Posted: 21 September 2006 at 3:28pm
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love the siggies too read Ganesh life story
a basement lined with mirrors thudding to the rhythm of Hindi pop music, 11 young men and women are crouching on their fours, torsos thrusting, backs arching, arms moving like ribbons sailing in the air. Calvin Klein peeks out of Fruit-tella pink Polo sweats; Nike Air from billowing pants of orange. As they dance to a medley of chartoppers from Rang de Basanti to Tera Naam, and for the entire duration of their practise session from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m., the dancers' eyes never leave the mirrors. Their names may be unfamiliar to you, but the passion in their faces as they sweat, jump, and crawl in this underground discotheque, symbolizes all that is magical and intoxicating about the movies. Watch this scene, for it is during one like this that the troupe's choreographer, 32-year-old Ganesh Hegde—the man behind songs like Kambakht Ishq, 2001; Khallas, 2002; and Babuji, 2003—knew he was going places.
It was six months ago, however, when a rash of 18 billboards appeared in the most prominent neighbourhoods in Mumbai, that the public began acknowledging this too. On each billboard, a chiseled face peeked out of a white hood. Under it the alphabet G shone in faux diamonds. Was G a singer, a dancer, or a movie star, wondered pedestrians, drivers, and schoolchildren staring at the glamorous image? As it turns out, G is two of the above, one day perhaps to be the third as well. Hegde's debut Hindi pop album, G, has made him that rare choreographer, like Farah Khan (director) and Prabhudeva (actor), who has expanded his market value substantially in an area other than dance. In an industry where success appears to come only to a Kapoor, a Khan, or a Deol, this crossover, and its impact, is remarkable.
Hegde's 10-year-old career began in 1994 when event management company Wizcraft commissioned him to choreograph the Filmfare awards, which he did for 10 straight years. It was during one such show that director Sanjay Leela Bhansali offered him his first film break choreographing Khamoshi. Bhansali wasn't the only one with an eye for potential. Director Shekhar Kapoor was searching for a lead actor opposite his new find Preity Zinta, in Tara-Rum-Pum. Hegde turned down the role, and since the film was never made, reiterated his sound professional judgement. Since then, Hegde has choreographed dance tours, co-starring himself, for Shah Rukh Khan, among others, in the Americas and Europe. In New York girls scream with joy when he's on stage. Considering the unabashedly sly, sexy moves that have become his trademark, and are seen in the music video for his song Main Deewana, this is to be expected. What isn't, perhaps, is the distance Hegde has travelled. The realization to a bystander, that the long legged man with the gold flecked hair, now sitting in the backseat of the apple red Mitsubishi Lancer was once a boy who lived on Mira Road, for who butter was "chandi" (silver), and a banana a week a "delicacy."
Hegde is the second of three siblings born to Vidya, a Parsi and Harishchandra Hegde, a Mangalorean, in suburban Malad. His maternal grandfather passed on when his father was a boy, and as a result the latter's education didn't progress far. As a teenager, he worked as a hotel boy, and later assisted his father-law in his ayurvedic medicine business. His best salesmen were his children, and Hegde recalls long, muggy afternoons of traversing neighbourhoods with body balms, ringing doorbells, and suffering rebuffs. "We knew, boss, life isn't going to be easy," says Hegde. "That we had to be the running force." While his mother worked as an accountant, earning Rs 750 a month, his sister Renuka gave tuitions for which she was paid in clothes or schoolbooks. At 12, Hegde worked briefly at a medical store. Despite the raw edges of life, there were some comforting absolutes in the Hegde family. And these proved to be their saviour. Higher education was insisted upon by his parents. (As a result, Renuka is now a software engineer settled in Chicago, and Kishore, the eldest brother, is a chartered accountant.) Hegde's love of music and dance was also respected and encouraged by them. "No matter what," he says. "We were very happy. It's only now when we look back that we wonder how we could have gone through those days. I valued that training, yes, but now I want to protect my family from those things."
