Few would argue if there is any better way to add a dash of razzmatazz and that quintessential ‘commercial-factor’ to a Pakistani movie than a well-choreographed, attention grabbing musical spectacle. Since the 1930s, when the then British Indian film industry first took its root in Lahore, song, dance and mainstream cinema have walked hand in hand. Naturally, following independence, Pakistani films kept up with the tradition and continued to feature elaborately rehearsed and shot song sequences, a legacy which the recently revived Pakistani film industry has held firmly on to. The last few years have seen many such scintillating numbers which while being popular in their own right have also contributed towards their respective films’ box-office success. And when it comes to getting the dance moves right for their show-stopping numbers, leading film makers in the country think no further than the dance maestro Nigah Hussain.
Starting his career during the Lollywood era of the 90s, Nigah has established his credentials as the go-to choreographer over a period of almost 20 years. From desi wedding numbers, so-called ‘item songs’ to middle-eastern belly dancing, his dance compositions have brought alive all genres of music on the screen. His repertoire features almost all the leading actors in the contemporary Pakistani film industry, who have in no small measure benefitted from his skillful moves.
While the ace choreographer’s resume features multitude of popular dance routines for everything from advertisements to music videos, here we talk to him about the seven songs from Pakistani cinema that are highlights of his illustrious career – in other words, the seven wonders he has beautifully crafted. Here are some excerpts from the conversation.
Shakar wandaan – Ho Mann Jahaan (2016)
Many can vouch about how this ethnic themed ‘Garbaa’ number took the nation by storm in the latter half of 2016, with its video going viral and dance enthusiasts showcasing its signature dance moves in a plethora of videos uploaded and shared on social media. The song generated immense curiosity about Ho Mann Jahaan — arguably even more than its trailer.
Nigah, clearly proud, enthuses “I had worked previously with (the director and ad-film maker) Asim Raza previously for Abrar-ul-Haq’s Sanu Tere Naal Pyar Ho Gaya (in 2000) and a number of advertisements. A lot of hard work went into Shakar Wandaan’s choreography, and the song had a lot of firsts to its credit. It was the first song whose steps were devised over a period of days, which were then rehearsed for 4 days and finally the song was then was shot on an elaborate and lavish set over another 4 day period. The sheer amount of effort the entire team put in was evident in the end result and the tremendous feedback we received from the audience.”
He added “We worked with a troupe of 60 back up dancers, 20 male and 40 female, so it was quite a humongous task to teach everyone the garba moves, some of which were very fast towards the end of the song, so it was a challenge.” He has fond words for star Mahira Khan, the song’s female lead performer, who he terms a “wonderful person” and someone who was “a pleasure to work with.”In short, according to Nigah, the iconic song “eventually became my identity.”
Few can forget how Mehwish Hayat grabbed everyone’s attention and turned overnight into the country’s hot new star with what was among the first professionally choreographed Pakistani performance numbers, or “item” numbers as colloquially called. Nigah fondly reminisces about this collaboration with her, offering high praise to the Punjab Nahi Jaungi star “Mehwish Hayat is a very professional, well-mannered and a hardworking girl. She rehearsed for three consecutive days for this song and treated me like her ustaad.”
The song was also Nigah’s first experience working with the ace director Nabeel Qureishi, who has a reputation for his meticulous approach and attention to detail – in other words, he is known for being a hard task master. “A lot of people may say it is tough to work with Nabeel Qureishi but I shared a terrific equation with him on the sets of this song.” Elaborating further on the song’s unusual soundstage, Nigah revealed “We shot the entire song in a maut ka kunwaan, so we had to think a lot about individual shot composition and dance moves, to prevent the end result from looking monotonous or static.”
Needless to say, Billi was a raging success and one of the highlights of Nabeel Qureishi’s directorial debut. “I am proud to say that my work was appreciated as a result of which I have worked on all four of Nabeel’s films.”
Actor in Law – Actor in Law (2016)
The title song for Nabeel Qureishi’s 2016 hit was one of the two songs Nigah choreographed for the movie. Recalling his experience working on the song he explained “I had to work with 300 background dancers, and Fahad Mustafa – a total of 301 dancers, for this song.” Little wonder, the song posed numerous challenges in its execution as well as logistics for rehearsals. “I trained 10 dancers and those 10 individuals trained the remaining backup dancers,” the choreographer revealed, adding “We couldn’t find space for 300 people to rehearse, therefore 100 people ended up rehearsing in the hall, another 100 on the road, and another 100 somewhere else on the premises.” The song was the first proper dance number for the movie’s lead star Fahad Mustafa, who Nigah termed a “very good dancer.” Summarizing his experience, Nigah said “I was very pleased with the end result and the song later on went on to become an anthem.”
“Babu was Zeba Bakhtiar’s directorial debut in Pakistan, following her successful stint in Bollywood, so it was an honor for me to work with her. The movie featured quite a few songs, of which I choreographed 2 or 3,” recalls the dance wiz.
One of the highlights of the film, which was based on life in the red light area, was its mujra sequence. In working out the dance moves for the song, the team chose to break tradition from then in-vogue bawdy mujra numbers. “The mujra was done in a very elegant manner, for its choreography we placed a lot of emphasis on eye movements and ada. The result came out beautifully on screen.”
Kaif-o-Suroor – Na Maloom Afraad 2 (2017)
NMA2 marked Nigah’s third collaboration with Nabeel Qureishi, and Kaif-o-Suroor was among the movie’s star attractions, promoted extensively in the trailer and on music channels prior to the film’s release. “The song featured Arabic belly dancing but all the moves were original, as I like to keep my dance movements original and independent. Sadaf Kanwal worked with much dedication on the song.”
“Yasir Nawaz placed his full trust and confidence in me once I explained to him how I would choreograph this song,” revealed Nigah. “Mehrunnisa V Lub U” starred Danish Taimoor and Sana Javed as leads, however Marhabba was a high-energy celebratory song that featured a guest performance by the top model and upcoming star Amna Ilyas. “Amna is a very hardworking and talented artiste, and also a good dancer,” according to the choreographer.
Elaborating further, he added “One of the unique things about this song was that we performed rehearsals its actual sets. The director even handed me the responsibility for shot-division and shot-framing, for which I collaborated with Saleem Dad, the DOP for the film.”
Lar Gaiyaan – Dobara Phir Se (2016)
Dobara Phir Se was Mehreen Jabbar’s much awaited debut into mainstream cinema, and Lar Gaiyaan was the only dance song in the film. Says Nigah, “Mehreen was in America when she asked me to work on the song. I had a great experience working with her – she is extremely soft spoken and professional.” Commenting on Mehreen’s reported aprehensions shooting a hardcore mehndi number, Nigah revealed “She mentioned to me that she had never shot a dance number before, and told me to consider myself the director and the choreographer for the song. She placed much emphasis on the fact that she needed a natural feel for the song, and wanted it to flow well with the rest of the film.”
“I had worked Adeel Hussain previously, but it was my first experience working with Ali Kazmi, Sanam Saeed and Hareem Farooq. I had to work a bit on the moves with Sanam and Hareem, however Ali is fantastic dancer. We all were tremendously pleased with the way the song turned out”.