It seems like yesterday, but it has been 10 years since music superstar Michael Jackson died. For many, his death is still shrouded in mystery, and his fans still mourn his untimely demise. MJ, as he was popularly known, died on the night of June 25, 2009 at his Los Angeles mansion after receiving fatal doses of propofol and benzodiazepine drugs. He was only 50 and the world agreed that he was ‘Gone too Soon.’
MJ had been a global icon for long. One of 10 siblings of the famous Jackson family from Gary, Indiana, MJ inspired generations of musicians and dancers. Be it his signature crotch grab, the anti-gravity lean, the side slide, the MJ Spin or the iconic Moonwalking, MJ continues to influence millions even today.
India too has felt the Jackson influence. Over the last five decades, the King of Pop has inspired several Hindi film stars ranging from Mithun Chakraborty, Govinda, Prabhu Deva and Hrithik Roshan to Tiger Shroff. There are many aspiring dancers competing in the numerous national and regional dance reality shows who attempt MJ’s signature dance moves. MJ continues to inspire choreographers, actors and contemporary dancers even a decade after his death. On the eve of the icon’s 10th death anniversary, Sunday POST talked to a few choreographers and actors about MJ’s influence in their professional life.
Swaraj, who has made a mark not only as an actor but also as a dancer par excellence, says that he owes a lot of his success to Michael Jackson. He says that he had always wanted to be an actor and dancing star. “I started my career as a dancer and wanted to be a dancer and choreographer initially. Although I also wanted to be an actor, dancing was my first love. It was after watching MJ on screen that I decided to become a dancer. As a child, I used to imitate his Moonwalking. I used to practice for hours to get it perfect. I think that is something every Jackson fan wants to do but no matter how much you practice, you can never do it to perfection. He was such a great dancer,” he says.
Swaraj, who has also read Jackson’s biography, considers him a role model for a generation of dancers. “One thing I have learnt from him is that you must shape yourself in such a way that everyone copies you. He didn’t have one signature style. There are so many moves that he introduced which we follow even now. Many are still making a livelihood by just copying his steps. Even the greatest dancer today can’t say he is better than Michael Jackson. I have been trying to perfect his dance moves for years and still watch YouTube videos to learn his dance steps to perfection,” he adds.
Harihar Dash, who became an overnight sensation after participating in dance reality show India’s Got Talent, started idolising Jackson after he watched a few music videos of the pop icon. “I watched his videos for the first time when I was in high school. I was left awestruck and wanted to become a dancer. In fact, he has been my first and only inspiration. My determination to make a career in dancing was because of the MJ effect on me. I started by imitating his signature dance steps,” says Harihar, adding that he has been a part of more than 5,000 shows and makes sure to include at least one signature MJ move in all his performances.
“At that time, there was no Internet or YouTube. We used to watch his video cassettes. Michael Jackson’s popularity has only grown over the years. Today, there are many students who come to my dance academy only to learn MJ’s dance steps. But, honestly, you can only imitate him but never be like him,” he adds.
Although he gained popularity as a singer dancer, MJ was a complete performer, says Harihar. “He was a complete package. We only notice and talk about his dance steps, but his songs carried powerful messages, be it Off the Wall, Is it Scary, Scream, They Don’t Care about Us or Black or White,” he says.
Like Harihar, ace choreographer in the Odia film industry Girish Mohanty too considers MJ his greatest inspiration. Girish, who has done the choreography for Odia hits like Chal Tike Dusta Heba, Premkumar Salesman of the Year, Hero No.1, Ishq Tu Hi Tu, A Aa Harshei, Tu Mo Love Story 2 says, “I don’t think there is any choreographer in our country who hasn’t been influenced by Michael Jackson. For me, dancing and Jackson are synonymous. When I was a newcomer, I would often visit the offices or homes of several choreographers and top stage performers, and I would always find a Michael Jackson poster on their wall. Even today, every dance academy has at least one MJ poster displayed on their walls. That’s how crazy people are about him. No contemporary dancer can deny that he doesn’t copy Michael Jackson. We all do despite knowing that we can never match him.”
“I teach MJ’s steps to my students and when someone gets selected for a dance reality show, I make sure that they perform at least one MJ signature move during each of their performances. When I attend dance shows as a judge, I never give 10 out of 10 to any student who tries to perform a MJ step because no one can be like him. One thing that I have learnt from MJ is that there’s no limit to practice. He reached perfection only by practicing,” adds Girish.
Jackson’s legacy continues to inspire millions. Prominent dancer and choreographer Mandakini Jena, who impressed the judges with her performance on Dance India Dance (DID) and now runs a dance academy M- Zone, says, “When I was participating in the show, we had a special episode on Michael Jackson. We all had to come up with a dance move and combine it with a signature MJ dance step. That was perhaps the best episode of all. You can easily spot a dancer copying an MJ step because his steps are so unique.”
No dance reality show, at least on national and regional television, is complete without a special episode on Jackson. Mandakini adds, “One of my students, K Gopal Reddy, who owns a dance institute, is such a big MJ fan that he only teaches MJ’s dance steps to his students. In fact, on Jackson’s birth anniversary, 200 of Gopal’s students performed the signature steps at a show organised at DPS Kalinga. Jackson was an equally big influence on female dancers. I am a big admirer too and have always tried to imitate some of his dance moves since my early days as a dancer.”
BRATATI BARAL, OP