By Akanksha Gupta Last Updated:
Words are less to define the person, who had not only introduced but had given the true meaning to the word 'choreographer' and made everyone fall in love with the charm of dance! Born on November 22, 1948, in Bombay State, Nirmala Nagpal a.k.a., Saroj Khan had begun her career as a child artist at the age of 3 and later as a background dancer in the late 1950s. Over her career span of over four decades, Saroj ji's legacy will continue forever with the work she has left to follow.
If there's one 'master ji' in the Hindi film industry, then it has to be Saroj Khan! Saroj Ji was one of the pioneers in the world of dance when it came to choreography and paved the path for aspiring choreographers. She has given us innumerable signature dance moves and hits that everyone, including us, would love to copy at every party or occasion. While we know a lot about Saroj's professional life, little is known about her personal life. Did you know that Saroj Khan had married her guru, dance director, B. Sohanlal when she was just 13 years old? Let's take a sneak peek into her personal life.
According to a report, Saroj Khan revealed how her parents had to move to India from Pakistan after the partition. She said,
"My parents moved to India from Pakistan after partition. My father, Kishanchand Sadhu Singh was a Punjabi, while my mother, Noni, a Sindhi. My father had a flourishing business in Pakistan but he had to leave everything behind when he came to India. I was born in India. Even as a two-year-old child, I loved to dance. Since we were in dire straits, my parents put me in films. I was three when I got my first break in Nazrana. I played the little Shyama, sitting on the moon and singing a song."
Saroj Khan's parents had changed her name from Nirmala Nagpal because he didn't want his orthodox family to know that his daughter works in the film industry. Saroj Khan elaborated,
"My original name was Nirmala. My father changed my name to Saroj when he put me in the movies, so that his orthodox family would not know the truth about his little daughter working in films, which was not considered very respectable in those days. From a child artiste, I became a group dancer and then graduated to being an assistant dance master and finally dance master."
How she married her already-married dance guru, B. Sohanlal at the age of 13 and her reaction to getting to know about his marital status when she had given birth to their first child, Saroj Khan had recalled,
"To date, I haven't taken any formal training in dance. I learned my dance from the well-known dance master B Sohanlal. He taught me the basics of Kathak, Kathakali, Manipuri, Bharata Natyam et al. I was barely 13, a schoolgirl, when I married master Sohanlal. He was 43 at that time. I did not know what marriage meant at that time. He just put a black thread around my neck one day and I thought I was married. He didn't tell me that he was already married with four kids. I learned about his first wife only when I gave birth to my first child, my son Raju Khan, in 1963. I was 14 then, too young to comprehend or handle the complicated situation."
In a throwback interview with a media portal, Saroj Khan had revealed how she had gotten married to her dance guru, Sohanlal,
"I used to study in school those days, then one day my dance master Sohanlal tied a black thread around my neck and I got married."
Expressing how, when her guru ji used to dance with someone else, it used to make her feel jealous, Saroj Khan had said in an interview,
"I was so much in love with my Guruji. If I saw another dancer with him I would burn with jealousy." At the age of 14, Saroj Khan had embraced motherhood with her first child, Hamid Khan (a popular choreographer, known by the name of Raju Khan). Saroj Khan and Sohanlal had separated in 1965, but when he suffered a heart attack, they had reunited. Then the couple got blessed with their second child, Hina Khan, but she died after 8 months. Sohanlal had refused to give their children his name, so, Saroj Khan had raised her children as a single mother. Speaking about how her married life with Sohanlal ended with him, leaving his family by completely disappearing from their lives and shifting to Madras, Saroj Khan had stated,
"In 1965, I gave birth to my second child, a daughter who died within eight months of birth. Around that time, Sohanlal and I parted ways as he refused to give my children his name. Towards the end of 1969, he approached me again to be his assistant. When I refused, he lodged a complaint against me with the Cine Dancer's Association. I resigned myself and started working with him again. Around that time, he suffered a heart attack. I went to see him and there was that one night when I was with him. I conceived my daughter, Kuku. After that he completely disappeared from my life and settled in Madras."
