Birju Maharaj had worked with Kamal Haasan, Rekha, Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone and Madhuri Dixit Nene. But in several interviews, the Kathak legend had admitted that Madhuri was his favourite student on the set with whom he had worked in Devdas, Dil Toh Pagal Hain and Dedh Ishqiya. In 2002, he worked with her on Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas. For the song, Kahe Chhed Mohe, Birju Maharaj composed the music, penned the lyrics and choreographed the track. Madhuri mostly emoted through her eyes in the song.
The Kathak maestro, who passed away at his Delhi home late on Sunday after suffering a cardiac arrest, didn’t need words to express his inner emotions. His mudras spoke a thousand words.
Remembering the dance guru, Madhuri said she learnt the intricacies of ‘abhinay” (acting) from him. The actress also said the legend never failed to make her laugh.
Fondly known as Maharaj ji or Pandit ji, Birju Maharaj had a long association with films. He didn’t work on many but the few he did, he created history. The recipient of Padma Vibhushan was able to create a fine balance between classical dance and Bollywood style.
He worked mostly with Madhuri, his association with the actress having begun on the set of Dil Toh Pagal Hain in 1997.
In the Yash Chopra film, Madhuri was seen dancing to an instrumental with Shah Rukh Khan playing the drums. The fusion piece is still afresh in the minds of the dance aficionados.
“I had watched many of his performances but met him for the first time in the USA, when I attended his workshop. I was expecting a straight dance practice but was surprised when the first thing he asked me was to show him the Ek, Do, Teen move,” Madhuri had once said in an interview.
“He was a legend but had a child-like innocence. He was my guru but also my friend. He taught me the intricacies of dance and Abhinay but never failed to make me laugh at his funny anecdotes,” the actress wrote on Twitter.
Birju Maharaj had developed a bond with director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. He again worked with Bhansali in Bajirao Mastani. This time, he had to train actress Deepika Padukone. The Mohe Rang Do Laal is one of the highlight songs of the film. In an interview, Birju Maharaj had said that he had watched her in Happy New Year and appreciated her as an actress. But he believed she should have worked more on her classical moves, which could have improved her dancing abilities.
Birju Maharaj had high praises for Bhansali’s aesthetic sense too. “Sanjay bhai has a brilliant aesthetic sense. He knows what suits better. He is a trained Odissi dancer. We share a strong bond since Devdas. Our viewpoints match and that helps to bring out the best in both of us,” Birju Maharaj had said.
A descendant of the Maharaj family of Kathak dancers, which includes his two uncles, Shambhu Maharaj and Lachhu Maharaj, and his father and guru, Acchan Maharaj, Birju Maharaj started teaching dance at the age of 13.
Also a singer par excellence, Birju Maharaj had composed and sang for two dance sequences in Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977). One sequence was featured on Wajid Ali Shah (Amjad Khan), and another was a solo performance. Before that, he had choreographed for songs like Makhan Chori and Phaag Bahar. Later, he choreographed Rekha in Umrao Jaan, and Amisha Patel in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha.
The legend made Kamal Haasan dance in Vishwaroopam, which fetched him the National Film Award for Best Choreography.
Haasan said he has learnt a lot from Birju Maharaj as his student just by watching him from a distance as Ekalavya and then by working with him closely during Vishwaroopam.
In Karan Johar’s production Kalank, he took Alia Bhatt under his aegis and trained her for Ghar More Pardesiya. Reports suggest Birju Maharaj was working with Bhansali for his upcoming web series Heeramandi.