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January 30, 1998

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All that jazz

Shiamak Davar. Click for bigger pic!
His CV reads like a true performer's. His expertise covers the varied areas of singing, dancing, choreographing, acting and even model improvement. For Shiamak Davar, the end of 1997 was simply great. He turned movie choreographer with Yash Chopra's Dil To Pagal Hai, his new Hindi album Mohabbat Kar Le was released, and his protégée of sorts, Diana Hayden, walked away with the Miss World title in Seychelles.

Based in Bombay, he has been knocking at the doors of critical acclaim for long. Introduced to the world of theatre by Alyque Padamsee, with the lead role of Che Guevara in Evita, he ran through a clutch of well-received plays. But jazz dancing -- 'please don't call it aerobics' -- remained his passion, and he even opened the grandiosely titled Shiamak Davar Institute for Performing Arts, which churns out performers of all ages and shapes with metronomic regularity.

His music album, Survive, with which he paraded his singing talent, did not set the Arabian Sea afire, but he isn't complaining. His second album, this time in Hindi, is courtesy Polygram. And though his work in DTPH has been noticed and duly appreciated, he is not too keen on more Bollywood offers. In the meantime, theatre beckons, and he returns to the proscenium later this year. In this conversation with Saisuresh Sivaswamy, he unspools his life, his love -- no, not dancing, but music.

So how did the story of the Parsi answer to John Travolta begin?

I was always interested in the performing arts, from the age of god, must be five or six or seven. There was a piano in my old house which my cousin Bunty would play. I would sing with her and learn. I really used to love this girl.

After she went abroad, I shifted to the piano and started singing myself. I would sing and play, everything on the piano, making up songs. People think of me as a dancer and a choreographer, but I don't think of myself as one or the other. It's like, on the face you have to have the eyes, the nose and mouth. To eat, to smell, to look. For me it's a combination, I cannot do, sing only without moving my body and expressing with my face. I cannot act if I don't....I have to do everything together

But do you prefer dancing to performing?

I can sing, dance, act and choreograph and direct which sounds pompous but is not. It's just that I do have these talents and one complements the other, one does not go without the other, all three go together. That's a very important thing. People should know this, they say you are a dancer. But when I say I am a singer, they get confused. But I have been singing from that time.

I make up my own music, play the piano like Billy Joel and Elton John and make up my own music and sing. Dancing, I used to dance at parties, at social and all these competitions, and became, with my girlfriend a little kind of a -- what do you say -- famous couple. We used to go and dance everywhere.

Were you self-taught, or did you undergo training?

Self-taught, of course. We had no dancing schools then, and if we did we had only ballet schools. J J Rodriguez was only ballroom, you see. He was not jazz or funk or disco or rap. So I never got into a school really. But after that I went abroad and learnt in places with classes all over and came back to start my own school.

I started with about seven-eight people... my friends, cousins... Stuff like that. This must have been in... I can't remember, around 12 years ago. And then it grew. I was apprehensive about starting classes but I was guided by Vispy Bhavnagri who is not here with us any longer...

Karisma Kapoor in a song choreographed by Davar in Dil to Pagal Hai. Click for bigger pic!
I really do believe in working hard. My parents were the most phenomenal parents I have seen in my life, I tell you I must be having some amazing karma, good karma to have such parents. For they have always encouraged me, they never stopped me. They were always happy that I was singing, dancing... But they were nervous about what I would do in the future, that I wouldn't be doing Davar's College...

So your family owns that famous institute.

It is a partnership and my father is a partner... Anyway, that's what I did. Then I opened my school, Shiamak Davar's Institute of the Performing Arts. We concentrate on dancing now, but just recently we introduced acting workshops and other kind of folk dance workshops. We incorporate different segments of work so people can have the total picture instead of jazz only.

I love theatre. In Evita I played Che opposite Sharon Prabhakar. And in Greased Lightning I played Danny... I had a really great time. It was my first singing role, and I was really too impressed, too happy. I loved it. For I was singing, my main love. I then did many other plays, many other shows.

A very interesting show I did was the French Festival of India, for the government, where 100,000 people came. It was spectacular. I worked with a French choreographer called Jiji, and I worked with French dancers who were very talented. I used my other Indian dancers who were fantastic.

Then I performed at the Asian track and field events in Delhi, where I choreographed 1,100 people. That was a really petrifying experience for me but, by the grace of god, I got through that. I loved the national games because I sang a song called Raju composed by me, the lyrics were by Bharat Dabholkar.

