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Saroj Khan paved the way for women like me in a male-dominated industry: Vaibhavi Merchant

Saroj Khan, who died yesterday, worked in the film industry for almost six decades, choreographing over 2,000 dance numbers.

Suyog Zore

Saroj Khan's death yesterday has left a void in the film industry. A prolific choreographer who started working as an assistant at the tender age of 12, Khan went on to choreograph more than 2,000 songs in a career that stretched over six decades.

Few artistes behind the camera have left such a big impact on the film industry as Saroj Khan. Such was her impact that the Filmfare awards introduced a new category, Best Choreographer, only so that she could be recognized for her outstanding work on the super hit song 'Ek Do Teen' in Tezaab (1988).

However, Saroj Khan's contribution to cinema is not limited to the work she did in the movies. When she entered the Hindi film Industry back in the 1950s, it was a male-dominated scene and nobody used to take dance choreography seriously. Many a time actors and actresses would choreograph their own steps.

Saroj Khan (1948–2020): Graceful, talented starmaker who had the magic touch

Saroj Khan not only made dance choreography serious work, but she also inspired an entire generation to take up the profession. Among them is National award-winning choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant.

"When Tezaab was released, the 'Ek Do Teen' song became such a huge rage. We all used to dance to it at school functions. I don't think any school function was complete without a performance on this particular song," Vaibhavi Merchant said. Many years later, Merchant shared the stage with Khan as judges on the dance reality show Jhalak Dikhla Jaa.

"I have followed her religiously from my school days," Merchant told Cinestaan.com. "Later, when I got a chance to interact with her, it was a surreal experience. Though I was junior to her in every sense, she had huge respect for me and my work, and whenever we would meet she would tell me that."

Merchant counts the words of praise from "The Saroj Khan" among her greatest triumphs. She also recalled her experience of working with Khan on Jhalak Dikhla Jaa. "It was wonderful and memorable," she said.

The show ran for four months and during that time the two choreographers became close. Saroj Khan shared some of the struggle she had had to go through when she began working in the film industry.

Merchant believes the one thing that made Saroj Khan special was her adaptability and constant effort to learn something new. "Saroj-ji started working in the 1950s when she was just 12 years old and her last choreographed song was in Kalank (2019). This alone proves how adaptable she was. To stay relevant for 60 years you have to adapt to the newer generations and their styles of dance."

Merchant said Saroj Khan was not just an excellent choreographer, but she was also instrumental in bringing about necessary changes in the film industry by encouraging other women like herself, Farah Khan and Geeta Kapoor to take up the profession of choreography.

"She gave us the courage to join the industry," said Merchant. "We all had to go through some struggle initially, but I'm sure Saroj-ji's struggle was ten times harder than ours."

Asked her fondest memory of Saroj Khan, Vaibhavi Merchant said, "It was on the set of Jhalak Dikhla Jaa. Saroj-ji, I and Juhi [Chawla] were asked to choreograph a dance routine for the title song of the show. Saroj-ji being the most senior, we asked her to choreograph the number. She choreographed a few steps on the spot and showed them to me with just hand gestures. Later I performed those steps on stage. It was the most memorable experience for me because I got to perform to Saroj-ji's choreography!"