ETERNALS Interview: Choreographer Nileeka Bose On Standout Bollywood Sequence With Kumail Nanjiani (Exclusive)

Eternals choreographer Nileeka Bose talks to us about her amazing work on the movie's memorable Bollywood dance number featuring Kingo actor Kumail Nanjiani, and ponders a possible return to the franchise!

Interviews Opinion

After arriving on Disney+ last month, Eternals is finally set to hit 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD on February 15. We can't wait to delve into all those deleted scenes and special features, but there's one moment, in particular, we were very excited to be able to revisit: Kingo's big Bollywood dance number. 

Nileeka Bose was the choreographer who worked on the sequence with actor Kumail Nanjiani, helping put together a stunning, standout dance scene that definitely captured the attention of MCU fans 

A Bollywood dancer, manager, and experienced choreographer, Nileeka is the Founder and Creative Director of The Bollywood Co. and Noble Management (you can find her website and details on her company's Bollywood dance classes by clicking here). She's also a former winner of the Asian Achievers Award and a shortlisted candidate for the Asian Women of Achievement.

You can see why Marvel Studios and Eternals director Chloé Zhao would want to hire someone of Nileeka's calibre for such an important scene in the movie, and we were recently fortunate to be able to sit down with the choreographer to discuss her work on the blockbuster. In this exclusive interview, Nileeka reflects on how she came to join the MCU, the experience of working with Nanjiani and Zhao, the challenges the scene presented, and making sure the dance number looked authentic. 

It's really fascinating to hear Nileeka's take on bringing some Bollywood flair to this Hollywood blockbuster, and we're definitely on board with some of the ideas she suggests for Eternals 2...

Eternals is now available on Digital and will be available on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD February 15. 
 

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How did you come to be involved with Eternals and how soon was it you found out the project was this huge Marvel blockbuster?

I found out that I was going to be involved with it probably two months before it was filmed. I didn’t know it was going to be a huge Marvel blockbuster as we obviously get told a name, which is not the real name of the film, and then go through the audition process and get told bits and pieces. They really kept the reveal close to the wire, so when I found out it was Marvel, I literally fell off my chair! I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t really hide how excited I was to work with Kumail [Nanjiani] and Chloé [Zhao] as well.

What was it like working with the film’s director, Chloé Zhao, how did your conversations go when it came to what she was looking for with this Bollywood sequence and then ensuring it was authentic rather than a fully Americanized version of what people think it should be?

Do you know what, I do think it somewhat was a little bit Americanized because we’ve got the comedy of how Kumail is this jokey character always cracking jokes and being so funny. I think the people who got it and understood that this was a little funny and we weren’t totally immersed in the idea of it being Indian Bollywood and is instead Hollywood’s nod to Bollywood, got it. For me, I definitely understood as I was choreographing it what I was trying to represent and that was literally this superhero who is really just trying to dance in a funny way. I wanted to make the scene memorable and it was really interesting because it had so many elements we wanted to include in there. 

In terms of piecing the sequence together with everything from the movements to music and costumes, what was that process like and, timeline-wise, how long were you working on the movie?

The whole process took about three months. From when I started contacting a costume designer, the lyricist for the song, which is an original song called ‘Nach Mera Hero,’ it was a process. I was so lucky because as a choreographer, you’re often brought in and given a very, very small window of what you can say and do, but Chloé actually asked me, ‘What do you think we can do? Can we go in this direction or should we do that instead? Do you know anybody who can perhaps sing in Hindi or do you think it should be in English?’ We did toy with all these ideas and it was all discussed. It was such a fun process and a great three months. I’ll always remember that period because once that movie was over, we had this huge delay with it actually being released and I just couldn’t tell anyone for two years that I was a choreographer on a Marvel movie! I was just quoting for other things and wanted to put it on my CV, but couldn’t [Laughs]. 
 


What was it like dealing with that intense secrecy after you’d contributed to the movie and how did it feel that first time you got to see this dance number in the trailers and later on the big screen?

I genuinely wanted to wear a t-shirt saying, ‘I’m a choreographer for Marvel’ because this is honestly the biggest thing I’d ever done. I obviously didn’t get that t-shirt printed, but it was amazing. I’m not the kind of person that basks in the glory of my work or that moment, but this was one of those things where I waited so long that I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to tell everyone. I’m going to mention it again. I’ll repost that post.’ I actually really, really enjoyed sharing the news as it was such a big thing. To also be able to have fifty dancers share the news…it was so lovely to have that community sense where we could all reminisce after such a long wait. 

Kumail Nanjiani has talked a lot about how he couldn’t have pulled off this dance scene without you, but can you talk us through what your working relationship was like and how that developed over time?

I would say 100% he was worried and nervous, but that slowly changed. When he started to find that confidence within himself he realised that dancing is not worrying about the end product, but enjoying the process and actually feeling something while he was dancing. As soon as he started to feel that after the first few rehearsals where he was so self-conscious, that changed. 

