“For me it is not just about shaking my hands and feet or moving to a rhythm. It just comes from my soul. It’s a very spiritual thing for me whether it is a Western number or an Indian one.” ~ Madhuri Dixit
One of Bollywood’s greatest actresses, Madhuri Dixit is also considered by all to be the best dancer in Bollywood. Trained in the Kathak style of Indian classic dance, which she dances exquisitely, she is also superb in modern choreography. A mark of a truly great dancer is that when you watch her dance it looks as if the music emanates from her body. The quintessence of this is Madhuri Dixit.
Madhuri is getting ready to dance her way back into our hearts with the release of her new movie Aaja Nachle. Since the film is centered around dance, we thought we would share some of our favorite Madhuri dance numbers from other films.
‘Gaja Gamini’ (Gaja Gamini) – This number is exceptional because at no time do you see Madhuri’s beautiful face and dazzling smile. From her first entrance just walking backward you know you are going to see something special. In one part she is simply scooping water and that in itself is a dance. Every movement is controlled, beautiful and entrancing. It is an amazing piece of choreography, danced magnificently.
‘Ek do teen’ (Teezab) – About this number, Madhuri recently said, “There are lots of memories because I had worked with Saroj ji (Saroj Khan) in some other films also. But when Tezaab came she said this one dance number has to be very good. So, we rehearsed for seven days. And I remember saying that ‘I just don’t feel confident.’ But Saroj ji said, ‘just do what we have practiced.’”
This dance is considered one of her best performances and is listed on everyone’s favorite list. The energetic choreography is a mixture of modern and classical Indian steps, and Madhuri dances it effortlessly. She also plays a mean sax!
‘Choli ke peeche kya hain’ (Khalnayak) – This song and its choreography stirred up some controversy but Madhuri had faith in choreographer Saroj Khan, saying “It was meant to be a naughty number. Subhash ji came up with it and we all said, ‘Ah! What are you saying.’ Whenever I have worked with Saroj ji I have had full faith in her. That is because she is a woman so she would never make anything look vulgar. So, for this song we used a lot of folk numbers like the twirl with the ghagra. It was great fun doing it.”
At the beginning of the dance you know it is Madhuri even before she lifts the veil because of how she moves. Throughout the piece she has such a quality of movement and some of the steps she does are quite breathtaking. Particularly one where she is on one leg with the other in the air doing a rond de jambe (circle of the leg). It is so perfect it even makes her skirt dance. Her presence is great as a dancer that in the section where it is just the chorus dancing, you miss her. The dancers in the chorus are great but Madhuri is something special.
‘Chane Ke Kheth Mein’ (Anjaam) – This is a classical number that truly shows off Madhuri’s talent. The movements are so intricate and are performed so well it is as if her arms and hands are dancers themselves. The choreography is filled with exuberance and each step Madhuri does is first-rate, with one of the highlights being the drum solo where she performs fast turns into the final pose. Each section is dazzling and you wish the dance went on longer.
‘Akhiyan Milau’ (Raja) – This is one of her most popular dances and was a rage when it released. It is modern choreography and Madhuri shows she can dance that amazingly as well.
About this piece Mahduri said, “We all loved the song when we heard it because it had a lovely beat. I remember we shot the whole song and it was pack-up time and Saroj ji came up with a new idea. She said for the beginning of the song let’s just do expressions. She said say the whole thing with your eyes, not with your hands or your face. So the first line had to be emoted through my eyes. I saw her eye movement and said, ‘I don’t think I can make my eyes go round like that.’ But she kept saying try and so I rehearsed for it. I also managed to get the eye movement. I was really thrilled. And that became like a signature. A lot of people have come up to me post that song and asked if I put something in my eye for it to rotate like that. It was those little moments that make a difference.”
‘Piya Ghar Aaye’ (Yaarana) – This incredible dance number is set as a stage performance and is a fusion of modern and classical choreography. Watching her perform you can see that she truly commits to every movement with her entire body and there is such joy in her dancing. She also plays a ripping guitar while dancing!
