Its hard for a non-dancer to win a dancing competition - especially one populated by good dancers. Its harder for a non-dancer to stay a non-dancer and do the same. Baichung Bhutia did it in this year's terrific season of Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa 3.
Behind every successful man is a surprised woman. No, I'm just kidding! But Baichung's magic came from his choreographer Sonia Jaffer-Fraser. Skillfully exploiting the soccer star's athleticism (note to future contestants: cartwheels impress judges), Sonia became a serious contender with one game changing dance - in which she portrayed an abused woman struggling to love again. She reduced JDJ's finest judge Vaibhavi Merchant to tears.
And as soon as she became a serious contender, against all odds Sonia took a lot of chances with her partner. How daring was she? She took one of the most beloved hits of our time - Kabhi Kabhi Aditi - and set it to a quirky, charming Karate Kid hip hop theme. Later within striking distance of the trophy, in the finale she had Baichung execute a complex, heart-stopping routine on two tables set apart.
By constantly reaching for the skies, Sonia ended up entertaining us and walking on the clouds. I invited her to share her thoughts with us on the Drift.
AspisDrift.com: Hey Sonia, congratulations on a hugely successful of JDJ. Quick, what is the first emotion that comes to mind when you look back on it? (a) Thrilled (b) Relieved (c) Redeemed (d) Thankful (c) Numb
Sonia: I look back and I feel THANKFUL!!
AspisDrift.com: Sonia, you took a lot of heart-stopping risks on JDJ and pulled all of them off. Are you a wild risk taker in real life too? You bungee jump every weekend? You dive into the water off of cliffs? You play high stakes poker every third Friday? You drive on the wrong side of the road for fun?
Sonia: I am a risk taker but not a wild one. I also take risks only in controlled environments so no, you will not find me driving on the wrong side of the road though I LOVE driving fast.
AspisDrift.com: Be honest now, were you disappointed when you found out your partner would be Baichung? Did you laugh? Did you cry? Did you say ‘Why me!?’
Sonia: When I saw him I was like WOW!! BHAICHUNG BHUTIA is MY partner. I remember the first thing I noticed about him was his hands...I knew immediately he had come down from heaven.
AspisDrift.com: Baichung seemed like a really game partner – he knew his limitations but he did all kinds of things for you. Was there anything he said ‘Absolutely Not!’ to?
Sonia: Hahaha...yeah! It was for the tapori dance round when I choreographed him on the song Guitar. I asked him to be a girl and he was like ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!!
What an expression...I kept asking him just to tease him...hahaha...
AspisDrift.com: Anything about him that drove you crazy?
Sonia: BIG TIME...he used to yawn so much in the afternoons I used to go insane. but you can't blame him. From football practice to dance rehearsal...he used to be so tired.
AspisDrift.com: Ok, we’ll get to JDJ in a bit. But I’m dying to learn more about you. Where were you born? Where did you grow up? Do you have any siblings? What was little Sonia like?
Sonia: I was born here in Mumbai. My dad is Tanzanian and my mom is Indian. I grew up in Kuwait, Dar es Salaam, Panchgani. No siblings. But I do have a step sister and two step brothers. My dad re-married.
Little Sonia was a very bored child who used to just wait to break free. Recently it hit me that the only time I break free is when I dance.
AspisDrift.com: And how did you get involved with dance?
Sonia: I had done my basics in ballet from the Royal School of Dance, London. My cousin here in India had started to dance for Suneeta Rao back in 1992...I used to watch him and pray to God to give me a show. God answered and I never looked back.
AspisDrift.com: A friend of mine in Vadodara is dying to know: what does that tattoo on your forearm say?
Sonia: I have two tatoos. (The other one is one my left wrist.) The forearm one is a scripture from the Bible - "when I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, what is man that You are mindful of him.."
AspisDrift.com: On JDJ, you choreographed a landmark dance about an abused woman rediscovering love. You made my wife cry buckets. Would you like to tell us anything about how you survived such a debilitating crisis?
Sonia: There is only one way I survived it...that was by forgiving my abuser. Then I gave up all my hurt and pain to Jesus...and he gave me beauty for my ashes..
AspisDrift.com: Ok, back to the show: what gave you the most sleepless nights?
Sonia: What gave me the most sleepless nights was the fact that Jhalak was going to get over and I would have to pick up the pieces once again and walk... :)
AspisDrift.com: As a choreographer, I’m sure there are always questions about how the judges and their scores. How do you deal with that?
Sonia: From day one I told Baichung and we maintained that: whatever the scores or comments - good, very good or bad would not affect us. I knew I could take him to the end so I wanted us to keep our focus there and nowhere else. That's why you must have seen that a high score, good remark, bad score or bad remark never made me jump or dance....
AspisDrift.com: How come Baichung and you were able to escape just about any controversy? Were you faster than all the cameras?
Sonia: There was nothing to ESCAPE! All we did was rehearse. We were not even friends. There was no time to act as friends. All our time went in teaching and him, learning. That is what is incomplete though - we never became friends.
AspisDrift.com: I’ve always wanted to know this: how does a dance come together? How do you design the theme? How do you design the moves? Who does the costumes? Who does the music mixes?
Sonia: The theme is given to us by the channel, then I see a song and a style of dance that fits. Once that is approved...I give my brief to the costume designer. I see the entire choreography in my head and then I used to break it down for Baichung.
AspisDrift.com: Do you get to take those costumes home?
Sonia: Haha...no! They belong to the channel now.
AspisDrift.com: Any status update on your Bollywood debut? What’s up with Fast Forward?
Sonia: Last I heard FF will release 10th July...but you never know
AspisDrift.com: Finally, I ask this question to everyone on the Drift: can you fold a fitted bed sheet properly? I’m convinced most regular humans can’t.
Sonia: YES I CAN...anyone who grew up in a boarding school can...
The best of Sonia and Baichung on Jhalak 3
Bas Ek Pal
Kaise Mujhe (4:20)