PhillyFest celebrated South-Asian culture through performances on Jan. 28.
PhillyFest 7 turned Bollywood and Indian classical styles, mixed with contemporary American methods, into one colorful night of dance.
In its seventh year, the festival brought South-Asian culture to Philadelphia Saturday, Jan. 28 at the Merriam Theater. A crowd of more than 1,400 people cheered on 10 teams battling for the prestigious PhillyFest cup and more than $5,000 in prizes.
“It’s fun to bring something cultural to Philly that hasn’t been there before,” said Devan Dalal, financial chair and sponsorship chair and one of the original founders of the competition. Some of the teams that fused different themes together for their dance narratives included the Broad Street Baadshahz, Penn State JaDhoom, University of Delaware Kamaal, Rutgers South Asian Performing Artists and UCLA Nashaa.
UCLA Nashaa won the competition, with Philly’s own Broad Street Baadshahz as runner-up. Brown Badmaash had the third-highest point totals.
“It feels like a dream come true,” UCLA Nashaa co-captain Kaajal Baheti said, moments after winning.
“I can’t ask for anything better this senior year,” UCLA Nashaa co-captain Amar Chatterjee said.
The UCLA dance narrative introduced a famous Indian-American author’s return to India for his next book. The dance journey included his reinvigorated patriotism for India and his love for a local Indian girl.
“We all feel very strongly about our country and we wanted to get that across,” Chatterjee said.
“Their whole performance flowed really well,” junior psychology major Mohit Mahalan said. “The dances were good, the music was good, and it wasn’t all the same.”
The team’s background portrayed the streets of India and a Bollywood mountain sign, which was an allusion to Hollywood’s cultural symbol. Their performance’s final act used India’s national colors to remind the audience of their Indian roots.
While UCLA Nashaa transported the audience to India, Philadelphia’s Broad Street Baadshahz wowed the crowd with a “Gladiator”-style narrative based in ancient Rome. Fareed Zahid portrayed a gladiator fighting for his people’s freedom against the tyrannical king, played by Rubin Mathew, a 2011 alumnus.
In the finale, the gladiator victoriously kicked the king off the stage. During this planned fall, Mathew injured his back-right hip bone.
“I’ve had injuries similar to this before,” Mathew said backstage, while putting ice on his injuries.
The Broad Street Baadshahz is comprised of students from Temple, Drexel, University of the Sciences Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania, according to team captain Fareed Zahid.
“We’re big fans of the Broad Street Baadshahz, they’re the reason why we came out tonight,” junior actuarial science major Parina Agarwal said.
At different times, the crowd broke out into chants for the Philly team and some audience members waved signs of support.
Brown Badmaash had the third-highest total scores for their dance narrative about Philadelphia hosting the 2012 Olympic Games. A torch-lighting ceremony was followed by performers using basketballs, paddles and oars to represent the sporting competitions. Dancers mimicked boxing hooks and shuffled across the stage for a complete Olympics skit.
Rutgers South Asian Performing Artists also had a unique theme for their skit, presenting “Harry Potter: The Lost Chronicles.” The epic battle of Harry Potter and Voldemort was played out on stage with Bollywood and contemporary American songs.
In the introduction video, Harry Potter introduced the crowd to his house. At one point, the Bollywood song they used chanted, “it’s magic, it’s magic,” while the performers danced in shiny, colorful robes, adding a special spin to traditional Harry Potter.
Stanford Dil Se had an Anastasia theme with the princess losing her memory and falling in love while dancing to Bollywood music, even including some well-known Hindi film dialogues for the romance sections.
Stony Brook University Khatra presented Cirque Du Khatra, in which a naïve girl is trapped in a circus. Six male dancers flashed the crowd when they bent down to show the crowd the team name written on their shorts.
University of Delaware Kamaal’s narrative focused on ancient Egyptian tomb raiders. When their actions unleash a horrible curse, a severe drought and famine comes to their people. When the curse is lifted, the team dancers used Bollywood music that begged for rain and storm cloud props floated on top of the stage. At one point, a mummy dances to LMFAO’s “I’m Sexy and I Know It.”
Singer Kiran Shergill and musician Serial James hosted the event. Between the performances, the two dressed up in Spiderman and Superman costumes, copying the hair whipping and break dancing of an old Bollywood film song.
Superstars Jay Sean, Omarion and H-Dhami had previously taped messages for the audience. In his message, Omarion is first confused, but then learns how to perform Bhangra, an Indian dance style of Punjab, while Jay Sean also comically showed some dance moves. Penn Masala, an a capella group from the University of Pennsylvania that combines Bollywood music and American trends, had the crowd on their feet with their rendition of Bollywood favorite, “Chaiyya Chaiyya.”
“We’ve always loved coming here because people really enjoy this type of music,” Penn Masala Musical Director Vinay Rao said. “The crowd’s always jumping up and down and because we have a lot of dancers, they tend to dance.”
During the closing musical performance, Rutgers University Dhol Effect covered famous songs by adding Indian elements through the dhol, a double-headed drum primarily used in South Asia. Their rendition of the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme song especially struck a chord with the Philadelphia audience.
“People can see that we’re bringing the old school and the new school together and fusing sounds,” Neil Desai, Rutgers alumnus and RUDE singer, said.
“Honestly, I think the best part is that PhillyFest brings together so many teams from all over the nation and everybody gets to bond and do what they love—dance,” RUDE singer Anjali Arjungi said.
This fusion between classical Indian dance, Bollywood cinema and modern American dance was showcased before hundreds of people as some of the Indian dance teams in the country fought to become this year’s PhillyFest champion.
Sara Khan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.