Even after appearing on the credit rolls of Bollywood films as choreographer (including of such high-profile films as Saawariya and Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na) for more than 10 years, Longinus Fernandes was not a recognizable name. The road to international fame actually came after being left out of the credits of a film. Fernandes says his life changed when Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle apologized at the Academy Awards ceremony for leaving his name out of the credits.
Now he is choreographing six songs for Bollywood Hero, a three-part mini series produced by IFC Films, an American film distribution company that distributes independent films and documentaries. It has former Saturday Night Live star Chris Kattan in the role of a failing Hollywood actor who gets an offer to play the lead role in a Bollywood film. The series, which also has Neha Dhupia, is a musical comedy about his experiences in Mumbai. Fernandes spoke with Lounge before leaving for New York for the series premiere on 6 August. Edited excerpts:
Fernandes (middle) on the sets of Bollywood Hero
How did you become associated with Bollywood Hero?
Most of the production crew of this film was also part of Slumdog Millionaire. The makers of Bollywood Hero liked my work and invited me to do this film. I started work on this soon after I finished Slumdog Millionaire. I have worked on all the six songs in the film.
How did you teach Chris Kattan Bollywood moves?
It was difficult since dancing doesn’t come to him easily. He told me on the first day that he cannot dance. I told him I’m used to hearing that all the time. I would try my best to make him comfortable and he liked my confidence and conviction. He would call me a pep talker, but that’s how I have come up in the industry. His only condition was that I would have to first do every move I wanted him to do. He would then watch me do it and have a good laugh. He’s a funny guy off screen as well, and a livewire.
What type of choreography did you do for the film?
I’m a big fan of Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson and have always been inspired by them. I also showed Chris Indian folk dances. Bollywood has many styles of dancing, but I told him I would teach him the Longi style of dance, which meant he would have to party and go crazy. Our Bollywood dances are all about mannerisms. An intelligent choreographer will help the artiste bring out his or her own mannerism. He enjoyed the taporigiri of my style.
What was it about your work in films such as Slumdog Millionaire and Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na that got you acclaim like never before?
After few years in the industry I realized that the choreography has to click with both the masses and the classes. There’s no point in beings stylish if you can’t touch someone’s heart. Farah Khan was the one who taught me that. Jai Ho touched the common man’s heart and that’s why it became so popular.
How has life changed since Jai ho?
I have choreographed for many movies, but didn’t get the recognition I deserved. No Indian film-maker ever spoke about me, but after Danny Boyle mentioned me in his Oscar speech, so many doors have opened up for me. I was so dejected to see my name missing, but Danny later told me he would make up to me in abundance. And he did just that. I have also won the 2009 Astaire Award for best film choreographer. I’m so happy to be able to make my country proud.