Nakul Dev Mahajan, the Artesia, Calif., choreographer and teacher best known for his extensive work on the hit FOX reality show “So You Think You Can Dance,” is “on cloud nine” since his student Nina Davuluri went on to win the Miss America pageant Sept. 15 in part on the strength of her dazzling dance routine to “Dhoom Taana.” The song was originally picturized on Deepika Padukone in “Om Shanti Om.”
Davuluri — who has studied Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi for 15 years — told reporters after her win: “It’s the first time Bollywood has ever been performed on the Miss America stage and it’s such an honor for myself, my family and the Indian community, as well.”
“She contacted me in June,” Mahajan, Indian American founder of NDM Dance, told India-West over the phone from Southern California Sept. 16. “She had selected that song herself and she wanted me to do a blend of folk and classical, modern and fusion, which is what I’m all about.”
“We made a good pair,” Mahajan said, adding that Davuluri chose to fly out from New York to Southern California to rehearse her routine.
Mahajan was impressed by her performance, and said that most audience members have no idea how difficult it is to perform a two-minute dance on live television. “It’s a different beast when you are on live TV!” he said.
“It’s fast, it’s high-energy, you have earrings flying around, tikkas flying around, scarves flying off you — and that floor looked slippery, too!”
Bollywood movie fans who are used to watching meticulously choreographed and shot dance numbers on the big screen may not realize that “it takes a million shots to get that perfect eight-count that you see in Bollywood movies,” he said.
Mahajan calls Davuluri’s win “a momentous moment for all South Asians. She gave everything 110 percent.”
He was especially inspired by her energy as he, himself, sometimes found it tough to keep his own energy after recuperating from illness.
Last year, Mahajan was treated for testicular cancer and underwent surgery and nine weeks of chemotherapy. “I was just three months out from treatment, and reluctant to take on this job,” he said. Now cancer-free, Mahajan wants to raise awareness of the disease and he urges other men to get tested. “In the Indian community, men, especially if they have testicular cancer, don’t want to talk about it,” he told India-West.