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Hopping all over the globe: The Founding Members of Desi Hoppers - Macedon D'Mello, Nimit Kotian, Shantanu Maheshwari

By Armin S. Monday, Jan 16, 2017 06:39: AM

When I woke up at 4:15 in the morning to interview the three founding members of Desi Hoppers, I hoped to have an interesting conversation with them as dancers and choreographers are the perfect mix of the constant tension between technical purity and creative liberty. I find the passion of such artists unparalleled. But maybe I’m biased because of my own background.

 

As I sat on my bed, and started the conversation with Shantanu Maheshwari, Nimit Kotian, and Macedon D’Mello, along with Palki Malhotra, the creative mastermind behind it all, I realized how much I enjoyed just having the chat. I laughed out loud on more than several occasions and found myself genuinely curious, not just as a journalist, but as a fan, about how they did what they did creatively.

 

Palki Malhotra got the ball rolling. And soon enough, everyone started to join in. By the end of the hour-long conversation, I knew these Desi Hoppers had a lifelong fan in me.

 

Obviously, the three of you guys know each other prior to the formation of Desi Hoppers and Dil Dosti Dance. But when did you first realize this dream of dance together as a team?
 

PM: Quickly, so Shantanu, Nimit, and Mace – they were the ones who were in college together. In fact, they danced together. They also had a hip hop dance team which they were a part of. They did dream about doing things together in dance and taking it forward. When Dil Dosti Dance happened, that’s when I entered the picture. Shantanu and Mace were in front of the camera and they were acting in that show. Also, because that show was about dance and making a career in dance, it was kind of easy for me to understand their passion and understand where they were coming from. When we got into choreography in D3, we were not really going for known choreographers. So, we gave Shantanu and Mace a chance to do the choreography. We got Nimit on board. That’s how I was introduced to Nimit. He did our choreography. So that’s how we got talking about how important it was for people in India to understand that there can be a career in dance and that dancers in India can make it big internationally. We kept talking about it and people thought we were crazy because it was okay to dream about it but the dream would never become a reality.
 

I was very sorted that I wanted to work on their dream because it was a part of my dream as well. I merged the two together and I did format a show, Bindass Naach. I did approach them and they bought into my dream. They were willing to experiment with this kind of format and genre. Because, India does not do a lot of docu-dramas. Instead of calling it scripted reality, it was more of a docu-drama. That’s how Desi Hoppers happened and the real journey of real dancers getting together and forming a crew representing India in World of Dance happened.

 

 

Dil Dosti Dance was a very popular show amongst youth. What were some learning lessons you from that experience which you then implemented in Bindass Naach, World of Dance…?
 

SM: Dil Dosti Dance gave us some insight into the drawbacks we had and the things we needed to work on. We did have a fair idea of how to do choreography but with Mace, we used to discuss our choreography and how different it should be – on an international platform, it looks very different. So, we have learnt a lot and we have grown as choreographers from Dil Dosti Dance to Bindass Naach to now as choreographers. As dancers as well. Mace and I used to do the choreography together whereas Nimit used to do it individually so when we started doing the choreography together, it was important for us also to be on the same page.
 

PM: Also, the biggest part of learning, not just technically, was that when we started Dil Dosti Dance, nobody really thought that it would do well right? It really started as a show that people were not expecting to do well. But it became a rage in a very short period of time. What we did achieve with that show was that we did become the voice of youth where people were talking to their parents and teachers about including different activities as extra-curricular activities and discussing dance as a career in their lives. So that became a phenomenon and we can vouch for it because when we started to judge at college fests, we saw that wave in the dancing styles, the musicality, and that was really nice. The popularity was really immense. That really gave us confidence to widen our horizons and tell ourselves that this is a platform which was on Channel V (which is a very small channel) so if we can achieve so much on a small platform, we can do wonders if we get a big platform. That confidence, that boost pushed our boundaries to invent our own dancing styles, talking about street, hip hop, we didn’t want to copy YouTube videos. These guys started innovating and people really started to appreciate it. I think it was a journey of innovation, and it gave us confidence.
 

