EXCLUSIVE: Maksim Chmerkovskiy talks about Madhuri Dixit, Bollywood dancing and India
Maksim "Maks" Aleksandrovich Chmerkovskiy is not an unknown name in India now! This Ukrainian Latin Ball room dancer is creating waves with his entry in Colors' Jhalak Dikhla Jaa 7. He recently won the the Mirror Ball trophy of Dancing with the Stars and he will be joining JDLJ as a guest celebrity judge.
Pinkvilla got an exclusive chance to reach out to him and ask about Bollywood dance, Madhuri Dixit and his plans in India. Here are the excerpts from the interview-
Welcome to India! How are you finding the country? Did you learn any Hindi?
I love the country – but I haven’t had a chance to it properly yet. I am yet to learn any Hindi
You have already shot for two episodes, how has been the experience so far?
The experience has been amazing. Everybody is really friendly. There is a lot of positivity on set which is great because I have been a part of many sets and not all of them are pleasant. I think it’s a part of Indian culture – the people are very happy and positive. I feel that something extremely horrible must happen for you to lose faith. The people always find something good in everything and that’s what I have noticed so far.
Dancing with the Stars is a totally different deal as you see many International dance forms, Jhalak Dikhla Jaa is more Indian, did you have any difficulty judging the contestants?
I thought I would have a very difficult time and I thought that I would fail miserably in judging the contestants. But for some reason it felt easy, it felt great and very positive. And I think it’s because I am realizing that judging dancing is judging dancing is judging dancing. If you are professional Bollywood dancer, you are looking at things from your perspective but it’s still the perspective of an entertainer. It’s not like a basketball player judging dancing, it’s not a completely different entity. I have danced for 30 years but I think the reason I can judge this and feel comfortable is because I have been doing Dancing with the Stars all these years. Its format is the same, style is different and that’s awesome. If anything, I am having fun learning about different things, learning new dance styles and just overall enjoying sitting down and not being the one on the other side being scrutinized.
This is the first time you are judging a dance reality show, what made you take up this offer?
It’s not the first time I am judging a dance reality show. I judged so you think you can dance in Ukraine. I guest judged Dancing with the Stars in the US for a couple of episodes. I took up this offer because I got to be in India – the fact that it is an exotic place two planets away and the next time I will get an opportunity to be here will have to be a drastic event in my life. You have to take time off from something – I believe in being a productive person from the outset. I believe it takes a person some time to get to the success level that will warrant that because my goal ultimately is not constantly work. I want to spend time with my future kids and my future family and I want to be a stay at home dad. To be able to combine business and pleasure is a rarity in our life. We have to unfortunately do what is needed and not always what we want and this is that once in a life time opportunity to do what you like, what you love in a place where you always wanted to visit and who would pass up this opportunity?!
We read somewhere that you will not return on next season of Dancing with the Stars. Is it true? What is the reason for you not returning on the show?
I can neither confirm nor deny this statement.
What are the qualities you are looking for a perfect couple in Jhalak? What will be the parameters of judging them according to you?
My opinion of a perfect couple has changed in the last year because of the experience I have had on Forever Tango. I got to learn Argentinian Tango from the best in the world and these people are fascinating. What they taught me is that Argentinian Tango is not a dance, it’s a state of being and the way they approach dance is the idea of allowing the thinking of the audience as someone behind a closed door who you give a keyhole view to the inside of the room. You and your partner dance for yourself. So, whichever couple is able to get me to feel like I am behind a closed door and I get this little bit of a keyhole thing to look into and I am privileged to witness their dance...that is the perfect couple for me.
Traditional Indian style is so different. There are many styles but the Bollywood driven one is very showy and it has a lot of personality…it is very alive and very fun with a lot of laughter and happiness. It’s about what the couple preferred to show me and so I have to judge them on that. I can’t comment on a dance and say it’s not my cup of tea. I have to comment on a dance and say - You did a brilliant job portraying what it is that you wanted to do. But, here are the things that I think you would need to do in order for this performance to be better. And that’s how I approach each couple and which judge I choose to be. I want to be a fair judge – I want to be someone who offers advice and not only offers criticism.
You won the Mirror Ball trophy after doing 13 seasons of Dancing with the Stars, how did you manage to be so patient and work hard every time?
I never thought it would take me 13 seasons to win it. I have had unbelievable partners. I had people who were head and shoulders better than others. And this is how, the hard way, I learnt what this show is about. It’s not always about the best person winning, it’s about what the audience decide is the best dancer or who they like to be holding the trophy at the end. And you know what? That’s great – that’s what democracy is all about, that’s what power to the people is all about. I disagree with a lot of people’s choices but that must have meant that in the format of Dancing with the Stars, I did not do a good enough job for the audience to also love us, not just love what we danced.
What will you say to the choreographers of Jhalak who have been a part of the show for long but haven't tasted success yet?
