Once upon a time at ‘Mela’
The Brandeis South Asian Student Association hosted their 18th annual “Mela,” a show that has brought members of the Brandeis community together since 2001. “Mela” was the finale to Brandeis’ “I am Global” week, a week-long event sponsored by the United States Department of Education to celebrate learning, cultural exchange and global awareness. At Brandeis, the week celebrates the global efforts and achievements that are taking place across campus to integrate students from outside the United States. The tickets for “Mela” were sold out before this widely anticipated event, which took place in Levin Ballroom on Saturday evening.
This year, the show’s theme was “Kahani: Once Upon a Time.” Kahani means ‘story,’ and this theme was seen throughout the various performances within the show. “Mela” gave the Brandeis community the chance to highlight some of those backgrounds and histories through singing, dancing, fashion and more. In an email to the Justice, SASA President Sravya Shankara ’20 said, “This year’s show celebrates the diverse stories (“kahani”) that each of us brings to Brandeis’ campus, and the coming together of our unique backgrounds. We feel that each person carries a history and tale that makes them unique, and we hope to highlight a few of them through this show!”
From the beginning of the show, a video listed the different countries represented by performers and languages spoken in those countries that included Bangladesh (official language: Bengali), Afghanistan (official language: Dari and Pashto), India (No official language) and Maldives (official language: Dhivehi), among many others. These various countries and languages represented the diversity of both the community and the performers who shared their stories through the performances of the show. Shankara added in her email, “The theme is seen throughout the show through the stories our MCs share, the theme of Chak De[,] the Bollywood Fusion act that concludes our first act, the emotions shared through our singing performances, the messages shared during the show, and through the very fact that all of our stories have united us through SASA, uniting us in the journey of ‘Mela’.” she added that this year, specifically, SASA tried to tie the theme into more of the show than in prior years.
The first performance of the evening was slam poetry by the Dean of Students Jamele Adams. Consistent with the theme of the night, Adams began with a call and response from the audience of the phrase “Once Upon a Time.” Adams went on to use the concept of “Once Upon a Time” to look at the past, present and future. He said, “Once upon a time there was life before us, not as good as life with us, there will be more once upon a times that could be better than us if we once upon a time ourselves together.” He then touched on the ideas of love, race and hunger, among several other factors that we face in the present. For example, he mentioned that the term ‘aliens’ once referred to those that do not exist, but now the term is used to negatively refer to humans. He said borders used to not exist, but they are now the “new world order.” He concluded, “Once upon a time this evening, let us return to love.”
Following Adams was the Classical Indian Ensemble. Performed by SASA presidents Sravya Shankara, Pramoda Bapatla ’20, Spandana Shankara ’23 and Malavika Nair ’23, the students used their dances to promote the unique and ancient styles of Indian classical dance, including Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathakali, Sattriya, Manipuri and Mohiniyattam. This performance specifically featured Kathak and Bharatanatyam.
Additionally, as part of the tradition at “Mela”, members of each class year choreographed and performed separate grade-year-specific dances in between the other acts, in order from first-years to seniors. After the Classical Indian Ensemble came the first-year dance, choreographed by Sandra Charalel ’23, Ayush Tacker ’23, Nair and Spandana Shankara. Following the first-year students was an act in which five students sang a Rendition of Penn Masala’s 4Chord Medley. This Medley featured Bollywood and American hits, all of which were performed in the same four chords. Songs that they sang included “Someone Like You” by Adele, “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran and “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus, among many others.The performers were Anisha Purohit ’21, Aarthi Sivasankar ’22, Rachna Raghavan ’22, Mahima Devanahalli ’21 and Ritika Saxena ’20.
