B. Sohanlal alias Master Sohanlal – Leading Bollywood choreographer in the golden era

B. Sohanlal alias Master Sohanlal was a leading choreographer associated with Bollywood yesterdays during 1950s-1970s. In movies his work was credited as Master B. Sohanlal. Known as an exponent of Kathak, he choreographed songs for some of the iconic Bollywood songs of classic era, which include songs of Madhumati, Jewel Thief and Guide. Other major works are Arzoo, Taj Mahal, Dil Apna Aur Preet Paraye, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Arzoo, Kajal, Rafoo Chakkar, Mera Saaya, Bobby, Kala Sona etc. He frequently worked with Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor, top stars of classic era, apart from Raj Khosle and many more. His divorced wife Saroj Khan and their first son Raju Khan later went on to establish popular choreographers in the late 1980s and 1990s.

He started training Kathak at the age of 4

An exponent of Kathak, he was born in Jaipur, Rajasthan. He was the eldest of 6 siblings, which include one sister too. He along his brother started learning Kathak at a young age. His family got shifted to Chennai to pursue their dreams. Yet among the siblings, it was Sohanlal who came to prominence, especially when he became a part of Bollywood films in the second half of 1950s. He first married Kantha and settled in Chennai. He had 5 children from this marriage. He already had three kids when he married Saroj Khan, who was his disciple and dance assistant in films then.

His married life with Saroj Khan was full of stress and strain

Saroj Khan worked as a background dancer in the late 1950s and also 1960s during her struggling days. Along with her career as a background dancer, she started assisting ace choreographer B. Sohanlal, whom she married later. She was just 13 when she married 43-year old choreographer with three kids, and she was not aware of his first marriage then. First son Raju Khan was born to them when Saroj was just 14. Second child was born in 1965, which died 8 months later. Same year they separated as Sohanlal refused to give children his name. In the late 1960s he approached him and wanted her to work under him. She started working as his assistant for next few years, though she was not much interested in it.

They got reconciled when Sohanlal had a heart attack, as she wanted to meet him once. She stayed with him for one night and got conceived. A daughter named Cuckoo was born to them. However the marriage didn’t sustain and Sohanlal moved back to Chennai. Saroj singly raised two kids and later married Sardar Roshan Khan, a businessman in 1975. He was also a married man with two kids, who fell in love with her, and was willing to give her children his name. They have one daughter who runs a dance institute in Dubai. She kept good relationship with almost all lead heroines, which helped her to earn first break and to singly raise her children when Sohanlal left her.

Sohanlal choreographed several iconic dance sequences in Bollywood and south Indian cinema

Hoton Mein Aisi Baat from Jewel Thief is widely regarded as Sohanlal Master’s masterpiece work

He was one of the leading Bollywood choreographers throughout 1960s and early 1970s. His dance pieces for Jewel Thief and Guide created new benchmarks for dance sequences in Hindi cinema. Hoton Mein Aisi Baat from Jewel Thief became a trendsetter. He employed a large group of dancers for this dance sequence, which was a fresh idea to Bollywood then. He was one among those early choreographers who experimented with a large group of background dancers and also expensive sets and costumes for film songs, a trend followed still now even after 5 or 6 decades.

He has given some amazing dance steps to Vyjayanthimala and Waheeda Rehman, and has worked with all leading actors of 1950s till 1970s. He finely choreographed all dance steps of Waheeda Rehman for the movie, Guide, where she played the role of a dancer. Jhumka Geera Re pictured on Sadhana Shivdasani for the movie Mera Saaya is also an unforgettable dance sequence.

A few more works include – Kismat, Dilli Ka Thug, Naya Din Nai Raat, Love in Simla, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Nazrana, Chaudhvin Ka Chand, Phool Aur Patthar, Jwar Bhata, Ayee Milan Ki Bela, Anita, Bandhe Haath, Dastaan, Ishare, Mastana, Ayee Milan Ki Bela, Aashique, Taj Mahal, Aas Ka Panchhi, Hulchul, Kab? Kyoon? Aur Kahan?, Ek Phool Do Mali, Gaban, Sadhana, Dillagi, Mr. X in Bombay, Ganwaar, Parasmani, Mere Mehboob, Amaanat, Dil Hi To Hai, Do Jasoos, Passport, Kalpana, Ujaala and Kaajal.

Master Sohanlal – Some interesting and less-known facts

Iconic song – Piya To Se Naina Laage Re choreographed by B. Sohanlal

1. Both Saroj Khan and Raju Khan (his estranged wife and kid) are National award winning Choreographers.  In fact Saroj still holds the record of maximum trophies at both National Film awards and Filmfare awards in this category, which owns a hat-trick at Filmfare too.

2. Saroj never took formal lessons in dance. Everything she learnt was from B. Sohanlal, under whom she worked as an assistant and also married at the age of 13, when she didn’t know even the spelling of ‘marriage’. She learnt the basics of Kathak, Manipuri, Kathakali, Bharatnatyam, Manipuri etc from him.

3. His daughter Cuckoo Khan worked as costume designer for Rishi Kapoor – Madhuri Dixit starrer, Prem Granth. She passed away at a comparatively young age of 42 following liver complications.

4. His brother B. Hiralal has choreographed a few film songs in Hindi and south Indian languages.

5. Fewer facts are known about his later life. He was active in film industry till late 1970s. He was in his mid-40s in the early 1960s, when he married Saroj Khan. Nothing is available online about his work or life in the 1980s.

Author’s note: While I searched for artist Sohanlal’s photo, I got many images posted in different sites, and couldn’t come to a perfect conclusion. Closely observing the resolution of the photo, I picked one, which I felt could be the right one, based on his age calculations. If I am wrong please let me know.


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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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