‘Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa (JDJ) – season 6′ premiered on 1st June with 12 celebrity-choreographer pairs competing for the coveted trophy and title. One of the celebrity contestants is American born Lauren Gottlieb, who grabbed spotlight after she was placed in Top 6 of American dance reality show ‘So You Think You Can Dance’. Her popularity with the Indian audiences rose owing to her debut in Bollywood’s 3D dance flick ABCD last year. In between meetings, rehearsals, shoots, that go way past wee hours into midnight, we manage to catch her for a candid chat on her journey to JDJ, pairing with choreographer Punit Pathak, dancing and winning the Jhalak title.
From SYTYCD to Jhalak, a span of 8 years, from one stage to another, life has come a full circle.
‘Full circle’ is funny because I said the very same thing earlier. In Punit’s and mine 2nd routine (Jhalak on wheels that airs Sunday 9th May) there’s this move at the end of it that reminds me of one of my SYTYCD performances, one of my more famous routines, the transformers dance and it felt like full circle. Full circle is crazy. From an aspiring performer, dancer, to now at the other end of the spectrum where I’m the celebrity, it is a full circle in a new and wonderful way.
How has the journey been? Was it as you envisioned or a place you hoped to be in?
I never know what’s going to happen in my life until it happens. I try not to plan for the future because I have a strong intuition about me. Whenever something feels right, it just does and I know it. Like when I got offered ABCD, was the same day that Step-Up was casted, and it went to a good friend of mine. I was upset, I went thru the process of shifting my mind to be happy for my friend and as soon as I did, couple hours later I got the email from UTV. I knew in my heart it was supposed to happen. I couldn’t have planned for that, I would never have imagined Jhalak happening. I want to do films, but the idea of this and how it came to me worked out very well.
What was your first thought when you were approached to be a contestant for JDJ6?
The feeling I had was, I’m in a new country, and I’m in a new world, still learning about the industry, the language and the dance styles. It’s a way for me to learn everything and also for people to know about me. Being infront of everyone, doing all the different styles and just as SYTYCD opened up a million doors in Hollywood, this could potentially do the same for me in Bollywood.
Did you follow Jhalak seasons earlier? Were you aware of the pattern and did you wish to be in it someday?
I only knew of it from ABCD. Salman and Punit were choreographers in earlier seasons. I followed from then; when I was back in the US I would watch it on YouTube. I didn’t think much of it because I was very excited to do films. When it came up, I had to follow my intuition. I listen to my friends, family and they can give me all the advice in the world but at the end of the day I follow my heart and it said to do this. The way it is playing out is pretty great.
How different are the working cultures between Bollywood and Hollywood reality shows?
Not much different! I hear the working conditions on Jhalak are one of the best in India. From what I see it is completely lovable, the production values here are so bright and colourful; sometimes it is more than I expect it to be.
What was your initial reaction upon learning that Punit would be your partner on the show?
So thankful! We weren’t super close when the film was happening as he wasn’t in a lot of my scenes. Punit and I interacted more on promotions. When we were touring around is when I got to know him and we became really close. Great person, great partner, he is one of my best partners of all times. We speak a similar language. We don’t have to say anything out loud; we can just telepathically connect which is amazing. We have way too much fun. I think he just wants to slap me some of the times because although I work really hard, I have to have comedy in every moment. I have to make people laugh and I have to have fun. I can get him off track really fast but then I’m really good at going ‘ok let’s pull up, let’s do it’. It works. We have an amazing relationship. He is super excited, I am very excited and it’s going to be a great 3 months.
How are rehearsals structured? Does it involve discussions or is it more of a follow-the-leader approach?
There is no way to deny where I come from. There is no way to hide or mask what I know. Where I got my start was assisting big choreographers. I am the kind of person that when they would create something, I would put the finishing touches. I would give my inputs. So I can’t sit back and just not do anything, because as an artiste thru and thru, I want the work to be the best. I’m very proud that Punit comes with the most original concepts. He gets all the information, comes to me and says this week we are doing this. This is the concept, I’ve chosen this song, I want you to do this and my eyes just go bright, bright, bright and all my ideas start ticking. After he’s done the initial pinning down of everything, I start voicing thoughts and I’m very thankful that he’s not like ‘no sorry we’re choreographer celebrity here’. In our first two routines there have been times I’ve put my inputs and it’s turned out amazing. Things clicked in its place. I think that’s a big advantage that we have and I love that. My favorite part is seeing a production being put together and then putting my little bits and masala into it.
But with two strong dancers, different styles, backgrounds and contrasting dynamics, conflicts or disagreements are inevitable.
There have been no fights on choreography. We both come from a very genuine place. He is one of the most genuine people I’ve met. Even if I get a little crazy or anxious, I come from a good place and we know and respect that about each other. Even if we go off for a second, it’s out of love. There’s been no disagreement on that. There was one moment so far this week which was very stressful when it was the wheels routine. I had a really bad accident (that you’re going to see on the show) and I landed up in the hospital. I was spinning on my back and my wheel hit a wrong curve on the floor, it pushed me to the wall and my neck snapped. They rushed me to the hospital. After that I got nervous and afraid of the wheels plus they were tight and heavy. During this one day of rehearsals, I was trying to bite my tongue because every time I would go down, I would feel the pain. I was nervous about doing a spin that I had to do and with all this happening together, I started venting out ‘let’s just stop for a second’. He got frustrated and it was just a bad moment albeit for a second. Next minute we sat down and I told him ‘you have to know that I’m in so much pain right now so if I need to spit something out every now and then let me do it. I’m here for you, I’m not walking off on you and we’ll be in this till the end’. We just came back together and were up and back on our feet. It’s a blessing we can talk about this stuff, we share a great relationship. (Amen to that!)