Those who work behind the scenes on movies like this one are, unfortunately, sometimes overlooked, so how has it felt to see Kumail make a really genuine effort to name and credit you for helping him get through a sequence he clearly found quite daunting?

My mind is blown. When he said my name on Jimmy Kimmel Live, my friends were like, ‘Did you pay him to say this?’ This doesn’t happen in this day and age. Choreographers are the lowest of the chain. When you work with someone for three months and get to know them, making them believe in themselves and showing them that they can dance, you keep those good relationships with you. He’s honestly such a humble person, and I think maybe somewhere in his career, someone did something similar for him or he just knows how much it means to get that recognition. It really did mean a lot and I am still to this day I’m named in press conferences and interviews. That’s so lovely. We do stay in touch and did a screening for the fifty dancers that are in it and he was kind enough to send a message and support that with all his heart. You don’t really find Hollywood stars that remember all these things that they promise on set, but he literally stuck to his word and made things happen for us. 

As well as Kumail, there are a lot of other dancers in that scene as well - what was the process of recruiting and preparing them for the scene like?

That was amazing. These dancers don’t tend to get opportunities like this. We perform at weddings, birthday parties, and sometimes bar mitzvahs [Laughs]. Films like this are few and far between, so I said to them when we did the screening, ‘Tell your children. Tell your grandchildren. Tell your great-grandchildren. This will be something you take with you for the rest of your lives.’ I think all these dancers are so grateful to be part of this MCU moment.

What does it mean to you, personally, that a major Hollywood blockbuster superhero movie includes a Bollywood sequence? I know you said it’s slightly Americanized, but it seems Chloé really did want to do what she could to make it authentic. 

Yeah, I think this is just a turning point. I hope in future we can get to do some more stylised things. I think a lot of people see Bollywood and see what they think is typical Bollywood. For this scene, it was perfect because it was an opening to help us understand what Kingo is like. There are so many opportunities to represent different parts of Bollywood within Hollywood and do it well, so I think this has definitely opened some doors. I hope people understand that this is why this needed to be there because it will only lead to more representation not just for this culture, but for maybe other cultures as well. 

You mentioned there was a lot of training and that it took a few months until cameras started rolling, but when you got to walk on set and see the elaborate set for the scene brought to life, what was your reaction? 

It was a shock! I didn’t realise how grand everything would look. Everything was gold, there was an elephant, there were chandeliers…it was very real. You felt like you were in a stately home in Rajasthan or something like that. Each day, I’d come on set and there would be another elephant or more flowers or they’d decorate it a little bit more. There’s nothing spared and all the details were done to the absolute infinite level. 
 


We learn in Eternals that Kingo has been a Bollywood star for decades and that opens the door to future movies possibly revisiting his past; is there a particular Bollywood era you’d like to choreograph another dance scene for should that happen?

You have read my mind! I would love that. I just think there are so many eras in Bollywood that could be visited. This is why I said, when we opened the door, there’s just so much more that could be done. I think people are very quick to say, ‘It could have been like this’ or ‘It could have been like that,’ but maybe these decisions were made very mindfully, and that’s just how we wanted Kingo to be introduced in this way so I think there’s definitely scope to do a Bollywood action sequence. There are a lot of Bollywood films with motorbikes and leathers…I would just love to do see Kingo do all sorts [Laughs].

It sounds like you had a lot of fun working on the film, but in terms of challenges, what were some of the biggest you faced?

Honestly, to make sure that fifty dancers showed up and knew what they were doing. The mass coordination too. Also, Kumail’s bewilderment that we’d been doing it on our own for three months, learning it with him and me, and then we literally had two or three days with the fifty for him to feel, ‘Okay, this is my supporting cast. It’s me now and fifty dancers.’ When he saw the level they were at, it made him stop and go, ‘Oh God, this is really happening.’ That was a reset moment for him. 

Knowing Kumail is a big Hollywood star and that these Marvel movies are so huge, did that add to the pressure or were you already fully invested by that point?

I honestly didn’t feel the pressure until after the film came out. You know, it goes to critics, people share what they feel about the movie before it’s even gone out to the audience, and so I don’t think I ever go into anything thinking about the pressure. Sometimes, it’s more just thinking about the opinions of the actual community that are living and breathing die-hard Bollywood fans. Like I said, there are so many different parts of Bollywood we can represent, and this does not represent the whole culture. Even scenes like the wedding and other bits where they might have referenced culture…no reference in one movie can give you the whole vision of a culture. I definitely think people need to take these movies with a pinch of salt, especially when the character is so funny. His character is hilarious from start to finish. 

Finally, a Bollywood sequence like this could have potentially been used in many different Marvel projects, but Eternals is a very diverse movie and handles that in a respectful, meaningful way. What did it mean to be part of a movie like this one and to see the way people responded to that sort of representation?

I think Eternals was the perfect film. The name, the fact it was almost a groundbreaking moment and to have your stamp on it…I will remember this for all of time. I think it was a defining moment in my career. It was definitely made more special by Kumail inviting me so much into the process of this movie and I think it was the right film and right decision to find a way to bring Bollywood dance into the MCU. 
 

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