NK: Also, I wanted to add, my journey from being a choreographer on Dil Dosti Dance, I’ve learned how to be original you know. When I met Palki ma’am, I didn’t know that she was that passionate about dancing. All I knew was that she was the creative director and then I started watching, and saw her say “be original, be original”, that’s how I started to learn to be original. That was the best thing that I learned from the journey – don’t copy anyone and be original. You have to be original.

 

In terms of your family backgrounds, you come from very different family backgrounds. Shantanu, we’ve seen the support of your family on Jhalak Dikhlaja. Nimit, you had a particular journey about convincing your father about dance being a viable career option. How does your family play an integral role in your pursuit of dance as a viable career option?
 

NK: Initially, it was very difficult because my dad did not support me. It was only my mom. It was very difficult because my dad works in the government and he did not see dancing as a career. I always fought against him because I knew what I could achieve with a team like this, which is Desi Hoppers. I was very confident with a team like this. I wanted to prove to my dad that we can make a career in dance. So it was a struggle but I wanted to push forward. Dancing is about creating and educating.

 

And Shantanu, for you, your mom also taught you dance when you were younger.


SM: Yeah, actually she was the one who initiated the whole process. She used to teach children in the building for events. I used to imitate and she thought I had potential and she took me to a dance academy in Kolkata. That’s how I started learning.

 

Mace, we haven’t heard from you yet (chuckles).


MD: I have had the most support from my family, my mom, my dad. They’ve never really had a problem with me dancing. I remember when I was back in college, I just quit and I just wanted to dance. There was one year I didn’t do anything. I was just sitting at home and nothing was really working out with my dancing and I just continued dancing and that’s when I met Nimit and Shantanu - these guys. They told me to come to H.R. College. It helped me with my dance. Whatever decisions I’ve made, everyone’s been most supportive.  You just don’t give up. Just make sure that you are giving a hundred percent to what you are doing, don’t just say it. When it came to family, I always had a lot of support.
 

SM: For my family, they always supported me. But they always said that, no matter what, you have to complete your graduation or we will not support you. So whenever we get an opportunity, we try to promote this. That you should study. It is important. It will help you. I know dancing and studying are two different things but it will help you eventually. It is very important, at a minimum, have a graduation degree.
 

PM: There is one thing I would like to add about Nimit. See, Nimit’s parents are both deaf and mute. In spite of that, they eventually came around, which is why there was a question mark of him making a career in dance. But eventually, they understood his passion, which is why the three pillars of Desi Hoppers – Nimit, Shantanu, Mace – are formed because they have the family support. As far as the other hoppers are concerned, we have a crew of six people all together, the equation is not the same. There are people in the crew whose families do not believe in their one hundred percent for the crew because they do not think it is a viable career option. It fluctuates because there is no fixed monthly income. But we hope they’ll come around.

 

 

In terms of the impact of other individuals outside of your families, as a group, as Desi Hoppers, are there artists you look at to inspire you, to give you creative inspiration?


SM: There are so many people. We are very much inspired by Michael Jackson. At the same time, we like to keep our originality intact.  
 

NK: I also get inspiration from non-dancers and fans. But I always try to do my own thing.
 

MD: When it comes to India, we love Prabhu Deva sir’s style. That is what we try to incorporate in our dance – it is so energetic, bright, and happy.
 

PM: The best part of Desi Hoppers is, because we believe in the celebration of dance, we try to watch a lot of original artists, whether or not they are popular. There are so many artists we like to see. Their positivity and originality is what inspires us.

 

In terms of World of Dance, there were a lot of firsts. Amidst these firsts, I’ve seen the three of you dance, you have distinct styles. How do you balance the expectation of “crew” dance – krumping, locking, popping, bboying – and the integrity of Indian culture?
 

SM: I think we think that way. We hear a song and we tend to have a graph, and imagine, how we will choreograph that song. We think about it very naturally. It’s always there in our heads – all three of us. We make sure our steps are mostly what come naturally. Most are hip-hop based, with Westernized style dancing, but with more Indian elements. There is nothing that we have really filtered our way of thinking.
 

