Dances by Nakul Dev Mahajan are translated into animation.

Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Dances by Nakul Dev Mahajan are translated into animation.

Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Fill 1
Fill 1
October 06, 2020
In The Mix

A Leap Into Learning

The choreographer for Mira, Royal Detective helps teach youngsters about South Asian culture through dance.

Amy Amatangelo

As a child in Los Angeles, Nakul Dev Mahajan rarely saw someone who looked like him on television.

Now Mahajan, who owns seven NDM Bollywood Dance Studios in California, is the choreographer for Mira, Royal Detective The groundbreaking Disney Junior animated series follows Mira (voiced by Leela Ladnier), a young South Asian girl who uses critical thinking to solve problems.

"Mira is not just a South Asian character," Mahajan says. "She's so much beyond that. She's relatable to anybody and her friends are, too. For me, it's a very personal project because I did not have this growing up at all. Any kind of representation that had a character who looked like me unfortunately was surrounded by stereotypes."

Although Mira is set in the fictional land of Jalpur, the series strives for authenticity in portraying and celebrating the traditions and culture of India.

Each of the show's 11-minute segments features Mira and her fellow residents of Jalpur breaking into song and dance. To ensure that the dances are truly representative of the customs that inspired them, a unique animation process is used. Mahajan records himself and his assistant, Khushy Niazi, dancing.

"What he does is acting because he's choreographing for specific characters," says Mira executive producer Sascha Paladino. "He's taking on their personalities as he's creating their moves."

Mahajan, who brought Bollywood choreography to several seasons of Fox's So You Think You Can Dance and single episodes of Dance Moms and Fuller House, says the key is knowing your audience. "You want the moves to be something a preschooler could find interest in and maybe even copy," he says.

A storyboard artist takes Mahajan's dancing and begins the process of translating his moves to the small screen. It is then sent to India, where a crew of artists brings Mahajan's work to animated life.

Last year, Paladino and many of his team traveled to Bangalore to meet with the animators. They were surprised when — like something out of a Bollywood movie — all the animators jumped up from their desks and began performing one of the numbers from the show. "They had learned the moves that they had spent a lot of time obsessing over and animating," Paladino explains. "It was incredible."

For Mahajan, the series represents a real shift in the television landscape. "This show is allowing the younger generation to know about a different culture and to embrace it, learn from it and grow from it," he says. "And if that's not a feat in our community and our world, I don't know what is."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 9, 2020

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