Mela, meaning “a large gathering” or “congregation” in Sanskrit, once again lived up to its salient reputation at UR. One of the most highly anticipated cultural events on campus, the three-hour performance offered a colorful, vibrant and entertaining combination of traditional Southeast Asian culture with a modern sense of humor. The enrapturing show, delectable dinner and eventful after party did not disappoint, adequately showcasing the cultural roots of South Asian students here at UR.

After months of extensive planning and a superb publicity campaign, the Association for the Development of Interest in the Indian Subcontinent, the host of Mela 2008, finally opened the doors to Strong Auditorium at 2 p.m. last Saturday.

The ushers were faced with a long, winding line of eager students, members of the Rochester community and parents spilling out as far as the edge of the Eastman Quadrangle. The enthusiasm of the audience members was infectious and could be felt as they entered the auditorium.

The show was a spectacular success with a mix of classical dances and instrumental performances as well as several dances drawn from the Bollywood aspects of Indian culture, which incorporated a variety of styles and music that ranged from traditional folk rhythms to modern hip-hop. The dances allowed performers to demonstrate the range of influences that exist within ADITI. Members of the Rochester Kids Bhangra program for youths in the city also performed along with many students from UR.

Between performances, there were film skits and on-stage emcee performances that followed the riveting tale of a young Indian girl, freshman Nandini Venkateswaran, who was pursued by an eager yet culturally inept young Jewish man, sophomore Ethan Green. Throughout the show, Green sought to gain Venkateswaran’s heart, while following the story of how her parents came from India as well as some trials and tribulations they endured.

The show opened with a performance by senior Roopa Mathur, showcasing a traditional Odissi dance that focused Mela’s dedication on the advancement of India’s classical culture, not just simply the modern. Keeping with this display of classicism, sophomore Bhargav Chandrasekhar and junior Pankaj Saha performed a beautiful traditional improvisational piece on violin and table (drums) and a troupe of dancers performed a masterfully choreographed Bharatanatyam dance, further displaying India’s rich cultural heritage.

It was nice to have community involvement in the performances, and a major highlight of the show was the performance by Rochester Kids Bhangra with members ranging in age from about four to 18. The entire audience yelled out in adoration when the smallest of the members took to the stage, looking quite minuscule next to his teenage counterparts. Taking a more modern twist, the performances also included dance numbers from Bollywood movies, which incorporated Telugu and salsa styles into the mix.

At the culmination of the show, the audience burst into laughter as Green was finally able to woo Venkateswaran after many failed attempts. He managed to accomplish this through a hilarious rendition of “The Diwali Song” in the tradition of Adam Sandler, providing a light-hearted poke of fun at some famous Hindus.

The film clips and on-stage acts helped the event transition smoothly from one act to another and were part of what made Mela such a professional production. The clips poked fun at Southeast Asian culture in a way that was humorous and accessible to everyone in the audience.

The only disappointment, surprisingly, was the UR Bhangra team’s performance. Although the Bhangra performances are renowned on campus as being roof-raising events that end with the audience on their feet and yelling louder than the bass laden music, this was not the case at Mela. While their performance was nearly flawless, there was a certain flair that was lost, which could possibly be contributed to either the building heat in the auditorium or the unnecessarily pompous introductory slideshow shown just before their performance. In my opinion, a several minute long slideshow showcasing the past and present of a group whose reputation already surpasses the ceiling took away from the purpose of Mela itself.

The finale of the show was an enthralling performance by ADITI’s own dance group, Roc the Raas. Their bright costumes and impressive acrobatics created a show-stopping ending to the afternoon’s events.

After the show, the senior E-board members of ADITI, president and senior Namit Sachar and co-publicity chair and Take Five Scholar Anand Popuri were each gifted with a commemorative flier framed to show the club’s appreciation. The audience was then invited to view a senior slide show bidding farewell to ADITI’s beloved senior members.

Afterward, most of the audience relocated to a satisfying buffet in Douglass Dining Center catered by Thali of India in downtown Rochester. Douglass was sectioned into two sides, one representing India and the other America, in accordance with Mela’s overriding theme: “Coming To America.”

Large Indian and American flags were hung on the banisters and backdrops of the Taj Mahal and the New York City skyline along with colorful drapes and decorations transformed Douglass. The highlight of the dinner was the ice sculpture of the Statue of Liberty placed in the center of the room.

Mela festivities did not conclude there, however, and a bumping after-party followed that evening at Rochester’s Two89, with guest DJ Blu and Dhol Beat International bringing down the house with both modern club music and culturally flavored music of the dhol (Indian drums). The accompaniment had the UR Bhangra team members and others breaking out into upbeat Bhangra moves all night.

“Mela was truly an amazing experience and one that I will look forward to for years to come!” freshman Melissa Hewson said. “Every act offered something new and exciting, providing the audience with a true glimpse into Indian culture.”

“The show did well and we came very close to selling out,” Sachar said. “A show with the caliber of Mela is not possible without an amazing E-board and, thankfully, this year’s E-board did a good job in helping put the show together. The audience thought the skits were funny, marveled at the ice sculpture at the dinner and had a great time! And of course, the after-party was a great success when a diverse group of people enjoyed the South Asian concert by Dhol Beat International.”

Overall, Mela 2008 lived up to its high expectations and is sure not to disappoint in future years.

Ewing is a member of the class of 2011.

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