(2006) “Ash makes a fabulous Umrao” Vaibhavi Merchant
Umrao Jaan is an eternal love story of Nawab Sultan and Umrao Jaan. It’s a story of a courtesan, who made people crazy by her elegance and Mujras. Choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant, the person behind Aishwarya’s breathtaking dance performances for Umrao Jaan reveals her experience.
To match her steps with the rich classic era, Vaibhavi had to go back into her life, through everything she had learnt. “Umrao Jaan is a film I have trained for, all my life. A film I have been waiting for. I recollected the time, when I was shouted by my guru for not doing the todas, tukras or chakars right. The time when I used to watch and assimilate from the performances of greats like Birju Maharaj”, she reminisces.
Talking about film’s music she says, “I was amazed by its songs as its music sounded extremely rich. Similarly, classical dancing is associated with grace, elegance and respect and that is what one ought to bring out in a dance. J.P.Dutta wanted energy and effervescence to emerge out of these songs. He did not want them to look like sleazy Mujras. Therefore this was a great chance for me to showcase that elegant grace and respect through my dance.”
Being master in her art, Vaibhavi feels a film like Pakeezah was an inspiration for her to set her skills. The courtesan had to express through her eyes. Even when Umrao was sitting she had to express as much as possible through her subtle actions and that was the biggest challenge for Vaibhavi. She says, “Umrao had to mesmerize you with her ‘adaas’; in fact that is why she was called Umrao Jaan Ada. Her audience had to feel she was looking solely at them, only then would they lose their heart. So there had to be no suggestive gestures. Umrao had to look regal and convince one that she could win innumerable hearts. She had to accentuate the pain rampant in her poetry through her dance.”
Speaking about the leading lady Aishwarya Rai she says, “Aishwarya Rai as Umrao has been a great boon. In one close-up she can express volumes and one can get a glimpse of her potential as an actress. Truly, she makes a fabulous Umrao. I had pre-choreographed each song. But we had to make sure that with the rich & heavy costumes, Aishwarya Rai who was mainly doing the dances was comfortable while dancing. Sometimes we had to alter the steps to ensure that the grandeur of the costume got justice. Luckily Umrao Jaan’s dance movements were delicate & feminine so there was not much of a problem.”
Director J.P Dutta was clear about his Umrao Jaan’s appearance. Vaibhavi says, “At times he would suddenly want to stress on a particular thought and would want to bring it out though dance. There and then we had to choreograph the appropriate steps. I remember once he decided that he wanted Ayesha Jhulka & Divya Dutta to dance during a particular sequence. On the spot we trained the girls & they did a commendable job. There is no doubt that with Umrao Jaan, J.P Dutta has taken me where I am happiest. He has bought me back to my roots .You move on in the journey of life, but Umrao Jaan brought me a mirror to remind me not to forget where I come from.”