Hegde would organise groups of his friends to participate in his school, Ummedhbhai Patel's Annual Day dance competition, and in local pandals during festivals like Navratri. His talent as a singer took longer to become public, however. "I used to stammer a lot," he says. "Insecurities the. Pant pathi thi peeche se, kaun dekhega aur hasenga. Once when I was on stage and heard my voice without the music, I started crying. … But I learnt quickly because of the deficiencies we suffered," he says. (My pants were torn; I though I'd be laughed at). At home, his mother's radio played on, filling the empty spaces within their thin walls, with the music of films by Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, and RD Burman. "That was my first school of music," he smiles. "Despite our problems, my mom and dad still managed to show us a movie a month. And that one movie did a lot for me. Amitabh Bachchan was the main star, and I would watch all his movies. I'd narrate scenes, emulate him. After watching Sholay, I would ask in every drawing we visited, 'Kitne Aadmi The?' And when he was hurt I told my father that I wanted to donate blood. In these ways Bollywood came into my life."
Unable to pay the maintenance fee for their own apartment in Malad, the family had to move to a rental on Mira Road, a dusty suburb of salt pan land. At 17, Hegde started a degree in commerce at Dalmiya College, Malad, where he was also the leader of a gang of friends who called themselves "Twisted Brother". "It was all about masti and pranks," laughs Sanjeev Sharma, member, and now Hegde's manager. Metamorphosis into "Hammer's Group" (a reference to their dance influence; Michael Jackson was also a favourite), underlined the trendy, youthful essence of the boys' subsequent careers. For many years this meant choreographing Hawaiian and Arabic theme parties, and once, a launch for Jordache jeans, for which payment is pending.
A step ahead was being a back up dancer, even though dancers then were treated like lackeys, and paid little, rarely. "Even our allowances when we were abroad were kept by the boss," says Hegde. "Most of the time we starved. But I accepted it because I knew it was a stepping stone." And there were perks. When the boss was away, Hegde would choreograph for the troupe; and what he now does four times a year, he did for the first time as an impoverished dancer whose heart beat to the rhythm of a Bollywood song: "In those days America was like the moon for me. I'd watch planes, and think 'when will I sit in one?' When I got on my first flight; I kept touching the seats in awe. So even though the money wasn't there, these things kept me going." After he was underpaid, yet again, Hegde left with his friends to form his own troupe. "Initially I paid them Rs 400, and myself Rs 1, 000," he says. "Now I pay my dancers Rs 25,000 a show, depending on the size of the show. I know what it's like to put your life into something, and get nothing in return. How much pain and stress it causes the person, and his family."
These and other facts about Hegde, despite a decade in show business, haven't made it to print before. He says, and a Google search reiterates, "Before this interview, whenever asked me to talk about my life, I would start with incidents from age 15." Hegde isn't embarrassed by his past of hard knocks; he dislikes pity. "My friends were rich; they had cars, perfumes, you know all those things? At the time Chinese food was a rage; mind blowing. They'd try to drag me along, but I never went. Eventually word might get out that I couldn't pay and I'd be made to look down."
As much as Hegde's success as a choreographer and singer, and a hint of careers in acting—he has received offers for Hindi and Kannada films—and directing to follow, it is his unabashed sense of self worth, and his ambition, which appears to disconcert his colleagues. "He's always wanted to be big; and everything he did had to be larger than life," says Sharma. Film journalists describe him as arrogant, and he recently said of turning down an offer to choreograph Salman Khan's World tour, "I need to concentrate on my career rather than please anyone. Why will I leave this for a four-month vanvas for nothing at all?" A good decision, again, considering that a week after, Khan was sentenced to five years imprisonment for poaching.
What must most disconcert naysayers, however, is the fact that Hegde puts his money where his mouth is. "He absorbs Bollywood and translates it into something that is uniquely Ganesh," says Sanjoy Roy, Wizcraft. In a time of bust thrusts and crude plagiarism, his choreography is original and hip attracting fans in the age group which matters, eight-18. Teens chant, 'G, the new Big B'. He's working on a second album, another music video for his first, and in April will head to Malaysia to choreograph the title sequence of Farhan Akhtar's Don, starring Shah Rukh Khan—a buddy, who helped him get his first album deal with T-Series.
The boy from the distant 'burbs, now a man with a penchant for velvet hats, electronic gadgets, a game or cards and of cricket, says firmly, "I just want people to know that I'm different. And that I'll always deliver."
So far so good."