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Superstar Bollywood dance instructor choreographs Disney series

Superstar Bollywood dance instructor choreographs Disney series
March 13
15:26 2020
Poster for Disney series, "Mira, Royal Detective"

Poster for Disney series, “Mira, Royal Detective”

Lakshmi Iyer
India Post News Service

An Indian girl, Mira, detective to the royal family of the fictitious kingdom of Jalpur, is all set to inspire million of kids on Disney’s new upcoming animated series, “Mira, Royal Detective”.

The series is set to premiere on March 20 on Disney Junior channel, and the interesting part is: it will feature Indian dances. Imagine watching animated characters performing the latest Bollywood or Bhangra moves! The person making it all happen is Nakul Dev Mahajan, the best known Bollywood dance instructor and choreographer in the US.

Born in Agra, Mahajan emigrated to the United States with his parents at an early age. He opened the very first Bollywood dance studio in the country – NDM Bollywood Dance Productions and Studios Inc. – in Artesia, California. He has been a contributor to famous shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance” as well as A R Rahman’s “Jai Ho” world tour and helped Indian American Nina Davuluri with the Miss America contest’s talent segment – she eventually won the title.

An epic highlight of his career has been instructing a dance group at the White House for former First Lady, Michelle Obama’s Bollywood dance workshop during the Diwali celebration on November 5, 2013.

This correspondent had the opportunity to chat with Mahajan. 
(Interview edited and paraphrased)

India Post (IP): How did the Disney opportunity come about?
Nakul Dev Mahajan (NDM): In brief, my name popped up as a Bollywood choreographer. I was called to an interview and was blown away by what they shared. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of this project.

IP: How does choreography for animation work?
NDM: Each episode (of “Mira”) has a special song that allows the viewer to follow along. In Bollywood movies, the songs help the viewer navigate through what is going to happen and is part of the storytelling process. I have phone calls with them (Disney) and then choreograph the dance sequences in my studio. I send videos of me dancing. There are a lot of nuances and details . Basically, it’s me teaching a class and I send this video to Disney.

A still from Disney's "Mira, Royal Detective"

A still from Disney’s “Mira, Royal Detective”

It’s quite spectacular what they do and they send back “animatics” – that’s what they call it (the animated version of human actions). I then send them my notes and feedback and they further work on it. The team behind it is so talented, and I see these characters dancing.

IP: Isn’t this something new…something we have never heard of?
NDM: This is the first of its kind in America. I have grown up watching animation and never come across anything like this. You could cross-check…I could be wrong in this..I don’t think there is anything like this on this planet.

IP: What was the hardest part when you compare this with regular choreography?
NDM: The hardest part was keeping my eyes dry. This is so touching and personal. I grew up in America not having this kind of representation. The hard part is sticking to my integrity, my knowledge of my craft, telling the story and not getting lazy with the choreography.
I pick up these projects as if it is the first and last time. I say, “This is your gift…give it the best.”
That’s how I approach each and every episode. There’s the pressure of making sure I am doing a good job. I feel like Mira (the title character) is my own daughter and her friends are running down the street. I am protective of that and have to make sure that my choreography is fitting their character.

Nakul Dev Mahajan (far left) with the cast and crew of Disney series,"Mira, Royal Detective"

Nakul Dev Mahajan (far left) with the cast and crew of Disney series,”Mira, Royal Detective”

IP: Wow…that is such a touching thing, when you said that Mira is your own daughter and her friends are running down the street…
NDM: It was a gift I was given in 2018. The characters and their voices are like family. In my studio, each and every kid is my family. I am their “dance dad”.

IP: Do you also work with other styles of dance?
NDM: That’s a great question. I learned when I was making up steps – that is choreography.
I didn’t know what I was doing (that it was called choreography). A Bollywood choreographer is someone who has not just dabbled in various Indian dance forms but also world dance. It (Bollywood) is a form of fusion dance.
I was “Kathak”-raised, and as a Punjabi, “Bhangra” being a part of my life. Growing up in America, I was influenced by Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul. Hip-hop, ballet, African dance, any type of dance I am willing to try.In every season of “Mira…”, you will see some categories of Bollywood – traditional, jazzy…you’ll see “Ghoomar”, “Bhangra”… There has never been a platform such as this for Indian dance.

IP: Tell us something about your journey. Was this a childhood dream of yours to become a choreographer?
NDM: I used to dance at the age of four in my room to the songs of Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha. I would get in trouble for doing so because boys don’t dance. My parents wanted me to be a lawyer/doctor/engineer. At the age of sixteen, I performed at a Diwali function. That’s when my parents said that they never knew how talented I was. They said that from then on, I had their 110 percent support to become a Bollywood choreographer. I wanted to bring our community something I did not have.

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