“Aishwarya always adds on that extra bit to make the dance move look Exceptional” – Longinus Fernandes

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A couple of weeks ago, I was watching Bollywood Hero and when the credits rolled, I said to my husband, ooh, look I interviewed him! (It thrills me every time.) I was talking about the fabulous choreographer Longinus Fernandes. Longinus has not only created some amazing numbers in the Hindi film industry, he has also worked internationally and received the Fred Astaire Award for Choreography for his work on ‘Jai Ho’ from Slumdog Millionaire. That piece opened a lot of doors for Longinus, and he continues to work both at home in India and all over the world. Besides making Chris Kattan dance in Bollywood Hero, he also recently worked on Eat Pray Love with Julia Roberts. Oh yes, and he choreographed a piece on one of the best dancers in Hindi films, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, for the upcoming Guzaarish! I got the chance to catch up with Longinus and he told us about all these experiences and even more!

What makes your style of choreography unique?

The most important aspect about my choreography is SIMPLICITY. It gives me immense satisfaction to see people doing whatever I have choreographed. Honestly speaking the choreography of ‘Jai Ho’ hooked on to almost everybody all over the world; now that’s something very rare. It’s also a great feeling to see your work becoming the Talk Of The Town. I basically love reaching out to the common man… and if you are able to tap their pulse then you are a sure shot achiever and that’s exactly what I am all about.

You have been very busy! How has it all been going?

By the grace of the Lord Almighty I have been traveling extensively all around the world. This is something I have never expected in my wildest dreams. I could have asked for nothing better than this in my entire life. I personally feel that God has been extremely kind to me. It also gives me happiness in abundance to admit that the going has been too good and I am enjoying every bit of it.

Tell us about your work on the play I am an Emotional Creature by Eve Ensler.

It was an opportunity of a lifetime working on Eve Ensler’s play I Am An Emotional Creature. It was with non-dancers; nonetheless, Eve Ensler loved whatever little I did in a very big way. The way she expressed her gratitude on stage towards me and my work was simply UNBELIEVABLE. To top it all she was doing the play for a worthy cause and I was more than enthralled to be a small part of it. By far and large Eve Ensler’s good work reflects on her personality.

You worked on Bollywood Hero with Chris Kattan. What was that experience like?

Chris Kattan is a funny man; he was never, ever serious even while working. I used to always wonder why; later on I realised that he used to remain in character all the time. I also figured out one special quality in Chris and that was his great sense of observation. That is his strength and which I utilised to the hilt. He basically used to love watching me stage the acts before hitting the floor…. and when he got on the floor, BOY – he was a treat to watch. Full of energy, zest and loaded with confidence, and that’s a great quality to have besides being blessed with a great sense of humour.

It was such a unique concept; how was it working with such a non-dancer?

Very rightly said… It was indeed a unique concept. All Thanks To IFC, SNACKOHOLICS AND TABREZ NOORANI! It was because of these profound personalities that I could do what was needed. Initially, I was not told about his dancing abilities; the first two days passed by getting to know each other. On the third day I figured out that Chris Kattan had his own restrictions. I once told Chris that he was too good and believe me, Chris fell off laughing. I kept on pushing the envelope by making him feel convinced about what he was doing. All I emphasized on was Conviction; that actually changed his mindset. Trust me after that moment he followed whatever I said to the “T” and the rest was for everybody to see.

Though I thought they were all great, one of my favorite numbers was ‘Untouchables’. Tell us about creating that number.

Firstly, thank you very much for the appreciation and I am glad you liked all of them. I am also thankful to all the people of America for accepting my style of choreography. Well, the ‘Untouchables’ song demanded a lot of dramatics and that’s Chris Kattan’s strength. I basically took it one notch ahead by being spontaneous, meaning I blindly accepted whatever Chris had to offer and then I only worked on his expressions and attitude – that’s what worked for the song. At the end of the day it brought a smile on everyone’s face.

The other numbers were fabulous as well; I loved the one in the club and of course, the dream song. How did you come up with the concepts for those pieces?

