If I remind you of hit Bollywood numbers like “Hari Om Hari” from the film Pyaara Dushman (1980), TuMujheJaan se Bhi Pyaara Hai from Wardaat (1981) and Rambha HoHoHo from Armaan (1982), what comes to your mind? To me when I think of these larger than life item numbers of the 1980’s,the only thing I reme mber is the sensual and stunning Kalpana Iyer and all her memorable hip gyrating moves. An epitome of grace and sensuality she took over the tradition of item songs from Helen, Bindu and Aruna Irani. She was one hot vamp who danced in every other films in the 1980’s era until her acting talent was displayed in films like Satte Pe Satta(1982),Anjaam (1994), Raja Hindustani (1996) and Hum Saath Saath Hai (1999). She was also critically acclaimed for her performance as a prison warden in the Shah Rukh Khan starrer Anjaam, in which she was hanged to death by Madhuri Dixit.
As a Bollywood choreo grapher, item songs of the 1970’s and 1980’s have always fascinated me. I have had the fortune of meeting Helen aunty many a times. Also Arpita and Alvira Khan, the two gorgeous sisters of
Salman Khan, are my students. But then Kalpana Iyer was one diva I always wanted to meet, since there was some divine connection with her. Though I had never met her before still there was something about her personality and over the top and larger than life image on screen that always attracted me to her.
Social media has brought the world closer and I realised this recently. My embodiment of Kalpana Iyer’s grace met me on a social networking site, (yes, you read it right on a social networking site!). She is now a restauranteur and lives in Dubai with her sister and her nephew.Also my recent trip to Dubai to judge Season Four of UAE’s Jhalak Dikhlaa Jaa – Dancing with the stars, gave me an opportunity to meet this dancing legend.
I walked into her Indian restaurant, Nizam, which show cases wonderful live music and dance each day. The moment I met her and touched her feet, she hugged me and as tears rolled down my eyes, I wondered why? Was it because I was meeting my dancing idol? Or was it that divine connection I felt with her even without meeting? I could not control my emotions and cried liked a baby in front of her. Soon after I took control of my emotions, I spoke to the winner of Miss India1978, for hours; who even till today has the beauty, charisma, charm and the zeal of a winner.
I am not trained in any form of dance
Long before item numbers became famous in Bollywood it was Kalpana Iyer who made that term famous thanks to her hip gyrating and sensual dance numbers in numerous 1980’s blockbusters. Choreographer and dancer, Sandip Soparkkar speaks about the Kalpana Iyer phenomenon to Afternoon Voice which completely changed his life and perspective towards dance.
Most South Indians normally train in Indian classical music and dance, since you have danced so beautifully, did you train in a particular dance form?
No, I am not trained in any form of dance at all. I did join a Bharata Natyam class as a kid but could not continue for monetary reasons and so all my dancing skills are self-taught and instinctive.
As a Bollywood dance icon you gave hits after hits. How was that different from learning or training in dance?
I am told that I used to move to music from the time I was a baby, I would always dance in my school annual function and at the Ganesh Chaturthi functions in my colony and since I was a keen observer and my memory was sharp I would watch and learn and retain everything, I never needed too many rehearsals. Stage taught me everything, it was my teacher, be it discipline and punctuality, it gave me a lot of confidence. Stage grooms you and is a tough task master comparised to film dancing which was a cake walk and so easy. I was an obedient student to my choreographer who become was my guru and I would listen and follow them without questioning as they were all veterans and master in their field. I was blessed by the best and all of them were wonderfully talented. I adored each one of them. As for hits, God was so kind that almost all my songs turned into chartbusters. The songs were catchy and peppy and most of them are popular even today.
Which is your favourite dance number,why?
That is the most difficult question to answer as I cannot pick a favourite number. Each one is special for some reason or the other for example, Lootmaar / Jab Chaye Mera Jadoo was my first dance number, and hence very special. I can’t forget Kudrat / Chodo Sanam, my first dance with starring biggies.
Pyaara Dushman/ Hari OM Hari was my first solo dance number.
Which choreographer did you love working with and why?
We called them ‘dance masters’ then. All my dance masters /choreographers were extremely special to me. Each one of them contributed to my
growth as a dancer in cinema.
Each one had his /her style which was unique and distinctive. I respect each one of them and express my gratitude towards them as whatever I am today is because of them and their complete belief in me. I was blessed to have worked with all such legends. A dance number you had most amount of difficulty working on.
No dance was difficult for me. I had tough dance masters but the ones I loved and respected, especially in the South,were the ones who demanded that you just had to be perfect and nothing less than that. There was no compromise irrespective of who you are (well I had sore feet, swollen knees, aches and pain all over!) but then the end result was good and I am glad still people remem ber the dances.
Now that you have been away from the industry do you miss all the attention?
If I say that I miss nothing, then that would not betrue. I miss everything about it but then time waits for no one, so I take pleasure in watching today’s generation and bless them all. They are all doing such fabulous work and I am proud of my film industry.
In today’s generation of actors / dancers, who’s dancing skills you appreciate and who is your favourite choreographer?
I am totally impressed by Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone. Both of them have it all, be it grace,style and dancing ability which is so effortless, smooth and a pleasure to watch. I also like Kareena Kapoor and Katrina Kaif as they both come across as sincere in their efforts and it shows in their dancing. The one person who brings tears of joy with his dancing is Hrithik Roshan.I sincerely believe that he poss esses a unique talent and no one comes close. There is one choreographer I like a lot and that is Prabhu Deva as he is different and a risk taker.
Any song from today or old you feel you would have loved to dance to on screen but never got a chance.
I am a total dance lover, I would have loved to do so many dance numbers that the list is a long one but, let me not go there at all. I had a lovely long fruitful innings and feel blessed and grateful.
After spending time with this legendary dancer, I realised that she is a rebel and this rebellious side of hers made her who she is today. In an age when heroines were not supposed to gyrate and swivel seductively, film scripts strictly left sensuality to dancers who performed the song sequences; it was Kalpanaji who did what many would never dare to or even think of doing.
From being a proficient model, beauty queen, walking for thousands of ramp shows all over the world and then turning to the cinema industry, becoming a dancer and vamp because of her dancing skills and moving to serious roles in films and later television, winning awards and acclaims for her talent and then giving it all up and living a life of an ordinary person working long hours in the hospitality industry, she is one lady who has done it all with her head held up high.
She is a true icon and an inspiration for all dancers and dance lovers as she has proved that work done with sincerity never goes unnoticed and there always comes a time in a dancer’s life when they have to hang their dancing shoes or ghungaroos and allow the younger generation to take the spotlight.
As a senior artist what will remain with her is love and blessings for Gen next.