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Eternals Interview: Choreographer Nileeka Bose on Teaching Kumail Nanjiani to


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After releasing in theaters last year, Marvel’s Eternals is now available on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD.

Eternals “follows a group of heroes from beyond the stars who had protected the Earth since the dawn of man. When monstrous creatures called the Deviants, long thought lost to history, mysteriously return, the Eternals are forced to reunite in order to defend humanity once again.”

ComingSoon’s Julia Delbel spoke with Eternals choreographer about teaching Kumail Nanjiani to dance, its Bollywood sequence, and more.

Julia Delbel: How did you first get involved with this project and become the choreographer for Eternals?

Nileeka Bose: So I got an email which said they’re looking for a choreographer for a film, which did not say we are looking for a choreographer for Marvel or the MCU. So I knew very little about the scale of what I was gonna be involved with. As the weeks went past, more information trickled out. By the time I realized I was being part of the Marvel franchise, I was literally on set the next week. So yeah, things were very close to the wire. Well maybe not in the next week, but it was weeks when we realized the scale of what we were gonna be involved with, and it was months when we were first actually contacted.

How did the process go for you to get the job? What was the like audition process like?

So I think no matter what your CV and how strong it is, to be part of the Marvel franchise you need to be a good fit for the director. You need to be a good fit for the film and what their vision is for the film. I could sense straight away that Chloé had such a big dream for this film to unify different cultures and really different aspects of life that you don’t always see in film. I think that’s why we really hit it off. I think she understood how I have perceived different parts of Bollywood and gave her a couple of options that we could kind of explore. I know they were toying with like an action sequence for Kumail and it ended up being a Bollywood dance. So everything became a little bit more stylized. So I think it was really, really cool to actually work with her as opposed to just be given a brief and just go and do some things. There was a lot of collaboration throughout.

So when you say different options, do you mean different dance style options?

So with Bollywood, you can do Bollywood classical, you can do upbeat high tempo Bollywood, which is almost similar to bhangra. So we actually wanted to include a few of those elements within this dance, but it was definitely geared towards a Western audience to kind of give them a snapshot of Indian dance looks like almost like when you have a buffet and you pick a little bit of each dish. That’s kind of where we went with the choreography. So you’ll notice that Kumail does a little bit of jumping. He does a little bit of like smooth moves, but all of that is not just kind of defined by one style. We’re kind of picking and choosing the elements of Bollywood that we like.

RELATED: Interview: Eternals Star Lia McHugh Discusses Sprite, Deleted Scenes, and More

So did you also get to teach the choreography to the cast and work with them on that?

Yes. So I taught Kumail for three months before he actually learned the dance. He had to learn like how to move because he’d never done a dance class in his life before I also did another scene, which was kind of more movement direction. That was a scene that that Gemma Chan was in. So it was nothing to do with Bollywood, but after I did one scene, I was called back to do another one. Obviously, I’m not gonna say no because I had so much fun doing my main scene. It was just the best experience. I keep saying eternally grateful, but it’s true. I really am.

What was the scene with Gemma like? What was the difference for you working on that and what was that process like?

So that was more movement direction. So it wasn’t a Bollywood scene. It was literally just kind of hurting people and moving them around in a circle. Because if you’ve done movement direction to one style, you can pretty much do it to any style. So, it wasn’t really dancing and there’s only one dancing in the Eternals. It is the Bollywood one, but I was lucky enough to kind of spend another day on set and another chance to come back and see more of the action. I absolutely lapped it up. I was like, “Yes, I will be there. Tell me the time. I will herd the people I will tell them which direction to move in.” So that was just kind of like a background sequence and it’s one of the filler scenes. It wasn’t too important.

Well, that’s good that you’d be like able to do the different kinds things. It makes sense that you’d be able to do one if you can do the other. But in terms of the Bollywood number, it’s decidedly a bit more like classical retro Bollywood than the modern. What inspired you and who was in charge of like deciding that and why was that the route decided to go down?

So I think because Kumail’s character is so funny, like he is not your stereotypical Bollywood hero or villain, he is funny. I think because of that, the style that he danced, that scene is actually a scene within a scene. So he basically is playing a Bollywood star, which is his kind of alter ego. That defined the way that we were gonna dance. We weren’t gonna be doing a serious dance with him, kind of cracking jokes here and there. It had to be a little bit of comedy. You’ll notice a lot in his facial expressions there, lifted eyebrows winks and all of those things, and I think it was defined by his character. So we had to build the dance around him.

So you were working with him beforehand. What was that like? In terms of just teaching him and getting a process to get him ready for the scene and just dancing in general?

That was really interesting because I think the fact that Marvel really thought about making him comfortable and making him feel like he could have the time with a dance instructor to learn how to feel like a dancer before he went in and learned the choreography said a lot to me because it showed me that they were super serious about bringing the best out of him. I think if we didn’t have those few months to get him up to speed, I think the whole experience wouldn’t have been as enjoyable for him.

