out and they know every single bit of the dance movements, exact and precise, but if you add all the movements that come from within, it adds all that lovely beautiful polishing touches to the performance and you connect with audience. I think that is very important as a dancer.
What do you think is going to make a Bollywood Dance Champion?
First of all, I say to people when you want to become a Bollywood dance champion it is a journey that you have to start enjoying. It is about the dedication you are going to show all the way through, it is about your positive attitude that you are going to put into your project and into your routines. Those are the foundations because it is a competition and there will be competition and you have to have belief in yourself. It will be hard work because there will be other big strong individuals in the competition, but the idea is if you enjoy your process and you keep that positive attitude you can concentrate and put all your energy and focus into the actual performance. Otherwise people can get stressed and worried and that little edginess comes through and sometimes they lose it because of that. So, that balanced attitude for them is very important. Most important is that the judges will be looking out for versatility in your choreography. They will be looking out for the way you present yourself: so your costumes, your look, all your individuality and anything that will add value to the look of that performance. They will be looking at your use of props. They will be looking out the use of space on stage. Then of course the basic stuff that people will look at timing, rhythm, the combinations, if you are working as a team. They will be looking at your formations, what kind of teamwork, what type of interpersonal skills you are showing while you are performing. There are quite a lot of elements that the judges will look at when you are performing on stage, but I think it is also about having a personality on stage. It is not just about doing a performance. Come out with your individuality, be there and believe in yourself. Remember, all those people in the VIP seating area, the director, the producers, the music companies and people who are out there who have come to find talent, they are there to see you and it could mean that even if you are not the crowning champion, a much bigger opportunity could open up. It could be dreams coming true!
If you are in the UK and want to be a part of this amazing program and make your dream come true, the first audition is coming up on Saturday the 17th of April 2010 at St Giles Hotel, Central London. To seal a place to become Bollywood’s next top British star you must register by calling +44 020 8590 8050 or by visiting http://www.desitara.com/honeysdanceacademy.com/.
We will be bringing you full coverage of the competition, so watch this space for more!