Tamil Interviews

Leading a Dance: The Sheriff Interview

Choreographer Sheriff’s steps are nothing ordinary. His art is nuanced. And, if it wasn’t for the ‘ill omen’ that surrounded his first role on screen, Sheriff would have become an actor.



Sheriff is an endlessly curious soul. Experiments are a way of life for the choreographer, as those are the only moments he sits still. “I’m hyper all the time”, he admits. He is a firm believer in knowledge, and is aggressive in his search to better himself.

Now 34 years old, Sheriff has slowly risen in the ranks of Kollywood. From the title winner of Ungalil Yaar Adutha Prabhu Deva to the choreographer of choice for many leading directors in the Tamil industry, he has come a long way indeed.


Sheriff attributes his ability to handle ‘Kollywood deadlines’ to his reality show experience. “Ungalil Yaar Adhutha Prabhu Deva came at a time when I wanted to step away from dance. It was a difficult experience in more ways than one.” Not because he was competing with artistes, but because most of these artistes had been his students at one point of time. “I was 28 years old. At the auditions in Coimbatore, more than three quarters of the audience were my students. At a point, all my students had been selected, and I was on the verge of being kicked out.” Needless to say, that was a turning point in Sheriff’s life.

Since then, every decision he made, took him a step closer to success. “I was good at strategy. I’d perform well in one round, and balance it out with an okay performance in the next. That’s what saved me at the end, and made me the title winner.”
He’s insanely proud of his journey, and is fond of telling people that it’d make for a great pot-boiler. But the most special thing about his life is that he’s living his grandfather’s dream. A stunt master for movies such as the MGR starrer Malai Kallan, Karim’s family commitments forced him to abandon cinema. But his stories about the film world left such a deep impact on young Sheriff, that he knew he had to make it big in films someday.

Initially, though the plan was to become an actor. Sheriff had always wanted to tell people of the things he dreamt up in his head. “I was full of ideas, even as a child. It’d take root and grow into this beautiful thing. I needed a powerful medium to convey my thoughts. Cinema was it.”

After his stint on Vetriselvan, Sheriff has set aside his dream of acting…for now. “In my first film itself, I died. My friends told me that it is a kind of omen, and that I should stay away from it for a bit. Fortunately for them, I agreed with that thought. So right now, I’m mostly behind the camera.”

He did relax this rule for Enakkul Oruvan, a project he’s very proud of. Director Prasath Ramar had Sheriff play himself, and he’s onscreen for barely a minute. “But I didn’t act in Enakkul Oruvan. I played myself. So it doesn’t count. I’m safe for now from omens.”



If you sign up Sheriff for a song in your film, you can be sure of three things, he informs me. Attention to detail, “a unique sense of style and out of the box thinking”. The artiste that he is, he is very particular about his ‘process’. “With every project that I take on, I try to do something new and get it across to people. For this I need space. Lots of it. Time will be good too, but who are we kidding…this is cinema. Not a stage show. A day max is all you get. So I settle for space.”

He is aggressive in his search for the ‘next big thing’. An artiste can only survive if he produces something new in his every attempt, he informs me. “Every project needs to have a new theme. It has to have something new to offer the audience. There are only so many ways I can make actors shake their legs and arms.”

For example, in the introduction song for Isai, the theme was ‘an artiste is born’. “I got Suryah sir to step out of the smoke. The first shot would be of his feet, and below that you would see the audience. The idea was to reinforce the fact that he is the man. A rockstar.”
The case with the hugely popular Kaasu Panam from Soodhu Kavvum was that the team was forced to think ingeniously. “The song was supposed to be a bar song. When a guy walks away with a lot of money, he would go someplace and drink. If you have a girl dancing in a bar, then you’re asking for an A certificate. So I gave a twist to it. I dreamt up a different situation for it.”

The song became a hit with the masses. Sheriff had arrived.


Years spent teaching people with left feet in Coimbatore has come in handy for Sheriff. Many a time, he has come across artistes extremely reluctant to dance. “GV Prakash and Sivakarthikeyan are not natural dancers. But it is their ability to work hard at it that makes them look good onscreen. I relax them by making them do things they do everyday. For example…GV is a music director. So I explain steps to him in terms he’s comfortable with. Andha step guitar vaasikkara maadhiri pannunga…indha step piano vaasinga nu… That’s how I make it easy.”

There’s not a lot of space to experiment with a Tamil cinema song, but Sheriff gives it a hard try nonetheless. The key is to work with easy-going technicians and artistes who think different. “I’ve been lucky to work purely with people who have the same sensibilities as me. Nalan Kumarasamy, Mani Nagaraj, SJ Suryah sir, Adhik…they’re all people who gave me what I needed the most – the space to do everything my way.”



Rarely does Sheriff come across criticism of his work. When he does hear something, it’s mostly the fact that his work will not reach the B and C Centres. “I don’t dance for kuthu songs very well. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to a point where I can pretend to be interested in them. This is a major handicap according to a section of the industry. Is there ever a mainstream Tamil film without a kuthu bit nowadays? That’s why I search for newer avenues. Many others are there to make Vijay sir and Ajith sir dance to gaana songs. I’m here to make them dance hip hop. A creator shouldn’t follow anybody. He should carve out his own path.”

He doesn’t understand all that fuss about the hero introduction number as well. “Everybody can do gymnastics. Even I can. But I strongly believe that every song should have a powerful concept behind it. Prabalamagavey from Enakkul Oruvan is a hero introduction number. But with a difference. The idea was to show Siddharth’s celebrity status. A celebrity attracts people just as a magnet attracts iron filings. Throughout the song, you’ll see Siddharth in the centre, surrounded by people.”

All that hard work though is rarely recognised. “The work I do is nuanced. Only artistes who think like me would be able to get what it is that I’m trying to tell. But that doesn’t get me worried. I have an idea, I work on it and I give it to the people. It’s out there in public forums now. Once it’s out of my head, it doesn’t worry me anymore.”


Hit List

1. Arya and Sivakarthikeyan are the most hardworking actors Sheriff has encountered. Arya in particular has a never say never attitude that Sheriff finds fascinating. “He is not a natural dancer but gives it his all till he gets it right.”

2. GV Prakash Kumar is the most flexible music composer out there. “Many a time, I tell him what I want the song to look like and he comes up with a tune. It’s never like that with anybody else.”


3. Cinematographer Soundarrajan and Sheriff bonded over their mutual love for the new and interesting. “It shows, I think. I had a lot of fun working on Isai and Romeo Juliet, because Soundar sir was so obliging when it came to the shoot. He’d listen to my advice, and make all my crazy ideas for camera angles work.”

4. Prabhu Deva and Michael Jackson are all time favourites in Sheriff’s household. Sharing a stage with PD was one of the highlights of his life.

5. The quirkiest song he’s choreographed is for an upcoming film. He had to show Vinayaga Chathurthi with a twist. “I’m a Muslim. I have to give full marks to the director for having so much trust in me and giving me the opportunity. As it is, there’s nothing new that can be done with a Vinayaga Chathurthi song, but if anyone can do it, it’d be me.”


The Sheriff interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.