Raju was the mascot, so I sang, 'Come on Raju come on, tu hai Bharat mata ki shaan.' I repeated it recently at the Police Games. It was a hit at the National Games. Lata Mangeshkar was singing it, I was singing it, everybody was singing it, and the song was so popular, I had to sing in Hindi and Marathi, and it was so good that by the grace of God, I was called for the closing ceremony as well.

Is it tough being a male dancer?

It is very tough being a male dancer, because people think that when a man dances he is effeminate. The problem is people don't know how tough we are. Physically, not in the sense of body-building; we are talking about toughness as in strength. A different kind of strength. Dancing non-stop on stage for two hours requires a lot of stamina and lot of strength. And I sing and dance. So people can't say, 'It's so easy, no big deal.' It is a very tough thing.

My question was in terms of government patronage etc. Is it tougher for a male dancer to succeed, than it is for a woman?

Oh, I don't know about that. I have done a lot of government shows... I am happy at least they used me for my singing and dancing. And they really respect my work, I have seen that, for most of the work I have done for the government only, the French Festival, the National Games, the Police Games, the World Chess Championships, the 100 years of cinema meet, the Asian track and field competition...

I really had to work hard to achieve this. I'm still not successful in the sense that everybody on the road doesn't know me. It's been a tough success. It's not like 'Oh Shiamak, you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth.' No, I had to undergo a lot to get where I am. It has taken me 10 to 12 years of really hard work to be appreciated.

Click for bigger pic!
Nowadays, you know, they do 10 videos and they come on screen... It wasn't so simple for me.

You know, a lot of people tell me I should be abroad. But I tell them, no, I can make my name here, here's where the people need me. I want to train Indian people first.... These people who say you are so talented, they won't ever use my talent. They just talk. That's why, when the people at Polygram approached me, I was touched.

For after my deal with HMV, it was a little difficult to get a deal with an album company, because they would say, "Oh, you can't sing in Hindi... But I have proved myself, I have sung in Hindi. In all my shows the last song is always a Hindi medley. Probably some of them were nervous, not interested, fair enough. And that's why I am grateful to Yash Chopra, for he has give me a lot of respect, a lot of love, and a lot of guidance...

How did you come to do Dil To Pagal Hai?

Actually Yash uncle had asked me to do Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge years ago, but I was nervous and scared. I want to give quality and not quantity. And that was when I was developing my school. I was concentrating on that and my album, Survive.

Afterwards I felt, 'Yes, yes, I will do it.' Then we discussed everything. and... Fantastic! You know, when I see my movie now, when I go and see in the theatres I get, I really choke in my throat because it's so... the memories are amazing.

It was also a very uncommon in the sense it had two choreographers?

Yeah, they also had Farah Khan, but I had no problems about it. In fact my new video is being choreographed by her. I don't care. I believe if people who are talented work together, and if you are secure in your heart and I am secure in mine, people can make magic together. Now Farah was asked to do some songs, I have no problem. Why should I have a problem?

Was it like when you did something, she changed it... Things like that?

No, no, no. She did her songs, and I did mine. And Adi (director Aditya Chopra) and Yash uncle dealt with her and me, separately. In fact, we never even met, Farah and me. We only met at the private screening.

She has a been a film choreographer of long standing, whereas you were a first-timer to the medium. So did you feel a little nervous about, maybe, being overshadowed?

Today you may be a big superstar while I am not. I will always be nervous and tense, for that's my nature. I never take anything for granted. I never say because I am a damn good choreographer. I will do damn good films also. Film technique and theatre technique is totally different... So I was a little nervous, yes...

You know, in this film I did a song called Koi Ladki Hai which is actually a street children's song. People love that song, because it was very tapori and... Have you seen that movie? No? Chak dhum dhum, it is extremely tapori, tapori to the core. I did that purposely because I wanted to do something Indian, We had jazz-Indian in the other songs. You can see that song and judge -- people love that song. H3>'Dancing is a very tough thing'

Shiamak Davar. Click for bigger pic!
Yes, I can do the normal masala films. In fact my masala will be different. It will have a little bit of chillies, coriander, spice, and will not be the typical masala; it will have my touch. I cannot be Saroj Khan. She is fantastic in what she does, Farah is great in what she does, the other choreographers are great in what they do.

I cannot be them, I don't want to be anybody but myself. I cannot match Saroj's movements in the filmi style. I think each one has their own strengths, and I'll do mine. I am not being diplomatic saying this; I really think that the choreographers in the film industry are talented. I don't want to compete. I will not be doing so many movies, because I want to build my school, I want to do my album, I am interested in my singing. So, for a year or two, I will work on that.

But coming back to DTPH. How was it directing, Madhuri Dixit and Karisma Kapoor? Did you encounter starry nakhras? Was it difficult from other students?

