Shobi started off as ‘that guy who dances behind all the heroes’. Now he’s the guy who makes the heroes dance. He has become one of the most successful choreographers in India. Name an actor or actress. Shobi has worked with them. What’s behind his success? Inspirations from his father, from other choreographers he has admired from afar. And learned from.
His father TV Paul Raj used to run his own dance school. “Back then, at shows we used to perform to live music, not recorded songs. The whole experience was significantly different from how it works today,” says Shobi. Even though he was a bright student, Shobi was intent on becoming a dancer. Today, he says he owes everything he is to his father, from whom he learnt the first moves of dance.
Not surprisingly, Michael Jackson has been one of Shobi’s greatest inspirations. “During weekends, my father used to bring VCRs to watch with the family. There would be one MGR film and few videos of MJ,” recalls Shobi. Many years have passed, but watching Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, his use of props, the sharp cuts and moves – still gives Shobi goosebumps.
“Naan Kamal-Sir oda theevara rasigan,” says Shobi. A true admirer of Kamal, for his acting and dancing, little did Shobi realise that one day, he would actually work with him. Shobi worked as Kamal’s assistant choreographer in Virumaandi, and made his debut as choreographer with ‘Alwarpetta Andava’ from Kamal’s Vasool Raja MBBS. Quiz him on which of Kamal’s dance songs is his favourite, and you’ll hear a very confused Shobi say, “Ayyo edha naan solradhu, neraiya iruke?” (How can I choose one from so many songs?) But, eventually, he zeroes on songs from Salangai Oli and Punnagai Mannan’s theme song.
His gurus have had a huge influence on him. His first ‘Master’ was TKS Babu, who choreographed Shobi’s first dance as a backup dancer, in a Telugu movie starring Krishna. He then trained under Chinni Prakash, from whom he learnt how to bring out a song’s grandeur. And lastly, “I worked the most under Raju Sundaram master, and he is the reason behind my becoming a choreographer today.” It seems everyone trained by Raju Sundaram became a choreographer, and even after all these years, they all share a great rapport.
Saroj Khan is another veteran choreographer Shobi looks up to. “There’s no one better than her when it comes to feminine moves. Her eye for detail and expression is unmatched,” he says animatedly. Every choreographer has some signature moves. And the way Saroj Khan engineers the heroine’s movements has always inspired Shobi. The Saroj–Madhuri combination churned out hit after hit. His favorite? ‘Dhak Dhak Karne Laga’ from Beta.