Keep working. Keep trying to be better. It’s not all about just dance steps but it’s also about personality, it’s also about the measures you take, it’s also about managing your celebrity to be not just a dancer but a politician – somebody who has to appeal on many different levels. Don’t just dance with them, put on a show.I think the biggest advise I can give is just stick with it. You owe it to yourself to get the end result because if you have done the show once, and if you have gone far enough in the competition, you understand how difficult it is. And you owe it to yourself to finish the job. So, you have to find a way. Work hard, and if you already work hard, then work harder.
What is the major difference you find in Dancing with the Stars and Jhalak?
Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa is different from Dancing with the Stars just because it’s a different format and the flow is different. The biggest and most drastic difference is that it is not LIVE. In the US, we are a LIVE show for 2 hours from start to finish. Everything is quick. If you mess up on a LIVE show, you mess up. There is no redo, there’s nothing. When I judged, I haven’t seen yet an example of somebody messing up in the middle of the routine and stop and say ‘can we do it again?’. So, I don’t even know if that’s allowed. But, probably not. So, in that regard it is the same. But, for example, technical difficulties like I was on a receiving end once when my partner and I danced and the music didn't work and so we had to just improvise. It kind of messed us up a little bit. We got another track and finished the dance. But, that was it. That was the one time opportunity to do what we had to do. I am pretty sure that here the precautionary measure that can be taken to stop and start over. And also, the fact that there is no specific dance styles is very different from our version and from probably any other version.
Would you perform in Jhalak? Did you try dancing on Bollywood numbers?
I would love to, honestly. But probably not on this trip. I also feel like it’s a lot of responsibility and if I have to do it, it has to be done right. And I would love to put together a dance that is definitely different, definitely my style. I wouldn't want to do a traditional Indian dance because I don’t want to disrespect it and do a bad job. I would want to do something that I am good at and do it on a high level.I am not saying that Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa needs to change or even get updated. But I am saying that there is something about dance that has to evolve.I believe that an amazing Paso Doble or Argentinian Tango or Rumba – beautiful, gorgeous, sexy, passionate, emotional Rumba – could make a huge impact on the audiences and they will fall in love with it too.
I have danced to Bollywood songs before, but back in the US it was just a parody. I don’t think it did any justice to the actual song. I think we need to do a better job. Having said that, I would dance to a Bollywood song.
How would you rate Indian celebrities with the celebrities of Dancing with the Stars in terms of dancing?
I think the pool of talent is just as vast as in the United States. There are a lot of people in the US and there are a lot of people in India. The bigger the population, the more freedom to explore and exploit its talent, the more talented people you are going to have. Indians are very driven in terms of arts and dancing and singing. And so, obviously you are going to have amazing dancers grow out of entertainers. No wonder you guys have a lot of actors on the season – or on seasons in general – because it’s a nation driven by song and dance and it’s awesome.
Who is the one with whom you get along with really well - Remo, Madhuri Dixit or Karan Johar?
I think I get along with everybody. I have a vast amount of respect for the judges. Madhuri is just amazing – even if I didn't know who she was, which I didn't – I initially felt very positive sitting next to her and I felt that she will help me if I needed it. It was a great experience sharing a desk with her and sitting there. Karan’s presence demands respect. I had no clue about his body of work. I had no idea what he does for a living. And then, hearing him speak and give his criticism made me realize that this guy knows exactly what he is talking about. And I really appreciated that. I appreciate that these three people are comprised of people who are extremely experienced. They have very close ties with art and dance in general. Two of them are phenomenal dancers by profession and Karan has dealt with dancing and cinematography for the highest level. And he can also move a little bit himself. But my point is that their expertise and their experience allows them to not just talk at the celebrities but talk to them and offer them advice that are valid and would make them better.
Any one celebrity and choreographer who you think is outstanding?
I had my doubts when I saw people. But, they quickly went away when the show started and people started dancing. I think that there are choreographers that are just unbelievable. The girl that dances with Akshat - Vaishnavi is brilliant. Tushar (Shakti’s choreographer) is good because he looks knowledgeable…he looks like he knows what he is doing, he looks like he can handle her although she is a brilliant dancer, and maybe in instances as a female better than him as a male. But, I don’t see that and that’s great. That talks a lot about his expertise.
Would you be open for other projects in India?
My goal in life is to have as many experiences as possible but it’s also to be able to make things better. I never want to be a commercial entity. I like being here because I know that I am able to bring an opinion that might benefit someone. If I am offered a project, I want it to be a project that I know I can do a good job with it. That’s why I never wanted to be a model. I modeled for 15 minutes of my life. I was offered a modeling contract, I signed it when I was 16 years old. I showed up for one thing and I realized that I don’t want to be that human mannequin because that is not etching your name on a stone. You go away and you get replaced by another mannequin. So, that’s why I want to do jobs that are more creative.