Talking about the concepts I must make a mention about the husband and wife duo Ted Silkman and Belisa Balaban from SNACKOHOLICS. They were very instrumental in guiding me and showing me the way. From day one they liked my workmanship and picturesqueness. They always encouraged me whenever I came up with an idea. They were my pillars of strength. We all would have a blast while filming the songs. Working with Chris Kattan means…. Being On The Move At All Points Of Time… I was always told that my spontaneousness was a big asset.

You also had the exciting opportunity to work on Canada’s So You Think You Can Dance. How did the dancers do learning the choreography? How different is it to set Bollywood moves to dancers who are not used to the style?

Well, it was an experience of a lifetime working with the best in the business. All Thanks To Mr. Danny Boyle for his gracious words about me and my choreography on the OSCAR PLATFORM during his acceptance speech, which made people all around the world sit up and take notice about the style of Bollywood dancing. To begin with the dancers were very excited and eager to learn a new form of art. They all made me feel very special when the dance piece was being choreographed by earnestly putting their Minds, Bodies and above all their Souls together to get the moves right. On the day of the show they all performed very, very well. They glorified the choreography by taking it to another level. I Thank All Of Them From The Depth Of My Heart For Their “NEVER SAY DIE ATTITUDE”.

It is fabulous that Bollywood is getting the exposure in so many different places and areas now. Do you find that to be true? Have you seen an increase in knowledge about the industry and dance style?

That’s so true about Bollywood and its reach all over the world, thanks to the numerous films that release (500 to 700) every year in various languages. Countries like America, London, Canada, South Africa, Australia etc., are filled with Indians and Anglo Indians in large numbers. They all love watching films for various reasons: be it Culture, Heritage Or Pure Entertainment … Bollywood has it all.

You also told me, you worked on a half time show at the Orange Bowl this year. What did you choreograph for that big event? That must have been quite the undertaking!

I did the BOWL GAMES OF AMERICA. It was more for pride and glory than anything else. Firstly, you have an opportunity to work with the best choreographers in the world all under one roof, which does not seem to happen every day. The ultimate task of putting an act together with 1000 kids at one time was another ball game by itself. I enjoyed every moment of it. I was told to do ‘Jai Ho’ since it was the flavour of the season. I was overwhelmed with joy to see everybody do the choreography with so much enthusiasm and the ultimate feeling was to see everybody in sync. Initially some of the kids had no clue about dancing at all. All I said to them was: Enjoy Yourselves! And Boy they all had a blast. They did much more than what was expected. Till Date I Cherish Every Moment Of It!

You also choreographed the wedding scene in Eat Pray Love. Tell us about working on that.

Eat Pray Love will always remain very close to me heart because of Ms. Julia Roberts. She is not just a Pretty Woman but the Prettiest Woman The World Has Ever Seen. What a Personality… Principal Personified and not to forget the 1000 watts SMILE. She deserves to be right up there. When we got introduced to each other on the sets, I was so enthralled from within when she said, ” Longinus… the name rings a bell. I have seen your work in Slumdog Millionaire – great job.” That in itself meant A Lot to me. In the film, Julia Roberts had to witness a wedding ceremony. She was very cooperative and supportive and above all very, very professional. She had a good time watching the rural rustic moves.

What other special projects have you done?

Honestly speaking, every project I do makes me feel special. At the moment I am working on the “Cultural Festival Of India” in France. It’s a Dance Extravaganza directed by Rahul Vohra.

You have created so many different types of choreography, what inspires your work?

I am a very big follower of some great profound dancing personalities like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Bob Fosse, James Brown, John Travolta and last, but not the least Michael Jackson. I personally feel these artists were trendsetters in their respective fields. It gives me immense pleasure and pride to say that I emulate these illustrious performers in my own small manner.
All these great names are Inspirational not only to me, but millions of performing artists all over the world.

How do you go about creating a piece?

When it comes to creating a piece all I tell myself is “DON’T DO DIFFERENT THINGS… BUT DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY”.

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