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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The magic of Bollywood

    UA?s Bollywood dance club, Om Shanti, performed at a benefit concert Jan. 28, 2011, at Flowing Wells high school.
    UA?s Bollywood dance club, Om Shanti, performed at a benefit concert Jan. 28, 2011, at Flowing Wells high school.

    Having just performed, the group members’ temples are slick with sweat, and their hearts beating rapidly. They lean their heads close together, listening to hushed, urgent critiques.

    “”It’s all about the execution and energy …””

    “”It needs to be bigger …””

    “”More energy …””

    Nodding heads and worried glances confirm the obvious: the week ahead will be a grueling one. Intense rehearsals squeezed into already jam-packed schedules, many a sleepless night, very little time to study, much less to eat and hardly enough time to breathe. But the regimen is necessary.

    Tonight’s performance in the Ralph C. Romero Jr. Scholarship Foundation Benefit Concert was not only a night to pay tribute to a fellow artist, but also a test-run for the group’s new routine. It was the group’s first performance in front of a live audience. It was a time to get jitters under control and kinks neatly squared away. In one week, the team would be performing in front of a 2,000-person crowd filling the University of California, Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall, dancing to defend its title as second-place champions at one of the largest intercollegiate Bollywood Dance competitions in the country.

    The team squeezes more tightly together, arms wrapping around one another in a close group embrace. A voice rises from the cloister — “”We got this, guys!”” — and sends a chant reverberating off the school’s brick walls: “”When I say ‘Om,’ you say ‘Shanti’!””

    “”Om!””

    “”Shanti!””

    “”Om!””

    “”Shanti!””

    SUMMER 2008 —

    5,000 miles mid-air

    Om Shanti, the UA’s Bollywood dance team, began two years ago on a plane ride.

    While desperately trying to fritter away hours of midair monotony, Abhishek Gulati, a molecular and cellular biology senior, and a few of his closest friends began discussing the possibility of forming a Hindi dance group at the UA. Gulati and friends would only be freshmen in the coming fall. A dance troupe, ideally, would ease the transition by letting them hold onto something they all loved.

    “”Dance had been part of our lives for a long time,”” Gulati said. “”So now that we were going to go to college, we felt like, ‘Why should we stop now?'””

    Om Shanti’s first year started out small — just six friends meeting together to choreograph a small number for a performance in the spring of 2009 — but from there, the original six decided to take the group to a higher level: the Bollywood competition circuit.

    “”We wanted to coordinate a group of about 20 to 25 people for the next year, so we started to find people that were interested in the group and decided to hold auditions the summer before (the fall 2009 semester),”” Gulati said. “”Then, over the summer, a few of us went and got costumes and props and started getting parts of the dance ready before the actual semester started.””

    The team’s first year of competition was a rewarding one. After a semester of grueling rehearsals, the newly-formed group placed second at Bollywood Berkeley.

    This taste of victory whetted members’ appetites for competition and upped the ante for the Om Shanti crew; there was a whole year of competitions to come.

    SPRING 2010 —

    Tucson

    Preparations for competition began with team auditions, commencing immediately after classes resumed in August.

    “”What’s really amazing about our team compared to other schools is that there are so many of us that are not dancers,”” said Kavya Giridharan, a biochemistry junior and the team’s choreographer. “”I mean, we have to really ask people to come to our try-outs because we need people on our team — more so guys than girls. So, the variety of people we get are people that have never been on stage ever in their lives.””

    The team captains chose to limit the group to 18 members. Once the roster was cut to meet the quota, Om Shanti wasted no time in starting rehearsals and beginning to coordinate costumes and stage props.

    “”It’s not a dance; it’s a production — a storyline, a mini play almost,”” Giridharan said. “”There’s the music aspect, the costume aspect, the prop aspect, the lighting aspect … there are so many different things that go into it.””

    A Bollywood team’s competition production begins with a two-minute introduction video that sets the premise of a story. Following is an eight-minute dance that enacts the conflict and resolution of the story over a variety of music.

    This year, Om Shanti’s theme involves a love triangle between three best friends, a concept that Giridharan drew from the Bollywood hit “”Mujhse Dosti Karoge!””

    Once the theme was set, it was up to the team to come together to make it their own.

