Saroj Khan: Masterji to the stars
In the early 1990s, in an inspired moment I had reached out to Colin Jacobson, founding picture editor of the Independent Magazine, with a pitch on Bollywood. I was keen to photograph the world of Bombay cinema beyond its stars. Choreographer Saroj Khan, with the command she had on the industry then, seemed like the perfect subject.
Back then, no major film could pass muster without Khan on the sets. Everybody on the sets, including the actors, called her Masterji. Jacobson wasn’t particularly keen but agreed to cover my flights. So, staying with friends, I followed Khan from one set to another for around four weeks.
It was an exciting time. Madhuri Dixit had just taken over the mantle from Sridevi and was blossoming. Khan worked a lot with her; and usually did three shifts a day. While she had a large crew of assistants to do her bidding, I was always struck by her light-footedness when she demonstrated a move herself.
I ran out of film, and as this was almost a self-funded project, I packed up and moved back to Delhi after a month. It’s one of my lifelong regrets that I didn’t pursue this longer (and the reason I set up a film grant for young photographers a few years ago).
I knew the photographs were too “voluptuous”, too easy to like, if you will, and I’ve always struggled with how to exhibit them. The National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi has one set that it shows from time to time, and I’ve dipped into this series a few times for my Museum Of Chance project, but they’ve never been exhibited all together before.
Last year, my friend, the New York-based choreographer Mark Morris, put together a projection with the photographs on loop with Carnatic nadaswaram music for the White Light Festival at the Lincoln Center. Next week, they will be shown in India for the first time. Morris has done something quite extraordinary with his sequenced choreography. It is a poetic movement of the still image.
—As told to Anindita Ghose
Master Ji, a collaboration between Dayanita Singh and Mark Morris, will be on view at the Adil Shah Palace, Goa, as part of the Serendipity Arts Festival from 15-22 December, 10am-7pm.