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The storm has come -- ‘bhangra on, dudes!’

By Amrita Ghosh

1999 South Asian Cultural Show

Presented by MIT Sangam, SAAS and Paksmit

Every year, the MIT South Asian Association of Students puts on what is perhaps the most well-attended cultural show in the Boston area. Held in a packed Kresge Auditorium, this year’s show was no exception.

“Aandhi,” the name of this year’s show, means “storm” in Hindi, the official language of India. From Bharata Natyam to Odissi dances, from Punjabi Bhangra blasts to melodramatic Hindi movie scenes, and from classical violin Ragas to Bengali songs, the different flavors of dance, music, food, clothing, language, religion, culture, and beauty to which India is home were presented to a roaring crowd in three short hours on the stage. Storm is an appropriate name.

Beginning promptly in Indian Standard Time, the show started a half hour late. The masters of ceremonies came out and introduced themselves as the Desi counterparts of Bill and Ted, from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. They came complete with “awwsum” accents, their very own time-traveling mentor, Roofus, and began their journey through Indian cultural history, visiting the masters, among them: Rabrindranath Tagore, the great Indian poet; Amitabh Bachan, star of many classic oh-so melodramatic Hindi movies; King Akbar, ruler of the once momentous Mughal empire; and Phoolan Devi, the infamous Indian bandit queen. The MCs entertained the audience and introduced the upcoming acts, linking Indian and American culture and demonstrating their fusion, which is sometimes harmonious, sometimes not.

Among the variety of acts, the dances were spectacular. The crowd listened intently to every footfall of the first Bharata Natyam duet. The dancers’ facial expressions, their technique, their grace, their charming movements in combination with the Indian dance music were enchanting to the ear as well as the eye. In addition, the two solo dances in the show filled the stage. The professional introduction and perfect technique of Rajul Shah ’01 wowed the audience as she danced a classical Odissi piece. And Reshma Patil ’00 performed a Marati folk dance with a flirtatious face and lavish body gestures, driving the crowd to spontaneous applause.

Costumes flashed as the performers in the folk dance Kanai Ho, from Bengal, entered the auditorium, complete with prop boats and oars for their musical ferry ride. Another group dance, Aathorum Thoppukkulae, from Tamil Nadu, featured traditional sari costumes and authentic folk music.

One of the most striking dances was the “Deepanjali,” a candle dance performed to a song from the movie Bombay, which was banned in Bombay because of the controversial depiction of a Muslim/Hindu love affair. Half of the mystical dance was performed in the dark, so only the candles showed, and half in the light, revealing the beautiful white costumes of the dancers.

Another beautiful performance, “Satrangi Re,” was a great fusion piece that combined Indian and American dance steps, which complemented each other in a sexy new style.

The hilariously funny “1999: A Love Story,” mocked a low-budget Pakistani movie where a love affair blooms out of the depths of Indian taboo. Instead of accepting her arranged marriage, Baby, the daughter of a proper Indian gentleman, falls in love with a man of her own choosing -- the most incriminating act a daughter can commit. Playing on Indian stereotypes, the act ended with the theme of love conquering all.

The crowd, being familiar with many of these songs, acts, and films, often clapped, sung, or drummed along to the music. Traditional Bengali music was performed in the form of a large Bengali Chorus spread out over the Kresge stage, singing at a wedding scene from a folk song collection known as Rabrindra Sangeet.

The show ended with an all-out performance of Bhangra, the traditional folk dance originating from the Punjab region of Northern India. With extremely enthusiastic dancers and an equally enthusiastic crowd, this last act was well chosen. It left the audience with the desire to run up onto the stage and join the dancers, which some audience members acted upon. As the Desi counterparts of Bill and Ted might say, “Bhangra on, dudes.”