The work of Bollywood choreographer Nakul Dev Mahajan has appeared everywhere from "So You Think You Can Dance" to a White House Diwali celebration with Michelle Obama to the 2014 Miss America pageant. But despite the variety of his resumé, Mahajan's latest gig marks a first for him: creating movement for an animated series.
The new children's show "Mira, Royal Detective" follows a spirited Indian girl who solves mysteries. Along the way, each episode incorporates authentic Indian music and dance. The series premieres in the U.S. on March 20, on Disney Junior and the Disney Channel, before being rolled out to an estimated 160 countries on Disney's global platforms.
We caught up with Mahajan to chat about translating his choreography into animations for the masses.
The Creative Process
"It starts off with me getting the script and the music and having a few phone call meetings with the writers, the executive producers and the brilliant team behind this show from Wild Canary and Disney Junior.
"Then I start the process of creating what the narrative is because Bollywood is a storytelling form of dance. I choreograph the piece, and videotape myself and my assistants, and send the videos over to their team. That's when the process becomes more magical, when the artists take you and your body and they create it into this amazing animatic."
Getting the Details Right
"Bollywood movement can be very stylistic. These [animation] artists are not professional dancers, so sometimes it's difficult to absolutely understand how my body moves. With my videos, I am giving a step-by-step tutelage of the movement.
"They're so meticulous about getting it right, so I get multiple versions until the final product is ready. This is a cultural form that's going to be airing across many countries, so we need to make sure that this is right and not just make a cookie-cutter version of Bollywood, which quite often happens.
"What's also wonderful is that I had the opportunity to teach many of the artists a little workshop—and that is very unheard of. No one's a Bollywood dancer, but the team was so interested. We got a few people moving and dancing, just for them to really feel it."
Nakul Dev Mahajan and Khushy Niazi in the studio
Courtesy Disney Junior
Not Just Bollywood
"India has so many different styles of dance. And what people sometimes don't realize is that Bollywood is a fusion form, taking from the many styles of dance in India but also from around the world. What 'Mira, Royal Detective' has done is not just celebrate Bollywood and the subgenres of what Bollywood is today—because the style has evolved so much—but there are episodes that feature real, authentic styles of Indian dance from different regions.
"There'll be a bhangra number, from the state of Punjab, which I am just all over 'cause it's so well done. There is a folk form called ghoomar, which is from the state of Rajasthan, that we'll be seeing as well. And then we'll be seeing Bollywood hip hop, which is very, very popular right now."
Why the World Needs Bollywood
"What Bollywood, for me, brings is a sense of celebration. Generally speaking, it is a very happy form of dance. Although there is a lot of technique to it, it is something that people can pass on and enjoy. And that's always been my feedback whenever people have seen Bollywood or my pieces: They're like, 'Wow, I just want to jump up and dance.' To be able to create that on this platform for children and with animation, which resonates on a different level—almost on a magical level—it's been truly a gift."