On Saturday night, students packed into Levin Ballroom waiting for one of the University’s most anticipated events on the Brandeis campus of the year: MELA, the annual charity show put on by the Brandeis South Asian Students Association (SASA). This event promotes awareness of South Asian culture through many different performances, such as singing, dancing and modeling, followed by a delicious Indian dinner served in Upper Usdan. The show has a different theme each year; the theme this year was “Raahi, A Timeless Journey.” According to the program, “Raahi” is a Hindi word that means “traveler.” “The theme also serves as a strong world-minded recognition of the joy that culture, heritage, and past experiences can bring to people,” the text in the program explained.

The event began with a slideshow of video clips showing many of the performers practicing their dances throughout the semester, followed by an introductory speech from the MELA event coordinators, Anwesha Ghosh ’18, Vineet Vishwanath ’18 and Zainab Jafari ’19. They led into a short but enjoyable dance from the entire SASA e-board. After this introductory dance, the show officially kicked off. The show was moderated by three entertaining MCs: Khushee Nanavati ’19 (who wore a stunning pink Ghagra Choli with gold accents that really drew the eye), Maurice Windley ’19 and Taminder Singh ’20.

The Bharatanatyam Ensemble opened the show proper with a dance choreographed by Aditi Shah ’17. Five girls performed a piece of dance in the Bharatanatyam style, which is a form of Indian classical dance. Each of the girls wore a beautiful costume and put on an amazing performance, with unbelievably coordinated dancing and sound effects from the Ghungroos they wore on their ankles, which made it even more captivating.

The outfits, in my opinion, were the highlight of the night and what really distinguished each performance from another. All of the outfits were vibrant and full of color. Each performance boasted a different variety of costumes that all worked together beautifully. There was even a fashion show to showcase many of the striking outfits that the performers wore, set to fun Bollywood songs.

A highlight performance was by Brandeis Chak De!, the Bollywood Fusion dance team. They added a storyline to their performance, which made it particularly memorable. In the story, one of the performers wanted to join Chak De! but was not allowed to because she was a boy, and Chak De! was only for girls. The boy decided to dress up as a girl so he would be allowed to join the group. He then becomes one of the strongest performers. At the end of the performance, he confesses his gender to the rest of the group, but the group says that they have become one big family and realized how talented he is, and they want him to stay with the group. They then ended their performance with one last dance with the boy dressed in his normal boy clothes. In the program, Chak De! said that “This year, the theme for Chak De! builds upon MELA’s theme of Raahi by showcasing the passionate spirit of our dancers.”

Khatarnak, a troupe from Boston University, also impressed the crowd. The all-male group performed intricate choreography, sticking to the theme of Bollywood music and outfits inspired by South Asian Culture, but fused in some hip-hop moves, making the performance very interesting and pleasing to watch.

Each year, the proceeds of MELA go to a given charity. This year’s organization was Saheli, a New England-based group that supports South Asian women and families in the Boston area. Tanvi Devimane, a volunteer from the organization, spoke during MELA about Saheli and their mission. The presentation reminded the audience that MELA, although impressive for the Brandeis community to watch, also helps others who are not as fortunate.

The night closed out with the Senior Dance. The seniors performed to a combination of Bollywood music and modern hits while wearing gorgeous red and gold Lehengas. They did not fall short of matching the energy of all the previous performers with their fun performance, complete with an impressive backflip by Caleb Dafilou ’17.

As someone who had never seen MELA before, I was thoroughly impressed by the show. The performances were a wonderful way to show off South Asian culture to the Brandeis community, as well as raise awareness for larger issues that the South Asian community faces.