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Javed Jaffrey: India's lord of the dance

Indian actor Javed Jaffrey on judging the BollyRock dance competition in Dubai.
Javed Jaffrey says he is much kinder to contestants than Simon Cowell. Jaime Puebla / The National
Javed Jaffrey says he is much kinder to contestants than Simon Cowell. Jaime Puebla / The National

One of Javed Jaffrey's pet peeves is being labelled.

"I so hate the term Bollywood," the Indian actor and dancer said upon a recent visit to Dubai. "I know it's become synonymous with the industry but really we are 'Indian cinema'."

Best known for his comic caricatures in Hindi cinema, notably his portrayal of a teenage thug in the film Bombay Boys 13 years ago, Jaffrey has also been the face of India's popular dance show Boogie Woogie since 1996.

"I've been judging a dance show for the past 16 years and we've just gone off air. So I intend to start a new, much bigger show soon, which will also be a bit more international and I'm looking forward to that."

Far from being India's answer to Simon Cowell, Jaffrey takes an altogether more measured approach.

"I was on air long before American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance and because I come from India, sensitivity and a lot of respect are important," he said. "I don't like to insult people and I encourage them. If I do have to play on certain points I do that in a way that wouldn't hurt someone, but at the same time gets the point across."

It was Jaffrey's diplomacy and critiquing skills that saw him appointed the star judge in Dubai's answer to Boogie Woogie: the BollyRock dance competition that was held at Ductac in Dubai's Mall of the Emirates on Wednesday.

Seven schools with teams of 10 to 100 students competed in two categories - juniors and seniors - on Wednesday evening, presenting their dance routines to the panel of three judges, which also included the Dubai fashion boutique owner Juhi Yasmeen Khan and Abhi Sheikh, the director of culture and entertainment at Dubai Global Village.

"Every year we aim to bring a bigger challenge to the UAE and I think this year we have managed to do so," said BollyRock's producer Aysel Duman, who believes Jaffrey's presence elevated the standard of the annual competition.

The winners overall for the seniors and juniors were the Dubai Scholars school and the Ocean Kids Dance Studio respectively.

The Ocean Kids' choreographer Vinod Sequera worked for just two weeks with 14 children under 10 years of age to prepare for the event.

"We won with our dance, which had five elements, including Michael Jackson, Jabbawockeez, Robot and Tandav [Indian dance]," he said. "We received a trophy and a surprise gift for the children will be given also. I want to do the competition again next year and with a group of at least 25 children."

Of all the seven-minute routines Jaffrey watched, there was a specific criteria the top two teams had to meet to emerge as the victors.

"Choreography, rhythm, grace and presentation. Elements that are common right across the board when you look at a dance performance. Creativity and imagination also, so all of these things combined," he said. "I come like a blank canvas and love to see what the kids are doing and sometimes you learn from them and you find original ideas coming up."

Passionate about supporting burgeoning talent, Jaffrey readily lent his support to the BollyRock cause.

"We'd been talking for about 10 months and the organisers were very persistent, very passionate about the project," he says. "It caters to Indian schools but is open to everyone and I love working with children, seeing their creativity."

A firm believer in Indian cinema's ability to reach a mass global audience and bridge cultures, he wasn't surprised that more than 500 fans attended the Dubai event.

"I think it's a great form of enjoyment and escapism," he said. "In India, there's so much strife, pain and trouble that song, dance and going to the movies is respite. Some people [in other countries] go to the gym to unwind but for the common man in India who doesn't have those luxuries, he goes to the cinema for relaxation.

"I think India is the only country in the world with such an amount of cultural, religious and language diversity. With so much diversity, there had to be a platform with some common ground and that's what song and dance has become. Song, dance and cinema are so deeply within the Indian culture and with so many cultures incorporating their elements too, it has become a wonderful collage."



Updated: November 27, 2011 04:00 AM

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