He talks about it all the time in his press conferences and TV appearances. A lot of people say that’s so unusual that he still talks about it, but I think it’s a testament to how much he enjoyed the process of becoming a dancer from someone that had never attended a dance class to go and perform a full [routine]. It was like nearly three minutes that routine, and that’s for all of time will be in a movie. So he really did dedicate his whole self to doing a good job

In terms of working with Marvel itself, what were your expectations compared to the reality of it? Did you have any preconceived notions going in maybe about the studio?

I will say I’ve worked on other film sets and TV sets and it is the most secretive franchise you can ever work for. Even the leads don’t really know what’s going on hugely. So I love that. I love that because you’re walking into something and it’s so exciting and you know, you’re not even seeing a copy of anything until like last moment. I think it’s partly because things change, but also partly because of the excitement of working on a film that’s so under wraps. So I’d say that as well.

Like for example, you can’t really have your phones on set. I was allowed to keep mine to just take a few stills of things. But by and large, most people’s belongings and everything were locked away for the time that those 50 dancers were on set. They weren’t able to have contact with the outside world, which was brilliant. I was like, if anyone needs to call their mom, ask me because I’m the only one with a phone.

eternals

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How much context did you have on the scenes you were doing then?

I literally knew about the scene before and the scene after, and that was it.

Did you have a script or did you just have it explained to you?

No, I did not. I wasn’t that important. I didn’t get a script, but I did get some context. Obviously, that was enough because Chloé goes, “Oh, this is what’s happening and oh this is what’s happening after.” You don’t need a script. You’re good. I understood it to that level, but obviously, I didn’t see the whole picture of the film until I sat two years later at the premiere and watched the whole thing.

Because you guys filmed before the pandemic, right?

Yes, and that made me so much more grateful for that opportunity because we had to wait so long to see it. So my gratitude multiplied a hundred fold.

In terms of the secrecy, did, you have to do like the costume coverage thing where there’s the black bag kind of things over their costume or were you in more of a closed set? So it was less important.

We didn’t. Kumail pretty much was on and off with that, but the dancers, there was 50 of them. So I don’t think they could keep that under wraps, but we were on a closed set.

I know they’ve done it with like quite a few actors before, even the background actors. So, the closed set definitely makes sense. Although a lot of the film was filmed outside. Were both of your scenes inside?

The [scene] was built, it looks like it could have been filmed in India, but they built it all here. They went to like infinite detail to make sure that the colors, the chandeliers, all the little ornaments that you would see in that kind of environment, they were all there. Every single day I would notice a little bit of a tweak or something or a florist would come and add a little something. Because there is no detail that they didn’t think about.

Were you a part of the costumes at all designing or had any input on that?

So costumes were designed by a friend of mine called Saran Kohli and he is a designer based in the U.K. who has worked on film as well. He’s like a bridal designer, so he understands the elaborate nature of costume, but I did recommend him and they loved his work and he did such a fantastic job. So I was lucky to kind of show them the color palettes that I would suggest. They actually did go with similar colors to the ones that we originally referenced.

It really looked great. Do you have any like really funny or interesting stories from the set or from Kumail, anything like that?

I mean, I don’t think it’s funny, but I remember on the last day Kumail brought everyone into the room, the holding room while they were already walking out there, and he was like, “Where was everyone? I wanna say thank you to them.” And this is after they yelled cut and we were done on the scene and he was like, “You guys, you held me up. You supported me. And if you ever need anything, please let me know.”

I’m like, “There are 50 people here, Kumail. Are you really? You’re gonna get 50 kinds of self-tapes or 50 auditions gonna be sent to you in a day or two, if you promise all these 50 dancers that you are gonna help them.” So I was listening to him saying that and I was like, don’t say that, it’s OK. We’re grateful enough. We’re grateful enough. So yeah, I kind of just jumped in and I was like, “Thank you, Kumail. Yeah, please don’t contact him directly.”

A lot of the Marvel actors tend to be very giving.

He’s so giving. You can see from the way that he has literally openly just said my name out loud at these conferences. He is a truly, truly grateful and kind person. He’s just such a humble person and you don’t get that very often when you are in these kind of huge films that he’s in now. What a great guy.

Would you wanna work with Marvel again? If so, what kind of project would you want to work on with Marvel?

I would love to work with Marvel again, no hesitation, but I would love to work in a different era. So maybe to time travel into the future or into the past because there are so many classic eras in Bollywood. My specialism is Bollywood, but I do movement direction as well. So, I love the team. I don’t know much about the future of where the films are going. Like, as I said, it was hard enough to find out about the actual film I was working on, but I wouldn’t give it a second thought if Marvel called again. I’d be like, “Yes. When and where? I’m coming.”

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