New Delhi: Remo D’Souza’s first memory of his arrival in Mumbai in 1994 is of being fleeced of the 6,200 he had brought along. The 22 year-old boy had rebelled against his conservative Air Force officer father to be part of a television serial that had called for actors who could dance. He had caught the ad in a local newspaper in Gujarat where the family lived at that time.

“I knew nobody here, had absolutely no connections," he recalled. “Everyone, from neighbours to relatives, told my parents that their son had gone mad, dancing se kuch nahi ho sakta (you can get nothing out of dance). Everyone opposed me, my father didn’t even allow me to come. But I was adamant, I said I have to go, even if nothing works out, I’ll at least come back having learnt something."

The television show turned out to be a sham, and D’Souza took to bit-roles and dancing in films to sustain. Twenty-two years later, with 500 dance roles (his repertoire begins with Ram Gopal Varma’s Rangeela in 1995 and spans scores of films in the 1990s including Pardes, Aflatoon and Himalayaputra), dozens of music videos and over a 100 films as lead choreographer under his belt, D’Souza has not regrets. Why should he, considering he just won the National Award for Deewani Mastani in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s war epic Bajirao Mastani.

“I’d decided to not go back until I made whatever money I had lost. When I look back, I just feel thankful that all of this happened to me, this is why I’ve reached somewhere," said the filmmaker-choreographer whose latest directorial venture, the superhero movie A Flying Jatt releases next week.

To be sure, D’Souza has never had any formal training in dance. Then how does he manage to offer such deep insights on the multiple disciplines that he judges on television reality shows? He laughs, a little embarrassed. “I used to do break-dance when I was studying in Gujarat. I’ve learnt everything on my own."

Popstar Michael Jackson has been an inspiration, he admits. “We used to get VHS tapes back then and my friend who ran a video parlour, told me one day there’s some singer called Michael Jackson and I should watch his dance. He played Jackson’s Thriller for me and that one song changed my entire perspective, I realized this was what I wanted to do in life. So then I started watching more videos and performing in my local area," recalls the 44 year-old director whose movie fare as a child included everything from Bollywood to Bruce Lee. “After coming to Mumbai too, I learnt about more dance forms myself."

However, his ultimate goal was always to get into direction. “Seedhi chahiye thi mujhe (I needed a ladder), the first step was dancer, the second choreographer, the third reality show judge and after that, I became a director," he said.

D’Souza’s first film as director was Jackky Bhagnani-starrer F.A.L.T.U (2011), a satire on the education system that the filmmaker calls ‘a tale of 33 per centers like me.’ The bigger break came two years later though with 3D dance drama ABCD: Anybody Can Dance that coincided with his tryst with reality television.

“I saw all this amazing talent and realized I never had a platform or a godfather, it took me so long to make it (in this industry). What happened to me shouldn’t happen to them)," D’Souza said. His team comprising contestants like Dharmesh Yelande, Salman Yusuff Khan, Raghav Juyal and others who’ve featured in his movies, is family now.

When D’Souza decided to make a dance-based film on the lines of what he’d seen working on television, there were only two people who believed in the script, he says—founder and then-chief executive officer of the UTV Group, Ronnie Screwvala and former senior creative director, studios, Disney UTV, Rucha Pathak.

“The dance genre was still not something that was done well in Indian cinema and so we were very clear this could be built into a franchise," Screwvala recalled. “The potential appeal (of ABCD) was clear from the characters which were very relatable as was the underdog team that prevails but not without sacrifice and struggle—which is something young adults relate to now and even then."

Amrita Pandey, vice-president, Studios, Disney India adds that ABCD was ambitious for a 3D movie with new young actors but even when they watched the first cut, it was clear they had a very special franchise going. The film that netted 45 crore in India immediately spawned a bigger sequel.

“After the success of ABCD, it was clear we wanted to scale up ABCD 2 and with the casting of Shraddha Kapoor and Varun Dhawan and making the movie Disney-branded, we drew in not only the youth but also kids and families," Pandey emphasized.

ABCD 2 ended up crossing the 100 crore mark at the box office when released last year and D’Souza is already out with his superhero comedy A Flying Jatt starring Tiger Shroff. Clearly, the intention is not to make only dance-based films.

“I don’t choose scripts, I write my own stories and I love and believe in them," D’Souza said. “Whenever a story comes to mind, I narrate it to my wife and friend and they tell me if it works."

To be sure, the now-successful filmmaker doesn’t ever want to give up choreography and plans to balance both jobs, as demanding as they may be.

“Remo has a great sense of energy which he brings to life both in his dance forms and now in his direction and storytelling ," Screwvala said. “Having worked so closely with directors on multiple films as a choreographer gave him that clarity and discipline when he embarked on his directorial debut with ABCD and now with a franchise under his belt and some new genres he is working on, he is as much a director as a choreographer which I am sure remains his first love."

The choreographer-director who says he’s only halfway through his roller-coaster journey believes there is nothing that can stop outsiders from making it in the movie industry.

“I would say if you’re talented, it’s not tough for anybody. It’s only tough when you don’t know your job," he said. “Otherwise, in this age of the Internet, reality shows, films, theatre and stage shows, I don’t think talented people have to struggle much. You just have to have talent of a kind that nobody else does."

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