ROC the Raas performs during Mela, a night that paid homage to the diversity of Indian culture through a myriad of performances, ranging from singing to dancing and beyond. Photo by Shermaine Singh

On Saturday April 12, the Association for the Development of Interest in the Indian subcontinent (ADITI) put on their 25th annual Mela show, a night of performances that exhibits a range of talents by UR students all relating to Indian culture.

Mela is a Sanskrit word that means “a gathering” or “to meet,” and it is often used in India to describe get-togethers that showcase sports, culture, religion. This year’s Mela was an effective array of modern and traditional performances, including solo acts, group acts and serious to sarcastic displays of culture.

Senior Gautam Sharma, juniors Raja Jani and Sempian Sooriakumar and freshman Siddhi Shah, who hosted the show, gave the afternoon a wonderfully casual feel, even though it took place in Strong Auditorium, which typically hosts more formal events.

The opening number, “Freshman Dance,” was an ode to the freshman class and the first of many, many dance routines that dominated the show. The freshmen’s dance was a mix of Bollywood, Classical and Folk styles of Indian dance. Lasting several minutes longer than the average dance routine and seeming to consist of intricate movements where the formation of dancers would change frequently along with the music itself, the “Freshman Dance” also played host to more performers on stage at once than any other number.

In addition to a vast number of dance routines, this year’s Mela also showcased the vocal talents of UR students, though some performances were stronger than others. “Tumhi Dekho Na,” a well-known Bollywood song, was performed by sophomore Ankit Medhekar and freshman Shreya Kirshnan, and generally lacked the energy and over-dramatization that I would have expected from a rendition of anything related to Bollywood.

By comparison, however, the second act played host to hands down one of the best performances in the entire show. Junior Tonima Quabili sang two numbers and nailed them both perfectly, even mastering the typical vocal oscillations associated with Indian music. I was personally sorry that her repertoire ended after only two songs.

The most entertaining aspects of Mela were definitely the three video skits scattered throughout the show. The first outshone the latter two in hilarity, but cumulatively the three were sarcastically funny commentaries on Indian culture in America. “An Indian’s Guide to Parenting in America” was the first to play and went with the less is more philosophy. Using scant but pointed dialogue, simple shots and great facial expressions

this skit hit the nail on the head with stereotypes of Indian parents to the point where, even as the child of a non-Indian parent, I found the exaggerated generalization both hilarious and well-played.

In addition to showcasing the talents of our own students, Mela also lent the stage to two non-UR groups. The first was Rochester Bhangra Crew alumni of the Rochester Bhangra Kids. The group is comprised of four men, all of whom were extremely talented. The group danced with an insane amount of precision and energy, and threw in choreography that — from an untrained eye, at least — seemed intricate and difficult to master, but master it they certainly did.

Also a guest at the performance was the RIT Bhangra group, decked out in traditional garb that was appropriately the RIT colors of orange and white. Despite that the group’s performance was incredibly solid, based on my completely “unbiased” opinion, I have to say that my heart still belongs to UR Bhangra.

Mela did a great job of expressing a variety of different takes on Indian subcontinent culture, and from a non-Indian audience member’s point of view, I would have to say that the show remained very accessible and culturally informative throughout a variety of well-orchestrated performances. There were really only two parts of the show that went over my head, but neither detracted from the overall success of Mela.

The first was a number of references to India’s Cricket World Cup victory over Sri Lanka, which, unbeknownst to me, occurred earlier that day, and was the first Cricket World Cup title awarded to India in 28 years. This wasn’t in any way a flaw of the show, though, and as a Red Sox fan who watched an 86-years-in-the-making win in 2004 I can understand the excitement and sense of camaraderie this kind of victory brings.

The second of the less-accessible parts of the show for me was the act entitled “Throw Back to the ’90s.” I, of course mistakenly, thought that this was going to be a performance that combined traditional Indian dance moves with boy band music because that’s what my ’90s consisted of (the boy bands, not the Indian dance…). Instead, however, the dance routine proved to be set to a backdrop of Indian music from the ’90s and although the significance and nostalgia were entirely lost for me, I found this to be a really interesting cultural experience, as the meaning of “’90s music” was suddenly broadened before my eyes.

The only real flaw of the show is that the organizers were perhaps too liberal in accepting acts. While almost all of the performances were top-notch, there were many that essentially showcased the same talent or same cultural influences. Initially I didn’t find this to be a drawback, but as what was intended to be a two-hour-long show stretched its way to three, I began to wish the lineup had been much more trimmed back. There comes a point in a show — even one that is fully impressive and engaging — where it just needs to end, and Mela overstayed its welcome on the stage in that respect.

Nevertheless, the show auspiciously ended with two of the most beloved groups on campus, ROC the Raas and UR Bhangra. I honestly don’t even have anything specific to say about either group, as they did what they do best, which is bring a host of colorful outfits, energy, gripping music and unique choreography to the stage, and they used all of that to blow away the audience and end the show with a bang.

Sklar is a member of the class of 2014.



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