Oh, they were fantastic, both Madhuri and Karisma. You know, I was very nervous teaching them in the beginning, because you hear of them as film stars. But both Madhuri and Karisma, to my surprise, gave me even rehearsals... There weren't many retakes.

Madhuri is a very, how do you say... I have always liked her, from day one. I find her -- besides being such a fabulous looker and all that -- a very lovely, simple girl. Simple, simple girl, you know, the one you can take home to your mother kind. It's a fact. Because I was observing her on all the days of the shoot.

God, she is so humble and so down-to-earth. And besides discussing dance we discussed all interesting topics, like life-after-death, UFOs, all of which she also believes in. Her parents too. I was really fascinated with her, and I enjoyed working with her a lot. A very talented and very professional girl. And her expressions are amazing.

Karisma is young, vivacious, bubbly, energetic. If I give Madhuri a movement to do she does it like a woman, and if I give the same movement to Karisma, she does it like a little girl. That's the difference. But I must say that both complemented each other. If you see the movie you will know what I am talking about.

One thing beats me. If I see the film how will I know which songs are choreographed by you and which are done by Farah? Are there separate credits?

There are no separate credits. Since you ask which numbers are mine and which are Farah's... The first song, Le gayi le gayi, by Karisma, is mine. Then there is the other song which I did with the children, Koi ladki hai, Chak dhum dhum. Then I did the jugalbandi between Karisma and Madhuri, where Karisma appears upset that Madhuri is dancing in her territory, I did the jugalbandi dance of envy, with Madhuri and the boys. Then all the stage shows are my dancers. Then there is the major song, Arre re arre yeh kya hua, the main song, I did that one.

What I did not choreograph is Dil to pagal hai, Dholna, Bholi si surat and... Any other one? There is an Indian dance with Shah Rukh on the drums. I didn't do that. Anywhere you see jazz, shows, my dancers, bodies that are very thin... They are mine. Farah did more of the famous Yash Chopra songs, the hit songs. That was with only the cast. There were no dancers really with Farah, except one, Chandni taanana... But where you see dancers you will know it is my work.

I will let you in on a little secret. If you see my movie -- god my movie! no, our movie -- I take great pride -- whether hit or flop I don't care, but I take great pride in my work -- it was my most precious moment and I loved it. There is a scene where Madhuri is talking to a girl called Shabani about how the typical Indian girl has to find a man, and then how they learn to love the man... Behind them there is a jazz class going on. Then Madhuri begins dancing with this girl. The song that is sung then is by me, Mohabbat Karle. It's not in the credits, it is from my forthcoming album. Yash uncle loved my song so much that Adi went crazy about it and used it

Have you got more film offers since?

No.

Are you keen on taking up offers if they come?

No. Not now, a little later maybe. I am not closed to any offers but I want to focus on my school, my singing and theatre... Behind the scenes I can do a lot when I am a little older, but I want to do more performing now...

Usually, artistes change their label only if they are unhappy. Why did you move from HMV to Polygram?

I changed my label simply because my contract with HMV had expired. And Polygram was really interested. Vineet Sapru heard me sing One moment in time. He came up and said, 'My god, that guy can really sing. Why haven't we thought of him?' Out of the blue. That's why I always believe that God does help.

Davar protégée Diana Hayden. Click for bigger pic!
There may be some delay in God's house but no darkness.Der hai andher nahi that's it. I believe in it. I always believe that God doesn't say no, he only says not yet. And I believe at the right time things open up for you.

But your first album did not do well. Or did it?

My first album was in English, and English doesn't sell well in India, But this one did sell pretty well. In fact it outsold many other pop acts at the time, so I was happy. We didn't expect any great sales out of an English album. Again, I enjoyed myself with Ranjit Barot, the producer of that album. Out of that album I came out with one video. Only one. It didn't do really well -- some people loved it, some hated it.

Did you shift to Hindi because it sells more?

No, yes. Hindi does sell more. It's a fact that I did do it for that. But I didn't do it only to sell more. I did it because I am realising more and more that to reach out you have to do good quality work. If it is in Hindi, so what? I tried with Hindi, and it seems to have worked. Anyway, all my shows I finish off with a Hindi number.

In all this wouldn't you say that your theatre has suffered?

Yes. I haven't done much of it because I was concentrating on my school. To get a school organised is not easy... I mean, have you every known of a school for performing arts in India, in jazz. I am probably the only one trying to do it. So it is even more difficult. So I have get the permissions, the halls and... It's not so easy trying to organise all this. So I am trying to focus on my school and give Indian people a scope to really improve their talent. I see the kids dancing today. Some of the steps they do I could never do when I was four and five because I never had the chance to learn them.