Two episodes down, are you’ll happy with the way the acts have gone? Was it good enough, can it get better?
My first one was a blessing. To have it be an ABCD song, which I thought was sweet of Punit to make that happen and very meaningful for us to do. I wouldn’t change anything from it because the whole moment was magical. I’m an artiste and I will always nit-pick and always want to better things, but for that one I won’t judge it at all. For the 2nd one we were hindered slightly with the wheels being heavy. You can’t get up, every time he would have to lift me up from the floor. There were things we couldn’t do and then when we wanted to dance a lot we would be advised to use the wheels more. So we had to cut back on some of the dancing and put more wheel aspects into it. The concept hindered us a bit; then the accident held us up a bit but the act I think has turned out great. I love what we did. To your question of can we do more, I definitely think we can, there’s a lot more to come.
What do you think is your biggest disadvantage or comparative weakness?
I’m still learning this culture, this society, this industry, everything. When you grow up knowing the history of films, history of songs, things that have happened in the past, everything you have done in your life builds on to you and makes you who you are. I have all that but in a different land. I am introduced to all these people in the industry and I’m a little embarrassed because they are all amazing talented people while I have so much to learn and know about everybody and everything. That’s a little scary to me. I want to learn the language so bad, it’s my dream to be able to communicate in Hindi. Not knowing the classical styles of Bollywood which for everyone here, it’s innate in your body while I come from a totally different movement. When my friends and fans tell me that they want to see me do classical, I’m praying it turns out right on my body.
How has the interactions with the judges been? Who is the most fun and who is the most intimidating?
What I’m honestly more intimidated of is standing on stage and being terrified that I may not understand what’s going on. When I’m made to do impromptu things that I don’t understand, things that just happen and I’m still doing it, that’s a little scary. But it keeps you on your toes so it’s fun. The judges come from a very pure, genuine heart. Everything that Karan says is so honest and right. Madhuri is like a queen. When she is talking, I am gazing and wondering how does a woman express like that. She doesn’t have to do anything, she could be sitting on the floor and the little looks that she does it’s too perfect. And Remo sir, if he were to say something negative to me it would crush my heart. He is my mentor; he brought me here, started a totally new life for me. He said on this week’s show people are asking how is he going to be able to judge Punit and myself fair? (Considering he worked with them in ABCD) But when someone knows you well, they know your strengths and weaknesses. So if they think you can do better or if they see something wrong they’re going to say that and in that case that would really hurt me. I want to impress him the most.
How confident do you feel about winning JDJ6?
I would love to win. For someone who doesn’t like to think too far in advance, I’m confident that if Punit and I stretch ourselves, go way up and beyond we can win this. To repeat what Remo sir was saying this week, is that everyone knows Punit and I are professional dancers, what we need to do is take it a notch higher. I think we have done that so far. Both these weeks we’ve gone up and beyond. We’re not trying to skate along, we’re not trying to just be good but we’re trying to give it more than a hundred percent. I want to put good art into the world. I want to put something that changes, influences or inspires somebody. If we can keep inspiring people then I’m confident we can win.
Does it overwhelm that people constantly refer to you’ll as professional dancers and say it is expected of you to be good every time?
No, because I still have so much that I have to learn. I have so much that I’m training for. It’s still tough work and the concepts that we’ve been coming with like the one on the wheels was a million times more difficult that any act I’ve done so far. Especially when I was in the hospital and out for two days, we were rehearsing from 4am to 7am for two or three days in a row while sleeping only 3 hrs a day. I haven’t really thought about the fact that we’re professional dancers because we’re really pushing ourselves.
What do you have to say to your fans that’ve unconditionally supported you?
I’m just blown away. It’s all very touching. I’m a personable person I like to talk to my fans; as much as they care about me, I care about them. People that constantly tweet me I feel like I know them. I’m not tweeting ‘ok, great, wonderful’. I care about what people are saying and how we are making them feel. Everything that people are saying right now and supporting us it’s just very kind. Especially right now in India everyone has been so supportive of me, it’s very nice and I’m immensely thankful for all the love. I totally couldn’t have done it without their support.
Lastly, you turned a year older (8th June). Has your Birthday wish come true?
My birthday wish was to be with my family. Even though that isn’t possible right now, all my friends and Jhalak cast/crew celebrated with me. It was one of THE BEST birthdays I have ever had. For being so far away from everything I have always known, I have never felt so at home in my entire life. Therefore I feel in the end my birthday wish did come true!
Bollyspice wishes Lauren a very Happy Birthday and luck for Jhalak as well as her future endeavours.
To vote for Lauren sms – LAU to 56882 (only Indian audiences) or to vote online log in to http://colors.in.com/in/jhalak-dikhhla-jaa
Fitness Mantra – I love food. I think you have to have everything in moderation though and you have to be active every day. Whether it’s dancing, running walking playing a sport the more you can move your heart the better your body looks. I love yoga, my favourite form of fitness other than dancing.
Secret ambition – To sky dive, I don’t think I could do it but maybe someday
When not dancing – Talk, see movies, shop, and make people laugh
Least favourite dance form – Pointe or on toe. I love ballet but I don’t have the proper arch for my feet. It’s beautiful, awful on me
Most favourite dance form – Anything that is spicy. Anything like hiphop, anything with a lot of energy and movements
Fear Factor – (not my biggest) the driving here where there are no stop signs sometimes and there are cars coming at you from all different lanes, that’s a little scary.
Strongest competitor on Jhalak stage – It’s week 2. Everyone’s a competition right now
Thought to live by – To the world you may be one person but to one person you may be the world