Choreographer Kruti Mahesh. (By Arrangement)
Alia Bhatt’s depiction of a trance-like state during the finale of the ‘Dholida’ number in the Sanjay Leela Bhansali-helmed Gangubai Kathaiwadi has attracted a great deal of praise – but the credit for the portrayal goes not just to the actress and the filmmaker, but to the choreographer Kruti Mahesh.
Kruti, the national-award winning choreographer of the song Ghoomar from Padmaavat, says it was the result of hard work from a lot of people and also of the firm belief that Bhansali had in her.
The steps of a winner
"Sanjay sir was happy with the ‘mukhda’ and the ‘antara’ and he was in love with the hook steps. Certain nuances become part of the character and then some changes make it look even better. Alia had rehearsed for those parts, but we had not cracked the tail sequence of the song even three days before the shoot was to take place. We were working on it, and things changed when Sanjay Sir asked for a plate of gulal," remembers Kruti.
Bhansali added a dash of colour to the mood because Alia’s character had undergone the trauma of knowing about her father’s demise before the scene. "There is the final sequence where she was to dance alone — it was a very good idea because the character was on a journey, and it was not just another dance or another garba. Her character had gone through turmoil, and dance was the only way for this girl from Kathiawad to vent her feelings," Kruti says.
Bhansali had okayed a take of the 70-second-long uncut version, but Kruti wasn’t happy and pleaded for one more. Alia was exhausted, mentally, emotionally and physically after the previous shot in which she had given her all. "I had just injured my back and was undergoing physiotherapy, and when I asked Alia for one more take, she looked at me, asking without words how I could demand that of her when I knew how drained she was. Yet, she agreed to do one more, for the sake of my back, and what happened later was beyond magical — and everyone is loving it," says Kruti.
Learning from the master
Interestingly, the choreographer had first rejected Ram Leela, a Bhansali film, when he approached her. "I was already committed. Later, I landed on his set for Bajirao Mastani when I was assisting Remo Fernandes. He remembered me and reminded me that I had refused his offer. He later asked me to do Padmaavat, and there I was, working with him," says Kruti. "I have understood that there is something special about a Bhansali set. He is an institution and there’s so much to learn and imbibe from him. He was one person who gave me work as an independent choreographer and believed in me."
Kruti’s classical dance background came in handy when she choreographed Sai Pallavi in the Pranavalaya number in the Nani starrer Shyam Singha Roy directed by Rahul Sankrityan. "I used Bharatanatyam, Odissi and a bit of Mohiniattam as well. Again, it was about the Devi. I am a big Shiva and Kali bhakt. We used the burning Trishul towards the end, which was also well received," she says. "It would not have been possible without Sai’s efforts. She is phenomenal and a very hardworking actor. She is true to her roots and very humble. I am not easily satisfied, but she is ten steps ahead and an absolute treat to work with."
This simple, middleclass girl from a Tamil brahmin family from Matunga in Mumbai started taking dance classes as a five-year-old. She was shocked to see her Bharatanatyam teacher throw the thatukali (a wooden block used to set the rhythm for the dance) at students who did not perform properly. "I wanted out. We shifted to Dombivali (another Mumbai suburb), and my new teacher took an instant liking to me. I performed my arangetram at the age of 14," recalls Kruti.
"I loved dancing but did not really aspire to be in the movies or make dance my livelihood," Kruti says, though she won an award in mime and dance representing the Mumbai University in an All-India contest.
After graduation, Kruti travelled to London to get a Masters in Forensic Science. "My friends would joke that I would join the CID and say ‘Daya kuch to gadbad hai’," she laughs. She was looking for a job in UK when her father’s ill health forced her to return to Mumbai.
Though her heart was in forensics, her father encouraged her to pursue her passion for dance, and that pushed her to participate in Dance India Dance. "On my return to India, I was working as an embryologist at a clinic. I went on leave after my father expired. I did not tell them whether I would be back or not. I entered Dance India Dance and did well there. Later, I assisted Remo Sir and that has been my path ever since," the choreographer says.
Kruti’s journey in the film world began when she assisted in the Balam Pichkari song from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. "That was when I realized the kind of work that goes into making a song with so many people, though we are quick to dismiss such songs as ‘bad’ or ‘not good’," she says.
Talking about her National award-winning song Ghoomar, the choreographer says, "my journey with Deepika is very special. I was an assistant in my first song with her, and I began my independent career with her."
Kruti has been part of Race 3 and Street Dancer 3D and is now choreographing a major web series and Shaad Ali’s next film with Riteish and Genelia Deshmukh.