400 Dancers in Jodhaa Akbar’s ‘Azeem-O-Shaan Shahenshah’

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The majesty and lavish production of Jodhaa Akbar can be seen throughout every aspect of the epic film. From costumes and sets, to music and dance everything is on a huge and spectacular scale. For one song in particular, ‘Azeem-O-Shaan Shahenshah’, choreographer Chinni Prakash went to Olympic sized proportions, using over 400 dancers and a crowd of 2,000. Recently Prakash talked about the process of choreographing such a huge undertaking.

Chinni Prakash first went to meet Director Ashutosh Gowarikar on the set of Jodhaa Akbar in Karjat to talk about choreographing a song. Prakash says, “In Karjat, Ashu first asked me to listen to the song. I thought it was fabulous!”

“Ashu had an idea of how he would choreograph it, with 300 dancers. But I felt that it should have at least 1,000 dancers. Ashu wanted to do the song like the Olympic opening ceremony, where they come in large numbers and dance in front of a gathering. Here, they were to dance in front of Akbar. Ashu also said that there should be groups of dancers, coming from different parts of North India,” he added.

After that first meeting, Prakash went and did research for over 6 months. “We had to keep in mind that the film is based on an era 300 to 400 years ago. So we had to visualise how they would dance; what their dance steps would be like. For this, I had to do a lot of research. I saw a lot of black and white movies and leafed through books on the Mughals. I researched on their clothes, postures, and a lot more.”

He also looked and studied films of his uncles, who were choreographers in the 50s and 60, taking notes on how how each dance was constructed.

He then went back to Gorwariker: “I told him my vision and plan for the song for 45 minutes, and at the end of it, he was thrilled! He did not know which part to edit, and what to retain. I gave him three choices, and he chose the ethnic style, which included a lot of Kathak,” explains Prakash.

So then the real work began and Prakash used 12 assistants to plan the choreography for the dancers. “I called about 12 assistants, and each assistant was seen as a group of 100 people. With that, I designed the song in a week’s time. We shot the rough version, edited it and showed it to Ashu. He incorporated some changes, and then we shot the song with 100 dancers.”

“I wanted to go all out, as this was the first time I had choreographed such a big song. Apart from some 400 dancers, there would be about 2,000 people acting as a crowd,” he added.

Then it was time to shoot with the 400 dancers and Prakash relied on his wife Rekha to help him, “Usually, I divide my work with my wife Rekha. But for this song, both of us were involved. The song is designed and choreographed by me, but she helped me in getting the dancers together, getting them ready with their makeup and costumes…”

Getting 350 dancers to and from Mumbai and in lavish costumes was a bit difficult. “About 350 dancers traveled to Karjat from Mumbai every day. It would take us five hours to travel to and from Karjat. And since this was a costume drama, it was quite difficult,” he said.

Finally after all the research, all the planning and all the rehearsal it was time to film the song. “We were given 10 days to shoot this song. But we went overboard, and took 15 days to complete it. It’s difficult to stick to a deadline when you have a crowd this big. For example, imagine a simple thing like a water break for 350 dancers! But the dancers gave me a good hand. Without their help, this song may have taken a month to film!”

“I never thought I would get to choreograph such a huge song. After the song was shot, Ashu’s wife Sunita — who is also the film’s producer — told me that Ashu had me in his mind from the day this song was recorded. I was very happy to hear that,” Prakash said.

We certainly cannot wait to see this incredible sight on the big screen and finally it is now only days away. Jodhaa Akbar roars into theaters on February 15th.

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