We were talking in the Jab Tak Hai Jaan review about how “Ishq Shava” was such a different style of dance for Shahrukh and that got me thinking about the other songs that really showcase his dancing. If I miss one, feel free to add it in the comments. Oh, and this is NOT “Best Songs”. There’s all kind of amazing song sequences with perfect performances from him that are not included here, because they didn’t highlight dancing.
I’m just gonna start at the top with “Chaiyya Chaiyya”. The whole song is fantastic, with the train going around the mountain and all of that. But if you isolate it down to just Shahrukh’s moves, it’s a varied combination of movements and he keeps going for most of the song.
And then there’s the song that inspired this, “Ishq Shava”. Or rather, the opening wordless sequence when he dances with Katrina.
Maybe it’s something about “Ishq”, because “Ishq Kameena” was similarly difficult and elaborate.
As he’s gotten older, his dancing in general has become less athletic. His knees-back-shoulder-collarbone issues tend to restrain him. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the dances have become less difficult. “Chammak Challo”, for instance, has a wide variety of complex movements (check out the complicated scarf flip/drag at about 1:20).
It’s amazing how little he actually dances when you look back at his career. In his first several movies the song sequences involved him doing motorcycle stunts, sexily looking at the heroine, or just walking a few steps, standing, walking, standing, more than actually dancing. It wasn’t until “Kaali Kaali Aankhen” that he really let loose. His moves are less defined and precise than they will be in “Chammak Challo” years later, but he makes up for it with the energy.
During this era he was far less likely to be leading the chorus, and far more likely to be showing up for a simple gesture here and there as the heroine and the back-up dancers took the lead. He brought his acting performance to the song more than his dancing ability, his expressions perfectly matching the words. For an example of that, look at “Sachi Yeh Kahaani”, one of his first songs with Farah (the choreographer who knows best how to work within his limitations and strengths):
With Farah guiding him, Shahrukh had years of similar dances, a few simple movements heavy on the knees and shoulders, the chorus backing him up, and quick edits to hide any mistakes. “Ghunghte Main Chanda Hai” from Koyla is a good example of this.
It’s not that he couldn’t do more, and it is no coincidence that the era of “kick forward, kick back, PUNCH” dance moves overlapped with his era of the most film output. These dances were quick to learn and quick to film and enjoyable to watch. But when he slowed down and started making fewer films, the dancing began to get complex. “Chaiyya Chaiyya” I already covered, and then a few years later he made “Soni Soni” from Mohabbetein. He was the lead dancer in a remarkably fast-paced and complex dance. The moves were still the same familiar Bhangra-like knee and elbow movements, but sped up and bigger, not just a kick but a leap, followed by a kick, a punch, a kick, all in just a few seconds.
By now Shahrukh’s years of dancing had begun to pay off. Even in something like “Yeh Ladki Hai Allah” from K3G, his moves were smoother and faster. And when he was handed a real challenge, he perfected it easily. Like “Preity Woman” in Kal Ho Na Ho. Hardly a repeated move, at a fast pace, while lipsynching, and using both hand and leg moves at once. Not to mention leading the chorus.
The Farah-Shahrukh collaboration reached it’s peak with Main Hoon Na, he gave her all the time she needed and she gave him the biggest dance challenges yet. “Gori Gori” in particular is both complex and athletic, while still having that distinctive Farah-Shahrukh feel in the strong rather than delicate movements.
Main Hoon Na was the culmination, but also the partial death of Farah-Shahrukh. After a decade of working together almost exclusively (Saroj Khan and Shiamak Devar were mixed in, but it was mostly Farah), Farah was now too busy to always be at his beck and call. So Shahrukh was forced out of his comfort zone, had to work with new people like Bosco-Ceaser who gave him simple and yet distinctly different movements in “Yeh Tara Woh Tara”. More fluid, less bouncy.
As Shahrukh increasingly focused on his acting, his dancing began to fall by the wayside. Films like Don, Chak De India, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, he remained in character during the songs. Which meant little movement, the classic song sequences from those films are about him striding through the screen, making a small impactful gesture or expression, and moving on. Even Om Shanti Om had his character taking control, the classic songs “Dard-E-Disco” and “Dhoom Tana” were about him reacting to the heroine, or posing so that others could react to him, not the actual dance moves. It wasn’t until Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi that he had another real dancing challenge. “Haule Haule” is the most difficult because it is the most simple. A few movements, but he has to do them perfectly with no back-up dancers to support him, and while walking down a busy street or standing on top of a car.
“Haule Haule” was followed by “Chammak Challo” and “Ishq Shava”, Shahrukh’s late in career stretching of the hardwon skills of 20 years of dancing. And then Happy New Year was supposed to be a movie about a dance team, but in fact it was Farah and Shahrukh’s little joke on how easy it is to fake dancing if you do it right. The secret of the film is that the actual dance moves are not very good, it is the splash around them that makes them stand out. It wasn’t until Jab Harry Met Sejal that Shahrukh once again attempted a truly difficult dance performance. All the songs are fun and intelligent and complex, but it is only in “Radha” that the complexity comes from the actual dance movements, rather than the character performance he is trying to convey. It involves multiple complicated movements, none of which are similar to what Shahrukh has done before (small hand gestures rather than big elbow pumps). And it has to be done while going up and down a steep stone staircase. And staying in character. And perfectly matching with his dance partner. And at a rapid pace. An extraordinarily difficult challenge, which he could not have accomplished earlier in his dance career, although he probably could have done it with much less pain back then.