Haleem Khan is known for taking the audience’s breath away as he walks on stage, and narrates stories from mythology through dance. However, the uniqueness of his act, is that he is dressed from head to toe as a woman.
For the remainder of his act, those clueless, do not realize that the dancer behind the traditional attire, is in fact a man. His body movements do not spill out his secret either. It is only after the performance that people realize, and thunderous applause follows.
With over 800 solo and group shows across the country and abroad, Haleem has become a well-known figure in Hyderabad’s cultural circuit and has been profiled many times by the media.
Haleem was 16-years-old and was completing his high school in Ongole in Prakasam district when he decided that he wanted to learn Kuchipudi, a classical Indian dance form which is said to have originated from undivided Andhra Pradesh.
However, coming from a conservative family, he had his apprehensions. “I was very quiet and secretive about it then. I found a guruji, (teacher) and I went to class whenever I could – mostly between college and tution classes,” the 32-year old tells The News Minute.
This went on till he moved to Hyderabad after his graduation and decided to quit his job as an IT recruiter in 2009. “I couldn’t sail on both boats. I had to make a choice, and I chose dance,” he says. The rest, was history.
Haleem’s commitment to dance is not just personal. “I am now working on an instructional DVD, something like a video book that mainly children can learn from,” he says.
“The project is very close to my heart and I have put in a lot of effort for it. It isn’t that age specific, and even adults can learn from it. My only aim is to spread the cultural dance form to the next generation,” he adds.
Asked how he began to learn the dance form, Haleem said it wasn’t a eureka moment. “There wasn’t any particular incident as such that triggered me to start dancing. It was a gradual process. I watched various classical art forms on TV and I saw a lot of old movies, and then one day I decided that I would learn to do it myself,” he says.
Haleem fought against the odds as Kuchipudi has always been seen as a female dance form, glorifying Hinduism
“Firstly, as far as the gender was concerned, I did not start off with the intention to dress like a woman. It was later on that I learnt about the fact that it was common for men to play female characters in Kuchipudi,” he says. Haleem then gave it a shot and realized that he could pull it off.
“I’m very glad I can pull it off. Not everyone can, because it is hard. I am always the sort that likes to challenge myself and this was the biggest one I had ever faced. So I took it up,” Haleem adds.
As far as the religion was concerned, Haleem says “There is no denying it. Kuchipudi is a Hindu dance form. It propagates stories from the Upanishads and Vedas. I cannot do a performance, if prejudice comes in the way. I believe the stories completely, that’s why I can narrate them through dance. However, at the end of the day, it’s the art that matters and not the religion.”
When asked about his impeccable look, Haleem admits that he is a perfectionist. “I won’t settle for anything less. The make-up has to be perfect. Initially, I did a few photo shoots, to get the feel of what I look like. My guru was really happy when I sent him my video and he told me to take it up seriously,” he says.
Haleem says he will never give up Kuchipudi. “I love art in general but what draws me to dance and most of all Kuchipudi, is its ability to tell stories,” he adds.