September 6, 2010 (Sampurn Wire): "I Proudly Claim To Be A 'Mr. Perfectionist' Of The Choreographic Arena" - Ahmed Khan
"I Have Definitely Achieved More Success Than Saroj Khan" - Ahmed Khan
Ahmed Khan, the par excellence and extremely innovative Choreographer needs no special introduction. His 17 years long journey has proved his talent, of making people dance to his well rehearsed movements beyond imagination. He is at his Choreographic peak since a decade but even when he was just in his teens he had the guts to say no to well known filmmakers and turn down their films just because their camps belonged to his Guru Saroj Khan whom he had assisted for almost half a decade. He also had this fearless instinct to turn down many a project if his conviction did not allow him to accept it. A very humble, pious, religious, charming, ever smiling and down-to-earth guy he considers himself to be a destiny's child as in spite of not belonging to a filmy family he rose to dizzy heights of success in Tinsel Town on his own merits and skills. But the strangest aspect of his character is that he is extremely inaccessible as he does not consider himself a media savvy guy at all. He explains, 'Its not that I want to keep them at bay. As I don't know what do I talk to them about? But wherever I meet them I always give them due respect. So overcoming all the hurdles SHAHEEN RAAJ did succeed in cornering him on a cool Saturday evening in his office for a Choreographic chat. Tune in with your musical dancing shoes on.
1. Ahmed Bhai if I am not mistaken your father was a horse racing jockey then how come you strayed into the filmy arena?
I consider myself a destiny's child. So I am where I am only because of Allah's wish. Yes I consider myself extremely lucky to be born with a golden spoon. My father was a horse racing jockey so many horse lover filmy people were his friends. Like Mehmood Bhaijaan, Feroz Khan et al. I still remember that when I was just a school boy studying in Poona, Shekhar Kapoor along with Dilshad Pandey had come home during my holidays and spotted me. So he immediately cast me as a moppet in his most ambitious project 'Mr. India'. Thereafter I did two more films 'Aaj Ke Angaarey' and Aamir Khan starrer 'Raakh'. After doing these films I went back to Poona to continue my studies.
2. Then being a child artist how come you jumped into choreographic arena instead of pursuing acting when you grew up?
But I never wanted to be an actor. It was always dancing that fascinated me and when at the age of 11, I won the first prize as a Best Dancer it became my passion. So I started doing fashion choreography on stage. I never took any formal training in dance. I learnt everything on my own at home by watching films and dancing videos. Seeing my craze for dancing my mother called up her friend Saroj Auntie one day and told her to take me as an assistant.
3. What was you experience on the first day of working with Saroj Khan?
For me it was strange and unbelievable. Saroj Auntie had called me on shoot at 9 am but I reached at 8.30 am and found the Set locked. It was a different matter that I was denied entry in the studio itself but thanks to one of the watchman who told the others, "Isko andar jaane do, isne 'Mr. India' mein kaam kiya hai" So I went in. The set was opened at 9.30 am. Saroj Auntie came at 10 am and by the time work started I thought 'Ya Allah they have already wasted so much time. But then I got used to it and believe me for the first 7 months I did nothing apart from going on the sets, eating chocolates and good food, strolling around, wearing every dancers watches (if it was an Indian dance) and taking care of their things, bringing tea for everyone. Then it was Mehmood Bhaijaan (The late Comedian) who advised me take matters in my own hand or else I will reach no where.
4. So what did you do?
I started assisting. I started peeping into the camera, started doing markings for the main dancers and chorus dancers, showing them dance movements by dancing myself, in fact rehearsing the whole song with them. It was then that Saroj Auntie took notice of me. I was working with her for a long time without being paid a penny, only 100 rupees conveyance. And sometimes I used to do continuous day and night shoots with her. I came to know much later that I was duped as someone else was taking the payment in my name. But I still have no grudge against Saroj Auntie. In fact now I consider her like my mother.
5. But you did have one experience with her which had left a very discordant note between the two of you for a long time?
Yes, this had actually happened at the time of 'Rangeela'. Ramu (Ram Gopal Verma) had come with his film Rangeela's offer. The first song he narrated was 'Tanha Tanha Yahan Pe Jeena' and made it very clear that he wanted a modern look for the song so I suggested the entire movements which he liked. But when the actual song was to be shot in Goa, Saroj Auntie purposely did not take me to Goa and shot the song which of course proved as a blessing in disguise for me. When they returned from Goa neither she herself nor Ramu liked the song but he retained that song and told her that he wanted me to do the remaining songs. Of course I refused at first but then she herself told me to do it. So I did it and the rest as they say is history. 'Rangeela' proved to be a super duper hit. I won my first Filmfare Award and other Awards too. Besides I was the first Choreographer who got the solo title card in the promo that too even before the music director, lyricist, director and the producer himself. In retrospect I would say that if Saroj Auntie had not done so it would not have cost her, her own career. Still with due respect to her I would say that I have definitely achieved more success than Saroj Khan.