Following the singing, the Class of 2022 performed the sophomore dance. The routine was choreographed by Nirupa Abraham ’22, Meghana Kanthan ’22, Simran Regmi ’22 and Charisma Chauhan ’22, and featured a wide variety of songs and dance styles. The first act of “Mela” concluded by a performance by Chak De!, Brandeis’ premier Bollywood Fusion dance team. Their routine was choreographed by Akhila Penumarthy ’21 and Aria Pradhan ’21 and includes numerous dance styles from across India and the United States. The performance followed two girls and their friendship as they discovered themselves and their identities over the course of their middle-school years. Through this storyline, the performance highlighted the theme of “Kahani.”
After a ten-minute intermission, the second act continued the energy that began in the first act. The first performance of the second act was the Berklee Indian Ensemble from Berklee College of Music. The group brought traditional classic music of South Asia using instruments like the sitar and drums. Following the Berklee performance was a presentation of the charity that “Mela” supported this year. Every year, SASA collects donations for a certain charity, and this year, the group supported the Society to Help Education in Bangladesh International. SHEBI is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1985 with the goal of both providing and improving education for the people of Bangladesh. They support the common disabilities in Bangladesh that include, but are not limited to, Autism, Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy. The organization has raised over $210,000 and sponsored over 50 projects in support of Bangladesh education, including reconstructing over 100 schools.
Sravya Shankara highlighted SHEBI in her email to the Justice, writing, “This year, we supported SHEBI, the Society to Help Education in Bangladesh International. For us, ‘Mela’ is not only an opportunity to celebrate our culture and heritage, but it is also a chance to give back to our community and help others. To fulfill this responsibility, we actually organized two fundraisers, Chai and Samosa fundraisers, leading up to ‘Mela’. This was a new initiative that we started, so we can raise as many donations as we can for SHEBI.”
Next up was the annual fashion show, coordinated by Nitya Talreja ’21 and Supriya Jain ’22. In this portion, SASA members brought South Asian fashion to Levin Ballroom. With the various outfits full of colors and designs, the group portrayed how South Asian fashion and art has shaped the lives of the participants.
Following the fashion show was the junior dance, choreographed by Devanahalli and Penumarthy. Immediately following the class of 2021’s performance was another singing act. In this act, performers Nabeeha Haq ’22, Tayaba Hamayum ’22 and Sabreen Huq ’22 sang a mix of the Bengali song “Abar Elo Je Shondha” and the Urdu song “Tera Woh Pyaar.” The purpose of this piece was to celebrate the unity of Bangladeshi and Pakistani cultures and to also celebrate the power of one love. Although the countries are different, the singers show how similar the backgrounds are through music.
After the president’s speech, where Sravya Shankara and Bapatla thanked the many people who helped the show take place and the SASA executive board thanked Shankara and Bapatla for their work over the years by giving them flowers, the final two acts performed. Choreographed by Bapatla, Sravya Shankara and Nair, Brandeis Bhangra won over the audience and stirred up constant applause from the audience. Bhangra is a folk dance from Punjab, and the group mixes Western hip hop with Eastern dhol rhythms to celebrate the Bhangra style. Finally, the senior dance brought the event to a close in a routine choreographed by Bapatla, Sravya Shankara, Zenith Rai ’20, Yashaspriya Rathi ’20 and Priya Koundinya ’20. Following the show, dinner was served with food from Dosa Temple.
Every year, the Brandeis community waits for “Mela” to experience the performances. This year, SASA delivered just this while maintaining the theme of “Kahani” throughout to show that despite everyone’s different backgrounds, everyone has a story to tell and share for the betterment of the community as a whole. Sravya Shankara concluded her email by highlighting what makes “Mela” so rewarding.
“The most rewarding aspect of helping to run an event such as this is that this event gives South Asians on campus the occasion to come together and celebrate each other and South Asia,” she said. “We have a fairly small South Asian community at Brandeis, but ‘Mela’ is one of the few times during the year that we get to make our presence known and celebrate with the rest of the Brandeis community. The excitement and enjoyment we see among SASA members during preparations and the show itself are also incredibly rewarding. From spending four hours every week painting our backgrounds and rehearsing our performances to working together till 4 am the night before the show, ‘Mela’ is a time that we can all get to know each other better and make close connections that will be cherished.”