• April 25, 2013, 11:54 AM

Q&A: The King of Bollywood Dance

By Daniel Ashwin Pillai
Yakub Merchant
Shiamak Davar

Shiamak Davar made his debut as a choreographer in 1997 in the Yash Chopra directed blockbuster “Dil to Pagal Hai,” for which he won a National Film Award for Best Choreography.

Since then, Mr. Davar has choreographed several chart-topping songs in Bollywood films such as “Taal,” “Dhoom 2” and “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi,” as well as an act in Hollywood’s “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.”

Mr. Davar is also well known for his stage choreography, including for the traveling musical dance show “The Unforgettable Tour” in 2008 and the theatrical Bollywood musical “Zangoora – The Gypsy Prince” in 2010. For the past 14 years, he has also been entertainment designer and choreographer for The International Indian Film Academy Awards show.

India Real Time caught up with the choreographer to talk about dance, his inspirations, the impact of technology and the spiritual side of life. Edited excerpts:  

The Wall Street Journal: How did dance become such an integral part of your life?  

Shiamak Davar: Since my childhood, I have always had a keen interest in the performing arts. I would often hold a coke bottle as a microphone and perform for my family and friends; I was a legend in my living room! Whether it was singing, dancing or acting, I knew that I belonged on stage. Later, I took up master classes in dance outside of India and through the guidance of a few of my spiritual leaders I realized that my mission was to spread the joy of dance.

WSJ: What is it about dance that inspires you?

Mr. Davar: The performing arts is the reason for my existence, I seek inspiration in everything it offers. A four-year-old who starts his journey in my dance classes; an 84-year-old who relives their younger days on stage; the chaos when touring on the road; the silence in a room after a performance: these are all parts of dance and together create magic on and off stage. Dance is movement and everything that moves inspires me.

WSJ: You made your debut as a choreographer in ‘Dil to Pagal Hai’ in 1997. Today you are choreographing for Bollywood films and the theater. How did this journey begin? 

Mr. Davar: Dance, especially the Western form, was completely unheard of in India at the time. I faced a lot of rejection and humiliation based on traditional stereotypes and mindsets as people didn’t accept men as dancers and thought girls who danced would never get married.  

Even when Shah Rukh Khan spoke to me about ‘Dil to Pagal Hai,’ I was very apprehensive as I thought my style was very Western for Bollywood. But on the insistence of Yash Chopra and Mr. Khan and his wife Gauri I went ahead. Little did I know that this film would create a revolution of sorts in Bollywood and change the face of dance in Bollywood cinema. It was definitely an important time for me personally and professionally.  

WSJ: What do you want to communicate through your choreography?  

Getty Images
Shiamak Davar performed at an event in Mumbai, March 21.

Mr. Davar: Originality. Each one of us is unique and this must be represented in our work. I am me, there is a certain way I choreograph and this comes out through each piece that I create. Probably it is because of this reason that people started recognizing my work and my style, which has now been termed ‘The Shiamak Style.’ For me, the performer is a ‘peaceful warrior’ with a strong interior and a fluid exterior. Every time I choreograph, there is a certain story that the music tells me, this is what I try to portray through the choreography. Dance is music made visible. 

WSJ: What is it about your style of dancing that you think is unique… and why do you think that ‘The Shiamak Effect’ is felt so strongly across the world

Mr. Davar: My work usually involves a lot of fusion, and this comes naturally to me. I guess universally people see and understand my work as an amalgamation of different styles and cultures, they become drawn to it. I keep the roots of our rich Indian culture in my work but add the modern touch to it, as India is now very different from what it was 100 years back.

From the time I started choreographing, people recognized my work as being very different; something they hadn’t seen before. The movement is very Indo-contemporary and modern; it involves technique and the grandeur of sets and costumes to add to the stage performance and the fluidity of the dance moves. My style is to bring the worlds of the East and West together.

WSJ: We are celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema, how do you think dance has changed throughout this time? 

Mr. Davar: From mujras to item songs, dance in Bollywood is ever evolving and it has crossed the border and has gained massive global appeal. From a choreographer’s perspective, the black and white era had its own charm in the ways songs were done. Even the ’70s and ’80s have left a great impression on choreographers, dancers, directors and actors.  

Other than the evolution of dance itself, technology is the big change. For film, choreography is more of an editor’s job than a choreographer’s. There is no continuity in movement in films because each shot and movement is cut into various parts. So you really can’t see how good the choreography is in today’s cinema; the songs look nice because of good editing. 

WSJ: You share quite a rooted relationship with Vancouver. What is it about Canada and Canadian culture that is so alluring? 

Mr. Davar: Vancouver is a true example of what a multicultural city should be and I love the way everyone adapts to the city and shares their culture. I am humbled at the way the people of Vancouver have accepted me. 

Vancouver is my second home. I have been living there for 10 years now; there is a sense of belonging. They call it “Beautiful British Columbia” for a reason. What makes it even more beautiful is the warmth of the people. I visit Vancouver a couple of times every year and train my dance company there as well. Some of my best works in choreography have been set in Vancouver and I do a lot of my spiritual work there too. 

WSJ: How has this spiritual side of your personality shaped your international career? 

Mr. Davar: It’s this spiritual side to my personality that has formed the basis of everything I have done and it’s the reason why dance exists in my life. My spiritual guide, Khorshed Bhavnagiri and her book “The Laws of the Spirit World” changed my life completely. The story of the messages she received from her deceased sons made me realize the reason of our existence, the cycle of birth and rebirth, and the importance of karma, test and training.  

Dance for me is a means to heal and to spread joy. After reading Ms.Bhavnagiri’s book I realized that dance was my gift and through it, I could reach out to people and help them.

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