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MELA 2016 electrifies Levin Ballroom with beautiful decorations, performances, messages

By Katharine Mound

Section: Arts, Featured

December 2, 2016
Photos by Amanda Huang

Photos by Amanda Huang

Music, dancing and culture were on energetic display in Levin Ballroom on Saturday, Nov. 19 as part of the Brandeis South Asian Students Association’s (SASA) annual charity show, MELA.

The theme of this year’s show, which marked the 15th anniversary of the event, focused on Raahi, the Hindi word for “traveler.” This was further reinforced by the spectacular painted backdrop of a silhouette riding a camel, juxtaposed against miles of mountains, sand and starry skies. But if the audience was wowed just by the mural-esque background, they were in for an even greater surprise ahead.

The night began with a video documenting the lengths that SASA went through to put on the show: hours of dance rehearsals, discussions, organizing and painting the colossal, ornate backdrop, to name just a few of the tasks in the preparation process. It was clear that SASA invested a great deal of work into putting on the performances for this special night, and it fostered a greater appreciation for what was to come later in the evening.

Emcees Khushee Nanavati ’19, Maurice Windley ’19 and Taminder Singh ’20 ushered in a delightfully entertaining atmosphere by starting off with banter. Their interactions served as mini respites between the various performances during the evening.

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Each class year had their own separate dance routines, all choreographed carefully and expertly. Additionally, dancing was also performed by Kaos Kids, Bharatanatyam Ensemble, Chak De!, Brandeis Bhangra and even visiting Boston University’s Khatarnak. Each dance group brought their own unique choreography and music selections to give each performance its own distinct ambience. Although the dancers’ costumes ranged from elegant gowns to leggings and T-shirts, each performer wore a beaming smile on their face, an obvious indication that they were enjoying themselves immensely.

Aside from dancing, there were other spectacles that graced the stage of Levin Ballroom during MELA 2016. Dean of Students Jamele Adams presented a powerful slam poem near the beginning of the night that energized the crowd. Radhika Jangi ’18 and Tanaz Abid ’18 serenaded the audience with a truly enchanting song from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), a classic Bollywood romantic drama film.

But of course, what’s a charity event without a fashion show? Droves of students styled in the finest Indian threads strutted across the stage with bright smiles and confident strides to Bollywood’s greatest hits. Even the Brandeis Traditional Music Club took to the stage and fused together both traditional and western instruments to take their own creative spin on two Chinese songs: “Xi Yang Yang” and “Sai Ma.”

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Although the grandeur of the spectacles were as entertaining as they were fully-captivating, SASA did not let the audience forget what the night was truly for. Tanvi Devimane, a board member of the New England-based charity Saheli, which means “friend” in Hindi, explained that Saheli was created as an organization to serve South Asian communities in New England. Specifically, though, Saheli’s mission focuses on empowering South Asian women and creating abuse-free environments for their families. Devimane reminded the audience that abuse comes in forms beyond verbal and physical, adding that South Asian women sometimes also face financial and emotional abuse, issues that one cannot exactly solve with a 911 call. Anyone listening could tell that this cause was close to Devimane’s heart, and her passion for the work that she performs at Saheli drove a similar desire in the audience to spread awareness of Saheli’s invaluable resources.

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Altogether, MELA was a beautiful blend of both the celebration of a culture and giving back to that culture. I do not think I have ever witnessed an audience display so much exhilaration and appreciation for all of the speakers and performers, though the mass cheering, whistling and clapping were certainly well-deserved. There was an electricity coursing through the performers that seemed to descend upon the substantial, boisterous crowd in front of them. It is safe to say that everyone who attended MELA 2016, whether student, faculty, friend or family, was thoroughly entertained and enchanted by the event.

MELA was a reminder that no matter where we travel, even if we are uprooted or displaced, our cultures and heritages inherently exist alongside us. Wherever we end up, we can always find a home within ourselves and the people around us, and find pleasure in who we are.

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