It’s a big tragedy of showbiz, more so of Bollywood that we adore and remember only those whom we see on the screen. We all have our favourite actors and if you stretch this a bit more, favourite directors and music composers. But thousands of others – light boys, technicians, sound recorders, cameramen, set organisers, extras, choreographers, lyricists, screenplay writer et al- it’s a long list – remain anonymous and unrecognised. In fact, once past their prime, they are left to die in extreme penury.
However, a few dared to mark their presence with very distinguished work. The first name that readily comes to one’s mind is that of Salim Javed, the writer duo and the names behind blockbusters such as Sholay, Deewar and Zanjeer. If you scratch your mind, the names such as Waman Guru ( editors who again hit big time with Sholay), Bhanu Athaiya ( who made her mark as costume designer for Richard Attenborough’s magnum opus Gandhi) or Resul Pookutty, sound designer, who won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire.
Another name that worked behind the scenes but acquired celebrity, almost cult status, was that of Saroj Khan, who breathed her last a couple of days ago. A life full of ups and downs, mainly downs, her parents, refugees from Pakistan, had difficulty in making the two ends meet of a rather largish family. Her father died when she was hardly 10 and it befell upon her to financially support her family having her widowed mother and younger siblings. Though obsessed with dancing since infancy, she had no connections in Bollywood, though an acquaintance got her into background group dancing. Master Sohan Lal and his brother Hira Lal, who till then were mainly focused on South, spotted young Saroj as a powerhouse of talent and soon, Master Sohanlal made Saroj, who was just 13 years old then, her assistant. A young and highly vulnerable Saroj fell for the charms of her Guru, senior to her by 28 years and she bore him two children out of wedlock. As Sohanlal was a much married man having 4 children with his wife, he refused to adopt Saroj or her children. While how she met her future husband Roshan Khan is a separate story, but success remained elusive to her till early 80s, when Subhash Ghai picked her up to choreograph numbers of his blockbusters Hero. As proverbial saying goes – there was no looking back for Saroj. She directed all major heroines of that time – Sridevi, Madhuri, Juhi, Raveena etc. Her repertoire includes super hit numbers such as Ek do teen, Choli Ke peeche , hawa hawai, kaate nahin katate, dhak dhak, dola re dola, the list is very long! Towards the end, she was active on TV also, frequently appearing on realty shows relating to dancing.
She was self made, who had passion for dancing, an art that she pursued right till her end mastered it without any real formal training. She was fiercely independent who raised her children single handedly when Sohanlal refused to lend his name. And she was forward thinking, innovative, experimental and most graceful. Even double entendre songs such as Choli ke Peeche have become gracious thanks to Madhuri and person behind her moves, Saroj.
It’s a rag to riches story of how someone starting from a scratch reached the zenith to acquire celebrity status to become the best in her chosen field. She faced problems galore, but overcame them all with her sheer grit, determination and of course, talent and hard work.
RIP Saroj ! As long as your iconic songs continue to enthrall audiences, your name will remain etched in their memories.