If I remind you of hit Bollywood numbers like Hari Om Hari from Pyaara Dushman (1980), Tu Mujhe Jaan Se Bhi Pyaara Hai from Wardaat (1981) and Rambha Ho Ho Ho from Armaan (1982), who comes to your mind? To me, when I think of these larger than life item numbers of 1980s, only thing and only one I remember is the sensual and stunning Kalpana Iyer and all her memorable hip-gyrating moves. An epitome of grace and sensuality, she took over the tradition of item songs from Helen, Bindu and Aruna Irani. She was one hot vamp who danced in almost all the films in 1980s until her acting talent was displayed in films like Satte Pe Satte (1982), Anjaam (1994), Raja Hindustani (1996) and Hum Saath Saath Hain (1999). She was also critically acclaimed for her performance as a prison warden in Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Anjaam in which she was hanged to death dancing diva Madhuri Dixit.
As a Bollywood choreographer, item songs of the 70s and 80s have always fascinated me. I have had the fortune of meeting Helen aunty many-a-times as Arpita and Alvira Khan, the gorgeous Salman Khan sisters, are my students but Kalpana Iyer was one diva I always wanted to meet. There was some divine connection I always felt with her. Though I had never met her but there was something about her personality, something about her over-the-top and larger-than-life image on screen that always attracted me to her.
Social media indeed has brought the world closer and I realised this recently. My embodiment of grace Kalpana Iyer met me on a social networking site, Yes, you read it right — on a social networking site. She is now a restaurateur and lives in Dubai with her sister and nephew. My trip to Dubai to judge season 4 of UAE’s Jhalak Dikhlaa Jaa – Dancing With The Stars gave me an opportunity to meet this dancing legend.
I walked into her Indian restaurant —Nizam’s Culinary Dynasty — which showcases wonderful live music and dance each day. The moment I met her and touched her feet, she hugged me. Tears rolled down my eyes and I kept wondering why? Was it because I was meeting my dancing idol? Or was it that divine connection I felt with her? I could not control my emotions and cried liked a baby in front of her. Soon after I took control of my emotions, I spoke to the Miss India 1978 for hours, who even till today, has the beauty, charisma, charm and zeal of a winner.
Most South Indians normally train in Indian classical music and dance. Did you train in a particular dance form?
No, I am not trained in any form of dance at all. I did join a Bharatanatyam classes as a kid but could not continue for monetary reasons, so all my dancing skills are self-taught and instinctive.
As a Bollywood dance icon, you gave hits after hits. How was that different from learning or training in dance?
I am told that I used to move to music from the time I was a baby. I would dance in my school annual function and at the Ganesh Chaturthi functions in my colony. Since I was a keen observer and my memory was sharp, I would watch, learn and retain everything. I never needed too many rehearsals. Stage taught me everything, stage was my teacher. Be it discipline or punctuality, it gave me a lot of confidence. Stage grooms you and is a tough taskmaster. In comparison, film dancing was a cakewalk and so easy. I was a good student of all my choreographers and my gurus. I would listen and follow them without questions or debates for they were all veterans, masters and I was blessed to have all of them. As for the hits — god was kind that almost all my Bollywood songs were superhits – catchy, peppy and most of them are popular even today.
Your favourite dance number and why?
Each one of them is special.
Choreographer you loved working with and why?
We called them dance masters then. All my dance masters were extremely special. Each contributed to my growth as a dancer. Each had his /her own unique and distinctive style. I carry each one of them in my heart with respect, owe them a huge thank you for what I was and who I am because of their belief in me. I was blessed I worked with all such legends.
Now that you have been away from the industry, do you miss all the attention?
I miss everything and everyone.
In today’s generation of actors/ dancers, whose dancing skills do you like and who is your favourite choreographer?
I am totally impressed by Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone. Both have grace, style and effortless dancing abilities. I also like Kareena Kapoor Khan and Katrina Kaif as they both come across as sincere in their efforts. One person who brings tears of joy with his dancing is Hrithik Roshan. I sincerely believe that his is a unique talent and no one comes close. I like Prabhu Deva for he is different and a risk-taker and that is a winning quality most times.
After spending time with this legendary dancer, I realised she is a rebel and this rebellious side of hers made her who she is today. In an age when heroines were not supposed to gyrate and swivel seductively, film scripts strictly left sensuality to dancers who performed the song sequences, it was Kalpanaji who did what many would never dare to or even think of doing. From being a proficient model, beauty queen, walking for thousands of ramp shows all over the world and then turned to the cinema industry, becoming a dancer and vamp because of her dancing skills and moving to serious roles in film and later television, winning awards and acclaims for her talent and then giving it all up and living a life of an ordinary person working long hours in the hospitality industry, she is one lady who has done it all with her head held up high.
Sandip Soparrkar holds a doctorate in world mythology folklore, is a World Book Record holder, a well known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with three National Excellence awards, one National Achievement Award and Dada Saheb Phalke award by the Government of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]