MD: As Shantanu said, when we get a song, it comes naturally that this part is a little bit of popping, a little bit of Indian, this we need to drop something. We graph it in our heads. It comes naturally to us. Like this part, we have to change the formations. Our minds work on the same level, the same wavelengths.
 

NK: I think the best part is we think the same way.
 

PM: The music does half of the thinking. When we fuse the music, we always think we make sure we get it original. Our music has that originality and fusion. That creates the benchmark. They do things from their heart and they think very alike . They’re on the floor, and I don’t think they really think, and they do a little bit of Bollywood, a little bit of folk, a little bit of hip hop, and they laugh (everyone chuckles). They let their bodies do the thinking. Their minds don’t do the thinking. And I just sit back and observe them. This is how they do it.
 

SM: She just sits back and approves. We dance (chuckles). We need someone to look out for us.
 

MD: But yes, she is also the approval for song mixes. And the choreography.

 

I think the objective fourth opinion is very important.  There are three of you with different dancing styles with your own takes on certain choreography – with three creative minds, there must be some creative differences every now and then.
 

(Chuckles heard).

 

How hard is it to separate your friendship from your working relationship – how do you draw the fine line?

MD: I think it takes us a second to get over it even if we have that creative difference. If you think it’s right, and your conviction is right about this particular step or choreography, it just takes us time. Usually, it is two against one. If Nimit has a thought, and I think it is right, then Shantanu will say okay.
(Laughs).
 

SM: Sometimes, we just move on. And we will come back to it and change it.
 

MD: If it is looking good right now, leave it and then we will deal with it.
 

SM: We hardly argue with let’s do this and let’s do that. We’re sorted in our head about it. That has never been a problem.

 

 

How has Jhalak helped your craft? It is one of the shows where you have to cater to a certain audience, play with the camera. I say this because when I’m watching it, I think to myself, well, this is not the most technically sound dance.
 

(Laughs heard).
 

Tell me a bit about your journey as a performer, Shantanu. And for the rest of you, how should a dance be set on stage? Also, do you find it an inherent struggle to do a dance that is not technically accurate?
 

SM: I think initially when I started the Jhalak journey, I was into showing dance, dance, dance because that’s my background. Later, after two, three rounds, I got feedback that I should concentrate more on performing – presentation-wise. You should look like a celebrity star. This is what I learned in terms of performing the act right. Getting the X-factor out because that is one of the biggest criteria to judge the performance. Regarding the form, it used to bother me a lot. But then, we need to realize that in India, there are no or very few proper technically trained people to teach you proper forms because we mix so many things so to know the original form properly is very hard.
 

PM: Like, for example, when he performed krumping with Salman, it was not the most technically sound krumping that gets the marks. So it bothered Shantanu and me a lot. Nimit and Mace were not initially a part of Shantanu’s team in Jhalak at the time. We did eventually come to an understanding that if you present yourself a certain way, it doesn’t really matter if you are presenting it technically well. We had to un-do things. The kinds of learning these three have is technical. We had to un-do that learning. We had to put Shantanu on a stage where he looked like a celebrity, not just as a dancer. Especially when Nimit and Mace came on board, they tried to strike a balance between technical dancing and presentation of the whole act.
 

MD: There were a lot of times where we would pull our hair out and we’d be like, “this is not original, how are people getting marks? And this is so unfair and why are they getting these comments? So we thought we should focus on what he already knows and let’s get that back. So all the moves that he already did, so me and Nimit we used to choreograph, like the group dance he did, we said, “at the end of the song, you have to do a suicide”. He’s like “what?”. He’s never done that in his entire life. Nimit and I were like we want it, so we don’t care how you do it in three days, but you have to do it. He said, “okay, I’ll do it. But how do you do it?” (chuckles). It was about focusing on moves you can do. We just concentrated on doing something we already know as opposed to doing moves that are already copied.
 

PM: There are moves Shantanu has never done before in spite of Dil Dosti Dance for four years and Bindass Naach.
 

NK: Alisha and Shantanu have two different brains. Alisha had her own perception because of her own experience. When Mace and me came, we thought, let’s not do what other people are doing. Let’s do our own thing. So me and Mace were like let’s do different things.
 