And to clarify, I do not teach aerobics. That is a wrong word for what I do. I teach jazz, which is different from aerobics. Aerobics is more jumping. We do not jump, we do a lot of controlled movements. We work internally, inside out. And ours is an art form, so you learn an art; at the same time you are getting fit. So that's why it's a double advantage to do jazz.

Talking of fitness, do you have a special regimen or anything like that?

No, my fitness is my mental fitness. I have to organise so much, and I thankfully have good managers. Life is unpredictable, and you have to do everything you have to do fast, but when I say fast I mean grab opportunities when you get them. At the same time you got to do everything with your heart. If there is no truth in your performance, either in school or on stage, it is of no use.

How did you get involved in the world of mediums, after-life, etc? Your office, I noticed, had those giveaway candles before portraits...

That I have been involved with for the last 15 years... I am a firm believer in God, I am a firm believer in destiny, of what you make of it. Not sitting on your a## saying this is my destiny, but what you make of it. I am a firm believer in the life after. I believe in positive efforts and action, karma reincarnation... I believe there is a new age coming, a golden age. I believe that you can fool your friends, you can fool yourself, but you cannot fool God, that every action has a reaction. I believe that as you sow, so shall you reap.

There is a lot of Hindu belief underlying what you say. What is your faith?

No, I believe you generally pay for your sins. I believe that there is a justice that God gives you, whether it comes now or later it will come. Whether all this is Hindu or not, I believe in a God. People think it is very un-hep to believe in God. 'Oh come on, why don't you believe in today, science and all that?' I say, 'no, I am sorry, this is my belief, take it or leave it.'

Yeah, but does your God have any name, or it just a...

No, God is a force. God is a very important force, and I believe in force which directs and guides us. I go to the fire temple, but not every day. I don't make a ritual out of it. I pray in the car, in trains... I mean anywhere.

My original question was how did you get involved in the strange of mediums, seances and all that?

I met this couple -- Parsi couple -- 13 years ago, and my life changed.

Is it a frightening experience, communicating with spirits and the rest?

If you are on the right path, then there is no problem. Everyone has faults, so no problem. You see, basically a mother is talking to her son. Would she disturb her son or anything like that?

A still from Dil to Pagal Hai. Click for bigger pic!
Would the son disturb the mother?

No, on the other hand, he is helping her, guiding her. And they are guiding thousands of people. When you guide someone you rise spiritually, the other person also rises spiritually, so it's good. I am not much into astrology, I like everything that is spiritual.

Now let's go on to your other occupation, which is to make swans out of ducklings. First Aishwarya, now Diana Hayden as Miss World. Can we talk about her?

Oh, she (Hayden) was a very sweet girl, another very humble girl, and I cannot tell you how grateful she was to me. I hardly did anything for her, in the sense that she only came for seven days. But she apparently got a lot out of it, she was really, really happy.

What exactly did you teach her?

She was taught movement, she was taken into some classes to get her body into shape, at least to make her aware of how to stand, how to move. You know, physical deportment, gait, it is the most important thing... But what I wanna say is that I am very grateful that she has been appreciate of the work that SDIPA has done for her.

First Aishwarya came to me and she won, now Diana came to me and she won. I am thankful that that company had the vision to do this... But Diana, you know, the amount of thanking she has done for me even before she went was so overwhelming that I felt... I felt guilty. It is not as if I have done anything great. That's why probably she won, because she is such a humble girl....

But you didn't train anyone in between Aishwarya and Diana?

No, I didn't, because I wasn't asked to. That's why I believe that God does the right things at the right time.

Choreographing a film, driving Miss Diana to win, things are certainly happening for you. With all this, do you think you have finally arrived?

I don't think of myself as having arrived. I just feel that I am working. Arriving is what one does when they are... I'll tell you when I think I have arrived. I will think I have arrived when I feel that I have completed a lot of my work on earth. Not only my work in my films, singing, dancing and acting departments but in my spiritual balance as well.

With your kind of looks it should be as easy for you to be on the other side of the camera. Have you thought of that?

You know, inDTPH, the titles say 'introducing Shiamak Davar' so a lot of people thought I was also acting in the film. A lot of people were also upset that I wasn't in the film...

But why didn't you do a dance number yourself?

No, no, I just can't do that. It's not my movie, I just can't come on screen, it's not my decision. If I get the chance to star in a film I would have to think very hard, because I am not a chocolate hero. I am not a great looking guy like Aamir, Shah Rukh and all these good-looking guys who -- how do you say -- make for very colourful films.

I don't know if I will ever do it, but if the role was like Westside Story and I was asked to do the lead role with a fabulous director and the right script... Or something really, really good I would then think about it. I don't want to kid myself and do something that I may not do well.

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