Actor Saif Ali Khan says it won't be possible to listen to a Hindi film song without acknowledging the legacy of ace choreographer Saroj Khan, who made the biggest names in Bollywood dance to her tunes.
Khan, the name behind some of the most famous songs in Bollywood such as "Dhak Dhak" and "Ek Do Teen", died aged 71 of cardiac arrest early on Friday morning.
Calling the three time National Award winner the "greatest and the most artistic choreographer", Saif said how her name attached to a project was a merit enough for producers.
"A song with her often became real art, with every beat and step requiring an emotion and expression... That era is gone and that music is over.
"But for all of us who have had the privilege of being instructed on set by that great lady, will never be able to hear a Hindi film song without thinking of how she has made the greatest names in Bollywood from Amitabh Bachchan, Sridevi to Shah Rukh khan and Madhuri Dixit, dance to her tunes," Saif said in a statement.
The actor worked with Khan in his debut, the 1993 multi-starrer "Parampara" followed by "Aashik Awara" the same year, the title track of which not only became a hit but, according to Saif, "stabilised my floundering career".
"She had me doing some trademark moves on my knees on a sweaty incredibly hot and crowded set with no air conditioner and lots of chemical smoke...
"I finished the step and found I had torn the knees of my trousers and blood was trickling down my leg. I told Saroj ji or 'Masterji' as I called her, and she said 'oh don't worry about blood. See where this blood takes you in life'," Saif recalled.
The "Jawaani Jaaneman" actor said Khan's style of choreography made the music come alive with "grace and sensuality" and remembered how he would practice her steps for hours on sets.
"But we were never allowed to change the step to make it easier. That was not her work ethic. She knew what 'style' suited each of us actors best and would create that for us."
The 49-year-old said Khan once made him rehearse a song for a week and had him perform in front of the entire unit, which would become one of his biggest hits: "Ole Ole" from "Yeh Dillagi" in 1994.
"When I finished panting, she said 'ok, now forget all that, now that you're easy with the song let's try something better!' That song was 'Ole Ole' and she took a hit song to another level. I must have performed this song a few hundred times on stage on international tours, often three times in a row to 'encores'."
Saif said he owes it to Khan — and her then assistants, choreographers Jojo and Ahmed Khan — for the song that turned him into a "dancing star".
"An incredible feat as I have two left feet," he added.
Khan got her first break as an independent choreographer with "Geeta Mera Naam" in 1974 but it took Sridevi's "Hawa Hawai" song in 1987 film "Mr India" for her to receive acclaim as a dance choreographer of repute.
Her collaborations with Madhuri Dixit, on songs like "Ek Do Teen" in "Tezaab", "Tamma Tamma Loge" in "Thanedar", "Dhak Dhak Karne Laga" in "Beta" and "Dola Re Dola" from Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Devdas", got her further acclaim and recognition.
Khan last choreographed for "Tabaah Hogaye", featuring Madhuri, from filmmaker Karan Johar's production "Kalank" in 2019.