He has performed at the Elephanta caves and the Khajuraho temple. He has performed at the Great Wall of China. He has performed alongside Pink Floyd. He was commissioned by Pierre Cardin to choreograph a dance for Maia Plissetskaia — prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet.
Now, Astad Deboo has choreographed for Mani Ratnam’s 'Raavanan'.
It was the film’s cinematographer Santosh Sivan who suggested his name to Mani Ratnam. Sivan had worked with Astad in the past in MF Husain’s 'Meenaxi' and Vishal Bhardwaj’s 'Omkara'.
“I was in London when I got a call from Mani’s team. Later, I learnt that Santosh had suggested my name to him,” says Astad.
While one would naturally assume that Astad had choreographed a song or two in the movie, it is in fact an escape sequence that he has worked on. “Initially, I too was under the impression that I would be choreographing a song. I had even begun rehearsals keeping that in mind. But Mani had something else in mind and suggested that we stylise the escape sequence,” he says.
The sequence is shot at a waterfall in Kerala with the track 'Behene de' in the background.
Astad reached the location a week before the shoot for rehearsals.
“I was given the music and Mani explained the scene to me. Shooting for the sequence was quite tricky because of the nature of the location,” he says.
Astad was quite impressed with Aishwarya.
“She had to shoot the sequence for both the Hindi and Tamil versions. She is a thorough professional and is a delight to work with.” As for Vikram, Astad says, “Vikram came and told me that I don’t look anything like a choreographer as I don’t wear earrings and rings.”
Astad treats every project of his as a learning experience.
What he enjoys more is working with hearing impaired children in India and abroad. “I’ve been involved with them for the past 22 years. It started off with a group in Kolkata called The Action Players and subsequently, I’ve also been very much associated with the Gallaudet University in Washington DC which is the first liberal arts university for the deaf. All these projects which I do result in a production.
"Currently I am working with The Clarke School for Deaf in Chennai and we have produced shows that were even performed at the Rashtrapati Bhavan,” he says.
He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2007.
“It felt good to receive recognition for contemporary dance. Initially, there was a lot of resentment against the art. But we managed to break walls and open doors and the award is only an affirmation of the hard work,” he says.
As for Astad, the world is his stage.
“If not a dancer, I would have been a dancer,” he says with a smile as he signs off.