Nakul Dev Mahajan, the American dancer, and choreographer – best known for his choreography on ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ is also a part of “Mira, Royal Detective,” which launches today at 11 am EST on Disney Channel and at 7 pm EST on Disney Junior. In an exclusive interview with us, he talks about having the opportunity to work with Disney in this one of a kind project, which truly puts South Asian representation in the mainstream media.
DissDash: How was this experience for you?
Nakul Dev Mahajan: It was an absolute dream come true. Just to be able to be associated with such a beautiful animated series on Disney Junior, celebrating the culture and tradition of India, I am actually pinching myself that I am choreographing for these characters.
DissDash: How was this experience different than your previous work?
Mahajan: This is the first time that I am working with animation. I have never done that before. I have mostly done movies or television, but here, being the resident choreographer for the series, creating movements that too for animation, it was a learning experience for me. I am a huge Disney fan to being with and I have seen every Disney movie multiple times. The hard-working, brilliant team behind it are the real magicians. The process is that I go through the script and the music for each episode. The music tells the story and is different for each episode. I understand what is going on with the characters. From there I come up with the choreography. Then I send the videos to their team of how the movements should look like – it’s me and my assistant dancing full out. We also send videos which are like tutorials describing the nuances and the details of each step. The animation team then creates the movements in different layers and when they are done you see yourself in an animated way in a child dancing like you. It’s quite remarkable.
DissDash: It sounds really cool! What were some of the challenges that you experienced?
Mahajan: The main challenge that I always feel I have is making sure that I am getting it right and having that sense of responsibility. And when you are talking about representing a culture the stakes are higher. For me, Bollywood is something that I have been living, breathing, and eating for more than 30 years of my career and fortunately, I have also had the opportunity to represent Bollywood in a few major platforms in America.
The added pressure with this series was that this is for children. And the demographic we are aiming for are ages 2 to 7. At this stage, children are very observant, they have a lot of questions and they are like sponges. So there is also an educational part in this and to make sure that my part in this is done accurately. It was very important to me. So I took each piece that I was creating and made sure that I kept the integrity and the authenticity of what the piece is about. My angle was, of course, Bollywood, but something to also note is that the series has been so wonderful to allow me to bring in other forms of Indian dance. So there are pieces in which you will be seeing Ghoomer from Rajasthan and Bhangra from Punjab.
DissDash: We are excited as this is such a mainstream representation and our culture and will be shared with everyone else!
Mahajan: Correct! It is going to be aired in 160 countries, which is mind-blowing. This is a groundbreaking project. Not just for Disney Junior, but there has been nothing like this that has ever been done. So many people are going to watch it and its a really proud moment for us to see this kind of representation and see this kind of stories that we can identify with. It would be a very educational experience for people who don’t know what a ladoo is or who don’t know what Diwali is, or what the other customs we have in India. What I love most about it is that it celebrates the different types of people that we see in India. It is truly a representation of the diverse palette that we have and what makes India such a rich country culturally.
DissDash: What is the one thing you take away from this experience?
Mahajan: Gratitude! I definitely feel that I have been given this precious gift of these characters, of these stories and this music and having the opportunity to create movements for a project that I will perhaps will always be grateful and indebted to. I just feel that this show is going to give so many children a feeling of identity all over again and a feeling of being proud of who they are. Then again this show is not made only for South Asians. At the core of it, we have this little girl that is calling the shots, making decisions and solving these mysteries – and I love that she does all this with a smile on her face and a little song and dance, which any person from any background is going to love.
(Nakul Dev Mahajan is the founder and artistic director of NDM Dance Productions and Studios, a Bollywood dance company based in Artesia, CA.)