In Conversation With Nakul Dev Mahajan: Turning Your Dream into a Reality
Passion, love, and persistence. These are all qualities that radiated from the renowned choreographer, Nakul Dev Mahajan, after just a short conversation. Known to most as “Hollywood’s favorite Bollywood Choreographer”, Nakul has had a significant role in bringing Bollywood up to international platforms. Not only has he established the FIRST Bollywood dance school in the United States (NDM Dance), but he has also choreographed for So You Think You Can Dance, Americas Best Dance Crew, Miss America 2014 Pageant, and the White House Diwali Celebration! I would like to take the opportunity to thank him for taking the time out of his day to talk to and inspire us all with his story, so lets begin!
Beginnings – How Nakul was introduced to Bollywood
At an early age, he was introduced to Bollywood movies and dance by his parents. He was drawn specifically to Bollywood music, and started to dance in his room secretly. In the seventies, dance was not looked upon favorably by the South Asian community, so he did not dance in public until he was sixteen years old!
Dance and Storytelling
Storytelling. For Nakul, dance is supposed to depict a story and portray it just as any novel would: with a beginning, body, and end. He references older Bollywood dancers such as Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi to depict the “golden age” of Bollywood, as in recent times Bollywood has strayed away from expression, storytelling, and Indian culture – all factors that made it unique.
Like a true artist, Nakul responded to this question by telling us that he finds inspiration everywhere. He plays the roles of a choreographer, a teacher, and an artistic direction, which all require different types of inspiration. He did, however, mention that some of his inspiration comes from his childhood (watching Bollywood movies) as well as work done by other artists.
A mixture of Bollywood with folk, classical, and modern styles. He also mentioned that Saroj Khan was his favorite choreographer, and that there are hints of her style in his choreography!
Dance as a Career
After his first performance (at the age of sixteen), Nakul was offered to dance at weddings and parties in his community. This was followed by people approaching him for dance lessons, which provided for a smooth transition into the field. After a while, however, his parents wanted him to get a college degree, as a condition for their supporting his interest in the arts. After getting his degree in Sociology, with a minor in dance, Nakul made the decision to open the FIRST Bollywood dance school in the nation (a blessing for all of the Bollywood fanatics out there!!)! Although it was a gut feeling at the time, with only sixty initial students, within one year he had managed to double the number. Currently, NDM Dance has five hundred constant students and one hundred drop ins!
Finding the Courage to do What You Love
Nakul responded to this question by explaining that we are on this planet for such a short time, so we should spend that time making a difference. To be successful we have to first make ourselves happy, and then make others happy by sharing our passion. None of us should have to feel like a pawn in the world by pursuing something that we don’t love. By not following our passion, we end up not meeting our full potential, therefor not making as much of an impact as we should. Furthermore, we should always support people who are courageous to follow their passion and not make them feel as if it is lesser than becoming a doctor or engineer.
Mahajan mentions that challenges have always been a part of his life, whether it was being bullied as a child (for being Indian and being gay), or having to fight cancer as an adult. He also had to deal with a lot of criticism from society for following an unconventional career path for South Asians. Eventually, he said, that he learnt how to “roll with the punches”. We just have to realize that despite your current situation, you will always come out in the end. Moreover, we have to realize that our situation is not horrible. Horrible would be to not have food to eat, or to be a refuge.
A Happy Bollywood Ending
Being the humble person that he is, Nakul said that he never thought of himself in that light. He told us that to get to where he is now, he had to face a lot of rejection and come back with even more perseverance. No one can become an overnight success, you have to put in the hard work. He went on to say that he was “chasing a dream on a road that wasn’t even paved yet”. People tend to see the success and not look at all of the blood, sweat and tears that went into it. Now that he is finally enjoying the fruit of his labors, it does feel good!
He also believes that the success and opportunities that have come his way because he never hurt anyone while trying to follow his dreams. In an industry that has a lot of back stabbing, he had to make sure that he kept to his morals. Mahajan also mentioned that he was a believer in karma, and that the universe takes note of our actions. His advice to everyone would be to “follow your dreams without being deceitful!”
Once again, I would like to thank Mr. Mahajan for not only bringing the vibrant nature of Bollywood to the United States, but also for inspiring all of us to follow our passion and make a difference!