She promised herself that she would not cry, that she would take it on the chin like a true game player, come fully prepared to lose the title of ‘dancing queen’ and the moolah that came with it and put on a brave face in front of millions of viewers. Lose she did – to Mona Singh, darling of the masses – and the world watched as runner-up, Shveta Salve, swallowed her disappointment, tears welling up in her eyes. “I couldn’t make myself see that episode,” she says. “I was so ashamed I lost control.”
Sony’s reality dance show, Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, inspired by the popular Dancing With The Stars, was a hotly-contested programme which lured prominent television personalities – be it the chef who gives new life to the humble palak or the leggy anchor who grills cops and stars – to cha-cha-cha their way to the finals on the small screen.
Judges, Farah Khan, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Shilpa Shetty, consistently placed Salve on top, raising the bar against herself, each time. And she kept scoring. In the end, ‘Jassi’ won. The public voted for television’s favourite child, even though many knew in their hearts that Salve was, in fact, the
better dancer. But Salve is still very grateful. As she said in her emotional speech, “In my nine years on television, never have I received such instant fame as I have in just three months of Jhalak….”
As we settle down to chat over tall glasses of cold coffee, Salve’s phone keeps up a steady, silent vibration and SMSes fall over each other. Most are encouraging reassurances from friends to the tune of ‘You are the best’, ‘Glorious is the rise after a fall’, etcetera. One of her producers, Manish Goswami, even threw her a ‘cheering up’ party.
Salve, off screen, is small built, slender, almost pixie-like, garbed in the style of the moment, the ubiquitous capris and shirt; more college co-ed than sensuous eyeball-grabber. At 25, she has earned her independence with a 12-hour rigorous routine that has given her, her own home and car. Convent school and Sophia College-educated, the “hardcore Mumbaiite”, raised by parents who have always been with Air-India, has dance literally “in my blood as my mother is a Koli and we are blessed with rhythm in our veins. But I am not a trained dancer, as some were wont to believe. I worked just as hard, if not more, than the others and waltz and rumba were quite alien to me.”
With no contacts or godparents in the media world, Salve reached the television screen via the modelling, theatre, music videos route. Achieving recognition in Zee’s undergrad caper, Hip Hip Hurray, where she played a Veronica-like character from the popular Archie series, Salve graduated to the bolder, women-oriented Kittie Party and Lipstick. “I was a tomboy earlier,” she confesses. “I have groomed myself and worked hard to fit into the mould of ‘attractive woman’.” Her shows currently on air are Tony and Deeya Singh’s (of Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin…fame) Left Right Left and Kituu Sabb Jaantii Hai.
Real fame still eludes her. Does Salve, who thinks of herself as “a worker bee, not the queen bee,” dream of being the chief protagonist in a daily soap or bagging a meaty role in a movie? Perhaps an item number, à la Chaiyyan, chaiyyan? What if Bhansali, who compared her dazzling footwork to Madhuri Dixit’s, offered her one solo dance in his next opus? “I am an actor first,” says Salve, carefully. “I would not want to give up television to just showcase my dancing skills on the big screen. But, for Mr Bhansali, if he asked, I may do it.”