Start watching Saajan Singh’s 2010 video of Dance India Dance (DID) and there’s no guarantee that you won’t miss a step if you blink. Dressed in a red hoodie and white pants, Saajan glides across the stage on his head, freezes, does a headstand, headspin and flawlessly transitions from one power move to another as the upbeat music picks up.
All the three judges on the reality show declared no one can ace b-boying, one of the core elements of hip-hop, like Saajan. This YouTube video has 3.98 lakh views and for the right reasons.
Saajan’s story resonates with millions of small-town boys and girls who want to break away from the conventional lifestyle to express their individuality on their terms. What sets Saajan apart is his impressive dance moves, unbridled passion for winning and devotion towards his craft.
His father is a retired Subhedar of the Indian Army and his mother is a homemaker. Growing up in Jalandhar, a Punjab city famous for sports equipment and temples, Saajan never imagined being a dance wizard, let alone mastering an American style. Nor did he ever see himself being a body double of Salman Khan in movies like Race 3 (2018) and Tiger Zinda Hai (2017).
Pre-destined to join the Indian army like his father, Saajan speaks of his journey to Mumbai. “I used to play basketball, America’s second most popular sport, in school. That piqued my interest in their culture and that’s how I discovered b-boying. It originated as an alternative to violence for settling scores between gang members. Soon, the underground dance form, sans any rules, became a form of expression for me and millions around the world,” says the 28-year-old.
‘No One Understood My Dance’
Saajan was around 15 when he started learning dance from the internet. This was pre-2010 era when computers were a luxury, the internet was a rare phenomenon and downloading a video was a test of your patience. Nevertheless, Saajan would stay awake the entire night with his friend to download a tutorial video on b-boying and copy it on a CD.
Once home, he would oscillate between the rewind and pause buttons to learn every move. Dance studios were yet to enter the city so Saajan built a makeshift stage with cardboard papers in farms to practice.
“No one really understood what I was doing. It was neither a classical, folk form nor a Bollywood number. It was something different characterised by energy, intricate footwork and acrobatic or athletic movements. People called it ‘stunt wala dance’ but I found it comforting, as it was a fine blend of freedom and strength. It was accessible, inclusive and I was winning local competitions. My parents were surprised but supportive, Saajan says.
He adds, “Being a disciplinarian, my father gave me two years to find a professional grip on b-boying, otherwise I would have joined the army.”
Although he missed auditions of DID season 1 by a day, he secured a place in the top 100 in the second season. He credits his father’s strict regime of waking up at 4.30 am to exercise and build his stamina, which helped him perform this energetic dance without gasping for breath.
However, the odds were not in his favour in the next round of auditions or so he thought. An incorrect step in a group dance, which he confessed to on national television, cost him his spot on the show.
“My parents didn’t have the avenues to give me formal dance training but their life lessons on honesty, sincerity towards one’s craft is something I will forever be grateful for. I was eliminated due to the mistake but the audience loved my honesty so much that I was brought back to the show through a ‘wild card entry’. I then worked very hard and reached the top six. If this episode wouldn’t have aired, I would have joined the army as my two-year deadline that I promised my father, was coming to an end,” adds Saajan.
Needless to say, he went on to impress the judges and audiences alike, and although this was a turning point, he struggled to take advantage of the situation.
Exploring The World of Acting
After dancing on the DID stage, Saajan was back in Jalandhar for a year. He was now performing regularly but he missed Mumbai and the lucrative opportunities he was used to. He called his mentor, Remo D’Souza, who invited him in 2012-13 to stay at his place for a while till he figured out his goals.
“Remo sir has been my guide, friend and support. He also started from nowhere and worked his way up to become a renowned choreographer and director. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and I was lucky I had someone to rely on. I started assisting him on shoots, ads, promotional events and so on. I even got a chance to act in both the ABCD movies,” says Saajan.
Acting in movies was another world that Saajan was keen to explore. He played a cameo role in Dabang 2 (2012) but one of his biggest opportunities came in 2017 when he was asked to teach Salman Khan b-boying for a movie.
“I slept in Remo sir’s car on my way to someone’s house. I was half asleep when Salman sir entered where we were waiting. I was scared and speechless after I was told to teach him, he says and adds, “It’s funny how things work out. My mother is a huge Salman fan and I was named after his movie Saajan (1991).”
Saajan further adds how he was surprised to see an actor like Salman so down to earth, curious and observant. “He was my best student who soon became my teacher. When I expressed my interest in filmmaking, he happily took me under his wing and explained various aspects. I did parts of the choreography for movies like Dabang 2 (2012), Race 3 (2018) and Radhe (2021). This was a great opportunity to popularise b-boying in India.”
From a body double, dancer, choreographer, teacher, actor to shooting videos as a Director of Photography for Salman’s social media pages, Saajan is a jack of all trades.
B-boying is not just a dance form for him but the reason behind his success. Even today, people message him to recreate his 108 one-hand hops, a b-boy skill where the dancer does a handstand and kicks their legs up.
This was the same move that made him widely popular a decade ago.
Edited by Yoshita Rao