6. You won your first Filmfare Trophy for 'Rangeela' yet you had a fall out with them to the extent that they have banned you. Any particular reason!
After winning my first ever Filmfare Trophy I was invited by them to Choreograph their entire show next year. I agreed on my own conditions yet I was harassed at the last moment as every time I choreographed a song for the show. Either the artiste or they would cancel that particular song at the last minute. Besides they did not respect even my elder brother Bobby Khan who was with me for this show as they had a big fight with him over money matters. As far as banning me is concerned I think they have already lifted the ban as I am getting feelers from them since last 3 years to do the show again either in cash or kind. Any ways for me awards are not that important as the rewards of my fans. In fact even actors like Salman Khan does not care much about awards. He charges the Filmfare guys more than his market prize for a performance and STRICTLY refuses to accept their award by saying, 'if you have spare ones or you are desperate to give me send a dozen of them to my house so that I can use them as a decorative handle on all the doors and the windows of my house.
7.On what basis do you claim that you have achieved more success than Saroj Khan?
First of all again with due respect to her I would say that she is the ultimate Dance Guru of Hindi Cinema but in Indian Dance form. Till today she has not accepted the Modern Dance form. She has not moved ahead with times. Besides due to her large extended family's responsibilities she started accepting any and every film that came her way and became extremely busy which no doubt brought her money but not success. After 'Ranngeela' I got offers from Subhash Ghai for 'Taal' and Yash Chopra for 'Dil Toh Pagal Hai' which of course I refused because they were her home ground. But in the end I ended up doing 'Pardes' on her say so. Yet I did not accept 'Dil Toh Pagal Hai'. But in the long run I earned everybody's respect and till today I have done 12 films for Yash Chopra alone.
8. So what is your criterion for accepting a film?
First of all the audio aspect of the song should appeal to me, the audience should connect to it instantly. Then I think about its visual treatment, weather the audience would enjoy watching the song or no? Then I ask for a hard bound script to study and understand the exact nuances of the character on whom I have to shoot the song. My team takes care of the rehearsals and I take care of the technical aspects when I go on the sets to shoot. And yes I don't compromise at all on my price. I work only for Big Banners with the strict condition that I will do all the songs of the film and not just one or two songs. Till today no one can point out that I have shared the credit of one movie with any other Choreographer.
9.Are you trying to be a 'Mr. Perfectionist' of Choreography just as Aamir Khan is known as 'Mr. Perfectionist' of Acting?
I am not trying, I proudly claim to be a 'Mr. Perfectionist' of the Choreographic arena. I am proud to have introduced new techniques in Choreography like Motion Control (Ghajini), High Speed et al. The blocks that I create to make each shot look visually presentable and moreover I have changed the looks and the concepts of the chorus and background dancers. I introduced young blood from fashion world, from colleges instead of using the old potbellied, sometimes bald and even ugly looking dancers. Besides my concept of Choreography is not a school drill. And I am all set to bring many more changes in the Choreographic arena. Besides now I have also turned a Song Producer for which I have formed a company called 'Paper Doll'. Say a producer spends four and a half lakhs to shoot a song but my company does this job economically for him in two Lakhs. How? That's the mystery let them come and find out for themselves or ask those who have already worked with my company.
10. Are you content of your 17 years long journey, starting off as a child artiste, as a Choreographer then in between as a director and producer and which of these did you enjoy most?
By the grace of God, I enjoyed doing everything. When I was a child artiste I had great time savoring the perks of chocolates, ice creams. As a Choreographer I am like a guest on every set because I get to shoot only the songs. But I wanted to have complete fun on the sets so I turned a director with 'Fool N Final' and 'Lakeer - Forbidden Lines'. Next, I wanted to have complete control on the sets so I turned a producer with 'Paathshaala'.
11. Chalte chalte throw some light on your favorites and 10 Best Songs of your career and from which film?
Even at the cost of sounding totally clichéd like they are all my babies I would like to put them chronologically. So here they are:
1} 'Yai Re Yai Jor Lagake Naache Re' (Rangeela).
2} 'Aflatoon' Title Song (Aflatoon)
3} 'Do Dil Mil Rahen Hain' (Pardes).
4} 'Salaam Namaste' Title Song! (Salaam Namaste).
5} 'Shehzade' (Lakeer - Forbidden Lines).
6} 'Bachna Ae Haseeno' Title Song! (Bachna Ae Haseeno).
7} 'Bakhuda Tumhi Ho' (Kismet Konnection).
8} 'Tu Jaane Na' (Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani).
9} 'Behka Main Behka' (Ghajini)
10) 'Dhan Te Nan' (Kaminey).
-- Shaheen Raaj / Sampurn Wire