Moves like Prabhu Deva: Choreographer Rahul Shetty on his tribute to Muqabla in Street Dancer 3D

Rahul Shetty couldn't have asked for a better dream project than Street Dancer 3D, directed by Remo D’Souza, where he gets to work with none other than dance icon, Prabhu Deva.
Prabhu Deva in Street Dancer 3D
Prabhu Deva in Street Dancer 3D

Chennai, January 4: Rahul Shetty couldn't have asked for a better dream project.

For the upcoming Street Dancer 3D, directed by Remo D’Souza, Shetty got to choreograph all of the movie’s songs, and also, the rare chance to work with none other than Prabhu Deva, for a remake of the classic hit, Muqabla, originally composed by AR Rahman for the 1994 film, Humse Hai Muqabala, and a version of the super-hit Mukkabla from the Tamil film, Kadhalan, the same year. 

We got to chat with Shetty about working with Prabhu Deva, along with Varun Dhawan and Shraddha Kapoor.

And, he instantly took us back to the ’90s, and evenings of watching dance videos on TV. Excerpts from the interview:

Give us the highlights of your last few days. How are things progressing with your new projects?
I’ve choreographed all the songs for Street Dancer 3D, and definitely, my favourite was Muqabla, because it was such an iconic song, and growing up as a dancer, Prabhu Deva was always an inspiration. He is amazing. My first independent choreography was also with him, so I was very lucky.

The moment Street Dancer happened, I knew Varun (Dhawan), Shraddha (Kapoor) and everyone were a part of the cast. But when we were informed that we will be doing Muqabla, I was really happy, as we don’t get to do this every day.

Are you approaching this as a tribute?
It is a tribute, as Muqabla was done 21 years back, and it still has the power that people remember and know it. Doing something on the same song or recreating it is always challenging, as there are chances that it might backfire, if this doesn’t go as well as the original. 

But thankfully, we have been getting good responses to the video, and the choreography. So, I think, whatever we did, the hard work we put in is paying off.

Will you be using the classic, original version?
The song is not the same, although, the hook line is the same, the arrangement is different. Likewise, the choreography is also new, keeping the hook a little similar with inspiration used from the original Muqabla. I didn’t want to change that.

How old were you when the original was released, and what were your recollections of the song?
When the song was released, I think, I was 8 years old. I used to watch it on TV. Back in the ’90s, there were no computers or social media, and the only source I had to learn was TV.

So, when Muqabla used to play on TV, I used to catch a few steps, copy them, and keep learning. That is my earliest memory of Muqabla.

After 21 years, when you’re in the industry as a choreographer, and you get to know you have the opportunity to do Muqabla — that was amazing for me.

<em>Prabhu Deva and Rahul Shetty</em>
Prabhu Deva and Rahul Shetty

Is Prabhu Deva as flexible as he used to be? 
This song has been choreographed by Raju Sundaram, while the original one was done by Prabhu Sir’s brother. So this time, when I got to choreograph the song, I made sure that his name is also there in the credits. 

I think Prabhu Sir has become even better now. He started off as a 20-year-old, just like us. And he still has the same energy and passion to learn something new — he comes with that mindset.

It becomes really easy for a choreographer to experiment with him, as he doesn’t say no to anything, and is up to try anything.

<em>Rahul Shetty</em>
Rahul Shetty

Prabhu Deva, just like we still compare with Michael Jackson, had a lot of typical, signature moves. Do you showcase any of those moves?
Yes, there are a few moves — like the one where he scratches his head and his backside together, at the same time — that was very iconic. We got him to do that again. Ultimately, it’s an amalgamation of the new and the old.

Varun Dhawan has been doing a lot to promote Indian hip-hop. Give us your thoughts on the same.
Definitely, I think a lot has to do with social media, because we didn’t have the right knowledge or training in India back then. With social media, and YouTube, kids in India now have become 
supremely talented.

<em>Poster of Street Dancer 3D</em>
Poster of Street Dancer 3D

I believe if someone can watch and learn a dance video, then anything is possible, because abroad, people do a lot of training classes, workshops and then learn something — but here in India, I think people are learning more from videos than from classes, which is a great thing.

And then, competing in world dance competitions and winning something — that’s commendable. 
I agree that in a few years, India is going to top in world dance competitions.

Do you personally listen to electronic music or do you only prefer Bollywood?
I listen to all kinds of songs, even in Bollywood now, there are many genres coming in including pop, rock and jazz.

I prefer listening to all kinds of music, so that you get a gist and knowledge of everything, because you never know what kind of songs you will get to choreograph.

<em>Prabhu Deva and Rahul Shetty</em>
Prabhu Deva and Rahul Shetty

Who are your favourite choreographers?
Bosco–Caesar (choreographer duo). I started working with them, and they were the ones who got me into the industry. Professionally, I got trained under Ahmed Khan and in the past few years, I've been working with Remo D'Souza. These are my three main inspirations.

Who would you say are the best dancers among actors and actresses in Bollywood today?
Varun (Dhawan) and Tiger (Shroff) - both of them are very good, keeping Hrithik Roshan aside, because he's the man! Among the actresses, I think Shraddha (Kapoor) and Disha (Patani) are the best.

Would you share your experience working with Varun and Shraddha?
They don't behave like stars. We are together almost like family. We work together, eat together, rehearse and shoot - so it's great fun.

Varun and Shraddha share great chemistry, and this is their second dance film together. So, now, they are used to each other, they know each other's flaws, and so they cope up very well with each other.

Do you think the evolution of Indian dance is going to explode in 2020?
Yes, I think Street Dancer 3D is the film where everything will come together, and with it, dancers will try and learn new stuff, and it will create an impact on dancers everywhere.

Tell us how you pick up moves and dance styles in your everyday life, as in the way chai walas can shake a leg, or kids on the streets? How do you pick your inspirations?
I generally pick up inspiration from regular daily life. Whenever I travel, I keep listening to music, and I see kids on the road dancing.

I see a traffic guy doing his moves. Whenever I get the time, I go to a nightclub, where I don't dance, but I just observe the random dance moves.

That's where the inspiration comes, they are the ones who do something without knowing they are doing it - their moves are coming directly from their hearts, and I connect more with what in my choreography.

Give us your top 3 songs to dance to right now?
It has to be Muqabla, and any song by Michael Jackson.

<em>Rahul Shetty</em>
Rahul Shetty

Street Dancer 3D releases in theatres on 24 January.

— Jaideep Sen

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