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Bollywood comes to Oakland’s Paramount Theater

on February 4, 2013

At the Paramount Theater in downtown Oakland, UC San Diego’s Bollywood dance team wowed judges Saturday with a film-worthy love story between a wealthy girl and a village boy who need to win a dance competition. The team also won awards for the best choreography and the best storyline at the twelfth annual Bollywood Berkeley dance competition, which brought together eight teams from around the nation. The team won $2,000 and a bid to compete in Bollywood America, an even bigger Bollywood dance competition, which will be held in April in Miami.

The program was organized by UC Berkeley’ Indus Council, a student organization, and featured dance teams from Cal, University of Michigan, Northwestern University, UC Irvine, UC Davis, UC San Diego, UCLA and the University of Southern California. UC Berkeley took third place, with the story of Snow White and UC Davis took second place with a love story involving a president’s daughter and her bodyguard.

Bollywood is the popular name for Indian cinema, one of the biggest movie industries in the world. The industry has produced some of the most popular names in film today, including actors Shahrukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Amir Khan, and Academy Award-winning music composer, producer and singer A.R. Rahman, among many others.

Bollywood films are known for their music, their dramatic dialogue and, quite literally, their color.  Building truly Bollywood performances, the teams included eye-catching sets, vibrant pinks and neon greens in their Indian costumes, short love stories to drive their eight- to nine-minute dances. They even threw in some hip-hop, as Indian films have been prone to do over the past few years.

During dress rehearsal early Saturday, the Paramount’s backstage area was filled with college students walking around, pizza in one hand and yellow streamers in the other, bopping their heads to 90’s Bollywood music coming from one of the dressing rooms upstairs. Teams took turns trying out their formations on the Paramount’s stage and got a chance to practice their routine once before the competition. Dancers, choreographers and organizers rushed around backstage, busy with last-minute preparations, like doing make-up and fixing costumes or props.

The performances, like many Bollywood movies, were filled with dramatic and unreal stories and dialogue, such as this line uttered by a dancer portraying a girl out to get revenge after the death of her father by the wealthy Srivastavas: “My name is Priyanka. Your family killed my father and I came here to ruin your life. Don’t you get it? We can’t be together!”

But the costumes, choreography and set designs excited the loud, packed theater nonetheless. The crowd cheered non-stop from the dimming of the lights at approximately 6 p.m. to the announcement about the where and when of the after party for students. Audience members often broke out into school-specific cheers and even applauded when a lost young boy found his mother. The show also featured exhibition performances from those not competing, included UC Zahaanat, an all-boys fusion dance team, which mixed hip-hop and Bollywood songs for a Batman/Joker-themed performance, and the Mona Khan Dance Company, a Bay-area Bollywood-based dance company for young people, which performed a jazz piece as well as an artistic dance piece portraying the disintegration of a couple’s love.

The students participating, including those not competing, were excited to come so far to be able to dance for an audience. Proma Khosla, a senior at the University of Michigan who was a part of the dance team Michigan Manzil, said she was happy to have the opportunity to meet so many other students.

“We’ve worked really hard, but we’re really here to meet other people,” Khosla said. “No matter who places where tonight, we’re all going to go to the after party together and have fun.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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