“Papa would always say, ‘Kuch bhi ho, padhai kabhi nahi chodni chahiye’”

“Our lives turned upside down when the municipality demolished Papa’s shop; they said it was illegal. To sustain, he opened up a roadside tea stall– he’d make 50-60 Rs a day. With that income, feeding a family of 4 was impossible. But Papa would always say, ‘Kuch bhi ho, padhai kabhi nahi chodni chahiye’; he saved every penny for our school fees. But I was never good at school. I wanted to become a dancer– I’d sit in front of the TV and imitate Govinda. Our house was too small to practice, so I’d go to the street and dance my heart out. In the 6th grade, I came first in an inter-school dance competition. That evening, I told Papa I wanted to join a dance class. In spite of our finances, Papa didn’t bat an eyelid before enrolling me.

But my grades dropped; I even failed a few times. I was 19 when I finally quit college– I started working as a peon. Side by side, I taught dance to school kids– I’d make about 1600 Rs a month. In the evenings, I’d rush to dance practice. This went for 2 years, but as I advanced to the senior batch, I needed more time to practice. So, I quit my job and took up dance full-time. Around then, I got an opportunity to be a backup dancer in a Gujarati movie– on set, I knew that’s where I was meant to be. Soon after, I moved to Bombay– I rented a place and started looking for opportunities in Bollywood. Ma would say, ‘Job pe dhyan do, dance se paise nahi ayenge,’ but to me, dance was like breathing; I couldn’t give it up. Call it fate, but I found out that 2 contestants from Boogie Woogie had backed out last-minute. I agreed to be filled in, bagged first place and won 5 lakhs! I paid back Papa’s leftover debts with that money. After Boogie Woogie, opportunities poured in, but even after trying for 2 odd years, I failed to bag a lead role. By then I’d exhausted my finances; I moved back to Baroda. A few months later, I auditioned for Dance India Dance and got selected! Although I didn’t win, I gained immense popularity. After that, I started getting paid in lakhs for guest appearances on dance shows. People started addressing me as ‘sir’. I then went on to choreograph for stars like Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif.

That’s when Remo sir asked me, ‘Meri movie me lead role karega?’ I was on cloud nine! With my earnings, I bought a house for my family in Baroda but even now, Papa runs the same tea stall. I keep telling him, ‘You don’t have to work anymore, I can take care of you.’ But he refuses. I think I’ve gotten this never-give-up attitude from him. Because even though there were many hurdles, I just followed my heart. I guess deep down, I’m still that boy dancing to the tunes of Govinda, without a care in the world. So was the hustle worth it? Hell, yeah!”

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