On So You Think You Can Dance, Nakul Dev Mahajan is known for his bright and joyful Bollywood choreography. His pieces are something dance fans look forward to all season. Now Mahajan is bringing his talents to a new animated series on Disney Junior, Mira, Royal Detective.
The show features a smart and resourceful girl named Mira, who is a commoner appointed to the role of royal detective by the queen in the Indian-inspired land of Jaipur. Each episode features two 11-minute mysteries that celebrate the culture, music and dance of India.
For Mahajan, this project called to him on many levels, not only because of his South Asian roots, but also because of the way the character is written.
"It resonates on so many levels, especially in the climate we're living in today. Here you have this young girl, who's calling the shots, solves all the mysteries and no one's telling her what to do," he enthused. "The icing on the cake is that she does it with song and dance. And if that's not a celebration, then I don't know what it is."
The process as a choreographer in animation is much different than the work he does on So You Think You Can Dance. It stretched him as an artist in new and exciting ways.
"It's been a wonderful learning experience. I've never done animation before. When I was brought on for this project, it was just so refreshing and I gained so much appreciation and respect for the hardworking, talented artists," he explained. "My process involved receiving the music, receiving this script, reading it over, getting the notes from our producers and then coming up with choreography and telling the story through movement. I would videotape myself and my assistant giving tutorial videos with every nuance possible because we're dealing with Bollywood dancing. The artists have been so meticulous about making sure everything is still accurate."
The other important aspect of Mira, Royal Detective is the fact that the show involves more than just one style of Bollywood dancing. There is more depth to Bollywood dancing on the animated series.
"A lot of people don't realize that Bollywood dancing has drastically evolved. It has subcategories, similar to hip-hop," said Mahajan. "So it's not just the traditional Bollywood that we're going to see, we actually do other types of Bollywood sub-genres — there's a Bollywood hip-hop genre, there's a jazz genre, a contemporary genre. These are all forms that I'm able to do, but sometimes not given the opportunity to do so. We also showcase several episodes that have traditional and cultural movement of Indian dance styles that are not under the category of Bollywood dancing."
With Season 2 already ordered by the Disney Channel, Mahajan is thrilled to have given his students, from his NDM Bollywood Dance Studios in Southern California, opportunities to perform in the Mira, Royal Detective music video and at the red-carpet premiere.
"The fact that they're celebrating their culture and they're shooting something they identify with is incredible. Sometimes we forget that, although they're all South-Asian Americans, there is a struggle of trying to keep that balance of assimilating and making sure that they are being rooted in their culture," Mahajan said. "I grew up with the same experience. In the ‘80s, it wasn't cool and we didn't have these amazing, diverse palettes on television and in the movies. Now, these kids do and Mira is going to set the bar up to a different level for the next generation. These kids know that and they know that sense of responsibility behind that. They were so honored and so grateful for this opportunity, just like I am."
Mira, Royal Detective premieres Friday, March 20 at 11 a.m. ET on Disney Channel, and 7 p.m. ET on Disney Junior.
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