PM: Alisha was also a part of Dil Dosti Dance. She comes from a dancing reality background. I know Alisha since she was a child. When Alisha and Shantanu started, they had very different points of view. She was slightly more Bollywood and filmy. There was no time, because this season they had to prepare two acts in a week. Three or four rounds later, Alisha came back to her roots. She has done a lot of work with Bollywood choreographers. But Nimit, Macedon, and Shantanu, believe in pure dancing. She understood and came around. Like when they did pure street on a Marathi song (“Zingat”).
 

Did the familiarity help you?

SM: See, we didn’t have an opportunity to dance together as a couple on D3. But we did share a certain kind of rapport. I’m an introvert and I take some time to get comfortable with anybody, for that matter. So I knew Alisha and I knew her style and she knew my style. It got easier than having somebody I didn’t know. We bonded well.
 

PM: I feel that if he had got any other choreographer, I don’t think his dancing style would have been noticed. There are very few female dancers who can do justice in street and Alisha is one of them. She may not be technically and absolutely correct but the way she has matched up to Shantanu, I don’t think anybody else could have done that.
 

SM: And that’s thanks to these two guys too because they used to make us continuously rehearse. Macedon and Nimit really deserve credit.

 

_________________________________

Quick Bits & Blurbs:
 

Who would choreograph and dance to the following dance styles?
 

Bharatnatyam: Nimit
Lyrical Hop Hop: Macedon
Tango: (After some laughter) Shantanu
Waltz: SM – I would like to do it but it would look nice on Nimit but I would like to do it.
MD: Me too.
SM: So we all can do it.
Tollywood: SM – all three of us, we’d enjoy.
Nimit in the centre.
MD: The two of us on the side.
Ballet: PM – We would like to see Mace do it. I don’t think any of these three would look good but Shantanu can do ballet.
NK: I think Shantanu.
 

Who is the laziest of the three?
MD: Laziest of the three? We’re moody actually. It depends on our mood.
SM: All three of us. Equally lazy, equally moody.
 

Who is the most disciplined?
SM: Definitely not Nimit.
NK: Macedon is very disciplined.
PM: Macedon is not disciplined, Nimit.
MD: Shantanu.
 

Who is the most injury-prone?
PM: Mace.
SM: (Laughs). He’lll be walking and he has an injury.
 

Who is the most likely to forget a routine?
NK: Me and Shantanu.
SM: I think, me.
PM: Shantanu.
 

Who is the most patient?
PM: I think. My God. Mace has slightly more patience than both of them actually.
 

Who has the best sense of humour:
NK: Mace
PM: Mace hands-down.
SM: Mace
MD: Thank you. I’d like to thank my parents for that. And I’d like to thank God (laughs).
 

A Bollywood song you’d love to choreograph with a twist?
SM: I think we’d like to do a romantic song with proper dancing. Like Lyrical or Hip Hop. Might be.
PM: They did robotics on “Lungi Dance”. And they did hardcore hip hop on “1,2,3,4” which you haven’t seen yet. They’re good like that.
 

A Bollywood actor you’d love to do perform on-screen with?
SM: Hrithik.
 

A choreographer you’d love to spend a day on set with?
MD, SM, NK: Prabhudeva and Ganesh Hegde.
 

One thing about each other that people may not know?
SM: Nimit observes a lot. People don’t notice that. His observations are good.  Mace is quite strong mentally and he knows a lot of stuff but he has not gotten his due as of yet.
MD: Kya baat hai.
SM: About Palki ma’am. 
MD: She’s the one who manages everything. Nobody can dance better than her.
PM: Oh God.
MD: About Shantanu – He is very sarcastic and very few people get that. There are times when he is being sarcastic and I’d be like, “dude, what is wrong with you?” As a friend, he gives the right opinion, he is very headstrong, and he gives the right opinion. And Nimit is passively very funny. Like the things he does. There are things he wants to do but he doesn’t say it out loud. He keeps a lot of things to himself.
PM: One thing that nobody knows about them is that all three of them are extremely sensitive. People think Shantanu comes across as somebody who doesn’t really mingle with the industry people but they don’t want to be hurt. But I think it is a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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