Over 400 million and counting, that is the cumulative view count for ‘Garmi’ (Street Dancer 3D) and the recently released single ‘Naach Meri Rani’, two 2020 tracks featuring the Canada-born Moroccan dancer-actress Nora Fatehi. It’s not quite her personal best, ’Dilbar’ (2018) at 907 million views, but is double that of ‘O Saki Saki’ (2019) with 294 million views. A significant reason for their popularity lies in Fatehi’s indisputable terpsichorean talent. A self-taught dancer, Fatehi, as an adolescent, relied on YouTube videos to hone her skills. The same platform has now made her a sensation. “It’s a divine force that pushes me to learn and prove myself,” says Fatehi of her ability to pick up dance styles, Afro, dancehall, street, hip-hop, belly dancing and Bollywood.
It’s why Fatehi now also has a say in the selection of choreographers. Her brief to them is simple: “make it hard”. “I want to push the boundaries in terms of moves,” she says. “I know if I do difficult things I will make an impact.” Fatehi prefers to collaborate with choreographers rather than be a passive participant. “I don’t want to be a temporary [in Bollywood],” she says. Dance, she adds, is not the be-all and end-all of her artistic journey, it is a tool “to open doors”. After her initial struggle, it is finally working.
Fatehi’s love for Hindi films began in Morocco where she would visit her grandmother and watch Hindi films with Arabic subtitles. Her parents, though, didn’t support her affinity for the performing arts. However, it didn’t deter Fatehi who came to Mumbai in the early 2010s with no knowledge of the workings of the Hindi film industry or even the language. After a forgettable debut in Roar: Tigers of the Sundarbans (2014), she turned to TV shows, Bigg Boss and Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, to make an impression. “I couldn’t sit at home and be picky or wait for that big launch by a big production house as a main lead. I knew it wasn’t going to happen,” she says. The Jhalak stint got her two music videos, one of them directed by choreographer-filmmaker Remo D’Souza. The game changer though was Dilbar, which she would also sing and produce as a single in Arabic. More songs have followed, along with small parts in Bharat, Batla House and Street Dancer 3D and, recently, a month-long stint as judge on India’s Best Dancer.
On top of Fatehi’s 2021 to-do list is to not let herself be pigeonholed as a dance specialist in a film industry prone to assigning labels. Yesteryear actress Helen’s journey is an inspiration but Fatehi wants to carve her own space. “I am already a hustler who has fought and worked towards getting the things I wanted,” she says. “I believe I am the one. That kind of energy can take you really far.”