MELA featured a wide variety of South Asian performance styles.
The South Asian Student Association welcomed the month of December with their annual event, MELA. The event, whose name is a Hindi word for “religious festival” but was used in this case to simply mean “gathering,” advertised itself on Facebook as the “biggest student-run show on campus,” and it didn’t disappoint. Hundreds of students took a break from stressing about finals to pack the Levin Ballroom in Usdan Student Center.
This year’s theme was “Raabta: Our Shared Connection,” with the goal being “to highlight the nuances and beauty that reside within South Asia and demonstrate that while we are not all the same, we are all connected.” In the show’s backdrop, three figures stood on different points of a mountain range to represent “the literal and figurative distance” that separates us, and they held glittering balls of light that shined on the other figures through outstretched silvery lines to show how we are all connected.
Raabta began by showing a video trailer which had been posted online a few days before to promote the show. In it, Khushee Nanavati ’19 and Mahima Devanahalli ’21 find a glowing box containing flags from eight South Asian countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. After this, members of the SASA executive board came onstage and did a short dance to usher in the show.
The first act was packed with a diverse array of events. Dean of Students Jamele Adams and Brandeis alumnus Usman Hameedi ’12 kicked off the show with slam poetry relating the struggles of Malcolm X, a civil rights era activist assassinated in 1965, and Shahid Azmi, an Indian lawyer known for defending impoverished Muslims, who was assassinated in 2010. Next was the Classical Indian Ensemble, which used the medium of dance to tell the story of the Hindu deity Ganesha winning a race against his brother Kartikeya. His parents, Mahadeva and Parvati, instructed them to race around the world, and his brother immediately set off on a peacock, his vehicle of choice. Ganesha knew he could not beat his brother, as his vehicle of choice was a mouse. Instead, noting that his parents were his whole world, he simply walked around them and won.
The first act also had the first-year and sophomore class dances, as well as a performance from Anisha Purohit ’21, who sang a beautiful combination of Bollywood songs and Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.” Finally, there was a performance from Chak De, who pretended that they were on a road trip from Las Vegas to the Levin Ballroom.
Every year, MELA promotes a charity, and this year they chose the Citizens Foundation, which provides education to children in the slums of Pakistan. Abdullah Jafari, a member of the Board of Directors of the Citizens Foundation, came onstage at the beginning of MELA’s second act to explain more about this charity and showcase the numerous rewards it has received. This foundation has made a special commitment to feminism, employing only female teachers and maintaining a balanced gender ratio among students.
In addition to Jafari’s presentation, the second act also had the junior class dance; Northeastern University’s Nakhraas, who performed Garba Raas dancing; a fashion show showcasing different South Asian styles; announcement of the raffle winners; touching tributes to the e-board seniors from other members of the e-board; and Brandeis Bhangra, which combined hip hop and eastern dhol rhythms. The seniors had the honor of ending the show.
Despite a slow start, emcees Supriya Jain ’22, Nanavati and Pranav Varansi ’21 were hilarious. Varansi and Jain started the show, but after a while Nanavati burst onto the stage and proceeded to teach them how to ‘properly’ emcee a show. This theme continued throughout, with Nanavati ‘talking trash’ about Varansi and Jain backstage with the microphone conveniently left on. In the end of the show, they finally stood up for themselves and kicked Nanavati out for good.
“Raabta: Our Shared Connection” was utterly spectacular, with stunning artistry, beautiful set and costumes, funny emcees and the promotion of a great cause. After the show, the audience was invited to Upper Usdan for free Indian food from Dosa Temple, and the night was rounded off with an afterparty back in the Levin Ballroom. All in all, this event was a great way to destress and have some fun.