In an interview with a TV channel, Saroj Khan had said, "I had converted to Islam on my own wish. At that time many people asked me if there was any pressure on me but it was not so. I get inspired by the religion of Islam."
Throwing some light on her professional life and her second marriage with a businessman, Sardar Roshan Khan, Saroj Khan had elaborated,
"I worked very hard after that to raise my children. I had two kids to bring up. I was very close to Sadhana, Vyjayanthimala, Minoo Mumtaz, Kum Kum, Helen, Sharmila Tagore, Mala Sinha, Waheeda Rehman, right down to Zeenat Aman. It was Sadhana who gave me my first break as a dance master in the film Geeta Mera Naam (1974). She was very attached to me and told R K Nayyar that she didn't want any other dance director to compose her dances. Around that time, I met a Pathan, a businessman named Sardar Roshan Khan. He was married with kids but he fell deeply in love with me. He was willing to accept my children and give them his name unlike Sohanlal, so I married him in 1975. He turned out to be Godsend, and I haven't regretted my decision to date. He gave me a lot of love and his first wife and I live like sisters today. You accept a lot when you love a man."
Speaking of the relationship she shares with her son, Raju and what she wants to become in the next birth, Saroj Khan had remarked,
"My son, Raju and I are friends more than family. We fight like cats and dogs, but we always sort out our differences. I accepted his first wife Shabnam and she lives with me. Professionally, Raju and I are rivals. He keeps telling me to retire and make space for others but I have no such plans. I still have a lot to do. My dance is my life. As of now, I'm still fit enough to do work, even though I have slowed down the pace. I am happy being a part of this industry. It's family to me. More than my family, it has stood by me. Looking back all these years, all in all, it's been a good life. I thank God for it. Every morning when I get up and do Namaaz, I thank the almighty for everything he has given me. If God were to ask me what I want to become in my next birth, I'd say, Saroj Khan again."
Speaking on Saroj Khan's professional front, she had shifted her focus to choreography and after working as an assistant choreographer, she had finally got her breakthrough as an independent choreographer with the film, Geeta Mera Naam (1974). However, it took her a few more years to achieve the fame she had strived for and she finally bagged the love with her work with Sridevi in the film, Mr India. Since then, there has been no looking back for the choreographer. Saroj ji had managed to steal our hearts with some groovy numbers and is often credited for making Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Shilpa Shetty Kundra, Kajol, Kangana Ranaut, Alia Bhatt and many more B-town actresses, graceful dancers that they're today!
In a throwback interview with India.com, Saroj Khan had revealed how dearly she loves and respects her favourite, Madhuri Dixit and the reason behind it she explained to be the kind of respect the latter gives to her, she has never received from anyone else. Recalling the moments when Madhuri had begun her journey in the industry, Saroj Khan had said that she had to teach what Bollywood dancing meant to a girl, who was a trained classical dancer. She had proudly recalled how she had difficulty in making Madhuri learn about the importance of 'shaking her hips'.
Saroj Khan had reminisced her treasured moments from the industry which included the work that became her identity, the love she had for dance, her passion for seeking perfection in every tiny step, and her camaraderie with her most blessed student ever.
On July 3, 2020, the Hindi film industry lost another gem as the 71-year-old choreographer, Saroj Khan breathed her last in Mumbai after suffering from cardiac arrest.
Devastated by Saroj Khan’s demise, Madhuri Dixit took a trip down memory lane and posted some treasured gems with her masterji. Speaking of her journey of dance with Saroj Khan, Madhuri penned a eulogy, "I'm devastated and at an utter loss of words today! Saroj ji was part of my journey since the beginning. She taught me a lot, not just about dance but so much more. There's a rush of memories in my head thinking of this big personal loss. My heartfelt condolences to the family."
RIP Bollywood legend Saroj Khan.