Haleem, in the picture above, is the subject of my next documentary movie project. His full name is Haleem Khan. And he is not a terrorist. He is a Kuchipudi dancer. Kuchipudi – the folk dance of Andhra Pradesh, is a dance form almost predominantly learnt by, and taught to Hindus. But for Haleem, dancing is a religion in itself. And that’s why he didn’t care about which community he was born in, when he got attracted towards classical dance. It all started by watching performances once in a while on TV, as he grew up in Ongole. He didn’t know whether he was watching Kuchipudi or Bharatnatyam or anything else. The only reason he ended up learning Kuchipudi and not anything else was because the only teacher he could find in Ongole, taught Kuchipudi. It was not easy for him to convince her to teach him. All the other students she had were younger Hindu girls. Here was a Muslim guy in 11th class who wanted to learn classical dance because he was attracted to similar performances on TV! What was she to do? She refused. But Haleem persisted. And he eventually won in convincing her. And that’s how the journey started. He knew it would be next to impossible to get approval from his conservative parents. In fact, his parents came to know about their son being a Kuchipudi dancer, only after 7 years of him starting to learn the art-form. Because by that time, he had become famous enough and the media had started talking about him and writing about him.
What has made Haleem really popular in the Kuchipudi circuit are his female impersonation performances, which he started few years ago. In fact, in the recent times, almost all shows that he does, he performs dressed as a female dancer. And he has performed not just in India but even internationally in countries like US. There is a reason why he tried a female impersonation for the first time. Haleem explained to me that, one cannot call himself a complete Kuchipudi dancer, unless one has given at least one performance as a female dancer. Historically, when Kuchipudi evolved, women were not expected to / allowed to dance. So men would dress up like women and perform. In our modern times, the perception towards classical dance is that of a feminine thing. Guys from outside dancing families hardly want to learn it and almost no one wants to dress up like a woman to perform. So it’s not surprising that when Haleem does it, some wonder if he is a gay or a transgender. When someone asked him this question for the first time, he was surprised. Is it so hard to believe that a straight ‘man’ can dress up like a woman to perform a classical dance, purely for the love of art? Apparently, yes. And that’s what makes his journey interesting.
There is not much money in classical dancing. Many a times, even organizers don’t want to pay you (we would give you a wonderful stage to perform and great audience, what do you need the money for?) and when they pay you, they pay you as less as they can. And yet Haleem Khan, who went on to also get an MBA degree, left his job after few years to focus on being a full time dancer. His life is a struggle. And for him, the struggle is worth it, because of his love for the art-form that is Kuchipudi. All that he wants to do is perform (and get paid for his performances like a true professional) and spread awareness about the awesomeness of Kuchipudi worldwide. And this passion of his, is what I want to bring out in my documentary.
Because Haleem is based out of Hyd, and I live in Goa, it is a challenging task to shoot him and his life and his journey on a regular basis. I have been trying to rope in friends based in Hyderabad, who can shoot footages occasionally. Let’s see if their initial interest persists over time. This is my big project for this year (definitely beyond 3 minutes ) and I hope you all look forward to it as much as I do.