Madhuri recalls, “Once I remember I had gone for a show and Mehmood ji was there. And he started saying that I was really good but in this song that head movement that I did where I tilt it to a side and then start dancing is what made it more interesting for him. Everybody sees something different and interprets a song in a different manner. So, I was really thrilled when he said that. It was a big compliment for me.”
‘Key Sera Sera’ (Pukar) – This number was choreographed by Prabhudeva, one of the best dancers and choreographers in the Indian film industry. The steps are modern in style, and their performance shows what exceptional dancers he and Madhuri are. She said working with Prabhudeva was a challenge, “He kept me on my toes, on my knees, on my head, on my hands, everywhere. When people used to tell me we don’t want to dance with you I used wonder why they said so. But when I had to dance with Prabhudeva I understood what they felt like. I was like, ‘I don’t want to be in the same frame as him because he is such a terrific dancer.’ I said to him, ‘Look I cannot do what you do. So you choreograph for me the way I will be able to dance.’ He said, ‘No, not to worry Madam. Very easy’. I thought may be it was very easy. I was very glad and the first step we did was the Que sera sera and when I saw the choreography, I was like, ‘Oh God! I can’t do this!’ He said, ‘Only one difficult step. Next step…very easy. Only this one. Next one very easy’. And he went through the whole song saying the next step is going to be very easy, and none of them were easy I can tell you that. For the first time in my life I was sweating. He molded his style to suit my stature, style and dancing. He did a brilliant job.”
‘Badi Mushkil’ (Lajja) – This piece shows Madhuri’s proficiency of Indian classical dance. There is such fluidity to her movements that, though we know it is difficult, she makes it look easy. Again there are marvelous background dancers in this number but you see none but her. From her first steps you can see her outstanding talent and she makes you smile. The music is very quick and she is always perfectly in time with her steps, be it arms, hands, feet, head or her whole body. The choreography compliments her, shows her off, and is just a joy to see. At the end she says shaabaash and for her brilliance in this piece we say loudly “Shaabaash!”
Shah Rukh First Sees Madhuri (Dil to Pagal Hai) – This number is probably my favorite of all these phenomenal dances. It shows her extraordinary skill, and the choreography is perfectly suited to her. The music is simply drums and bells and is set in a dance studio, a girl alone practicing what she loves. This piece exemplifies what we said in the beginning about what makes a truly great dancer: She is so rhythmically conscious that you think the music is flowing from her movements rather than her dancing to the beat. Energy and light exude from every part of her body and you can literally feel her love of dance. Shah Rukh comes in and is stunned watching her, and we are too. She said that dancing comes from her soul and in this piece you can see that is true.
‘Maar Dala’ (Devdas) – This is one of her best performances ever, so beautiful were her movements. It is just an awe-inspiring dance to watch. Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali said, “One can go mad just looking at her songs. This song had one of the biggest sets in Indian cinema and the way she performed was a dream. The first time she did the Mar Dala step I whistled and clapped in sheer excitement. It was an exercise in expressions. With every shot, Mar Dala had a different expression. I wished I could shoot the song for a year because I wouldn’t get tired of watching her dance.”
Of course there are many more dance sequences that could be included on this list.(I so enjoyed having to watch all of these again to pick, I love my job!) Here are a few honorable mentions: ‘Dola re Dola’ and ‘Kahe Ched Mohe’ (Devdas), ‘Bade Dukh Dina’ (Ram Lakhan), and ‘Dhak dhak karne laga’ (Beta).
According to Madhuri, “It’s (dance) part of me and a second nature to me. You can say it is in my blood.” Madhuri is grace personified and as many say, you can never get tired of watching her. She is a virtuoso in the art of dance and all of her performances rate a standing ovation.
From the promos, the dance for the title song of ‘Aaja Nachle’ (Aaja Nachle) looks like it might be another great performance that will dazzle us. We are eagerly waiting to see Aaja Nachle, and we know that she will naach her way to number one at the box office yet again!