    “”When we met as a group in the fall, we all got together and took it, and tore it apart and improved it as a group,”” Giridharan said.

    The team began rehearsals in September, meeting every Sunday night from 9 p.m. to midnight at the Student Recreation Center and every Wednesday from 10 p.m. to midnight in the Ina E. Gittings Gym. As the competition grew closer, Om Shanti bumped rehearsals up to three times a week, plus weekends. Practices lasted until the wee hours of the morning and were always in a different location.

    “”We counted,”” said Giridharan, “”and we practiced in 14 different places around campus. We would seriously travel in our group of 18 from one place to another just trying to find a warm covering so we could just dance. … We sometimes even practiced in the garage until like 2 or 3 in the morning.””

    Procuring the team’s costumes was a far simpler matter. From svelte, shirtless men to women in glittery harem pants and bra-tops, the attire is a key feature used to boost the “”wow”” factor of a team’s dance. Last year, due to lack of funds, the Om Shanti team made their own costumes. This year Giridharan purchased the team’s attire during a summer trip to India. The team’s routine featured a total of six different costume changes — three for the women and three for the men.

    Along with extravagant costumes, Bollywood Dance competitions are known for outrageous stage props and scenery. The team’s past performance involved a giant remote control that lit up when dancers pressed its buttons. This year Om Shanti built several 6-foot-tall mirror props and a 22-foot-high gazebo that dropped onstage from the rafters. Smaller handheld props were also used by the dancers during different sections of the routine.

    “”Most teams don’t make the props themselves. They have these huge backdrops that people make for them, or 50 feet by 20 feet huge props … but we don’t have anywhere near enough funds to do what they do, so we engineer everything and make it ourselves,”” Gulati said.

    FEBRUARY 2011 —

    Berkeley, Calif.

    Despite months of careful preparation, the weekend of the Feb. 5 competition was a wild roller-coaster ride for Om Shanti members.

    When the group members arrived in California, they discovered that they had left their fire retardant spray in Arizona, leaving their props and costumes vulnerable to hot stage lights. Several members searched the web for how to make flame retardant and then rushed to the store to purchase household detergents and insecticide to brew their own batch.

    To make matters worse, one Om Shanti dancer rolled her ankle during dress rehearsal. “”We wrapped her ankle like three times and had it raised while we were sitting in the dressing room an hour before we had to go on,”” Giridharan said. “”And I was sitting there with a paper, scheming out new formations in case she couldn’t go on. Luckily, though, she pulled through.””

    The biggest surprise for the team was the caliber of its competitors’ routines.

    “”This year was a completely different experience from last year,”” said Akila Prasad, a speech and hearing pathology sophomore. “”Every single team that didn’t place upped their game 100 percent this year. … They had changed their style of dancing so much. We were in awe when we went to watch.””

    The hour came, and Om Shanti took the stage.

    “”We basically rocked the show,”” recalls Gulati.

    In spite of the initial setbacks, Om Shanti managed to secure a third-place standing at Bollywood Berkeley. While team members are somewhat disappointed about placing lower than last year’s second-place title, they are treating the experience as a lesson. “”I thought our choreography was maybe better than the second place team’s (University of San Diego), but I think their entertainment factor one upped us,”” said Ashkan Alkhamisi, a molecular and cellular biology senior and Om Shanti’s administrative captain.

    Giridharan also took home the title of overall best female lead.

    “”We were more excited about that than of the fact that we got third place,”” said Alkhamisi.

    Feb. 7, 2011 —  

    Back home

    The team returned to Tucson on Monday with only a few days to recoup and get caught up on school work. Rehearsals resumed last Thursday as the group set its sights on placing at Jhoomti Shaam, a competition held at UCLA on March 5.

    “”Berkeley has really driven us,”” Alkhamisi said. “”I think everyone now realizes that we can be so much better, and I think that drive and motivation is really there now.””

    Along with bringing home Bollywood titles, Om Shanti is striving to gain more support and become more of a presence in the campus and Tucson community.

    “”We want to create a tradition that will be here to stay at the U of A,”” Giridharan said. “”Prior to this, some people didn’t even know where Arizona was on the map …  they had no idea that we were capable of placing as we did. I feel like it’s just amazing how 18 students — full-time students — can come together and create something so incredible.

    “”I think that is so inspiring that Arizona is capable of so much.””

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