The South Asian Students' Association’s annual culture show brought together University community members Friday for an evening of collective expression through dance, poetry and music.
The show’s theme was “kahaani,” which means “story” in multiple South Asian languages. Storytelling tied the performances together — through classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam and Kathak or through clothing in the fashion show.
“This show is probably the most collaborative event that the e-board has done so far,” Oamiya Haque ’24, president of SASA, said. “Every single member of SASA has spent the last three weeks doing different things to make sure the show is going to go smoothly.” The last week leading up to the show was particularly intense, Haque added, with two full technical rehearsals.
Among the South Asian student groups performing in the show was Abhinaya, a classical dance group that currently practices four styles — Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Kathak and Kuchipudi — according to Preeti Nagalamadaka ’24, co-captain of the team.
“Bharatanatyam originated as a way to tell stories through dance,” Nagalamadaka said. Abhinaya told the story of “Bajirao Mastani,” a Bollywood movie loosely based on a historic love story from the 1700s, by performing its songs in the order they appeared in the film.
Abhinaya was formed in response to the absence of Indian classical dance on campus, Nagalamadaka said. Prior to their launch, Badmaash, a Bollywood dance group, was the only South Asian dance group on campus.
She hopes to see an increase in the campus community’s appreciation of classical South Asian dance forms, she added. “It's always important to see different styles and become aware of the diversity of classical art.”
Sophomore through senior members of SASA also separated by year to each perform a piece for their class year. “The juniors have been practicing it for the last two weeks, and it was a really cute bonding moment for all of us,” Haque said.
The show also featured a classical music performance by the student group Brown Bhairavi, a South Asian fusion a cappella performance by Barsaat and a guitar and vocal performance of Bollywood songs by a more recently formed “Indian men’s ensemble” named Besabar.
Barsaat performs music “from all over the South Asian subcontinent fused with Western pop songs,” said Sidharth Anand ’24, Barsaat’s music director. Though the group previously performed most of its songs in Hindi, they have recently worked to include songs in other languages too, he explained. At the show, they performed a fusion of “Woh Lamhe” by Pakistani singer Atif Aslam and “Mine” by Beyoncé. They also performed an arrangement of the Bollywood song “Dooriyan” layered with “Spring Day,” a Korean song by BTS.
A fusion approach allows Barsaat to “connect with people who haven't necessarily heard the South Asian songs on their own and maybe open their eyes up to this genre of music,” Anand said.
Barsaat President Rohit Panse ’24 is also a founding member of Besabar, along with his roommate Shreyas Mishra ’24. Mishra plays the guitar, while Panse and the other members of Besabar are vocalists.
“The two of us used to jam together, and we just realized it would be cool to have more people over” to play Bollywood songs together, Mishra said. There are about 12 members of Besabar who meet every week for jam sessions, six of whom performed at the culture show, he added.
While Barsaat is larger and has “a lot more structure to it,” Besabar makes music more spontaneously, Panse said. “It’s like if you were sitting in the living room with your parents and someone started singing, and someone else adds to it.”
“The group has great synergy,” Mishra added. “We have a great time when we are practicing, so we don’t always keep track of the hours.”
This year’s culture show also included the South Asian fashion show, which in the past has been a separate event. The fashion show was sponsored by clothing brands Tilfi and Yash Unique Collections, Haque said. Although the clothes sent by Tilfi did not arrive on time, the show’s 34 student models wore traditional clothing from either their own wardrobes or Yash Collections, a project created by Neelima Majji that is meant to instill pride in Desi attire — the proceeds of which go towards caring for Maji's brother.
In addition to the larger group performances, the show featured individual student performances as well. Former Herald staff writer and graphics editor Aanchal Sheth ’23 performed a spoken word poem about her multinational heritage and belonging to multiple places at the same time, and Akshay Ghandikota ’25 gave a solo vocal performance.
“I think it’s a universal Indian experience to have talent shows,” Panse said, recalling being made to sing in front of extended family at gatherings growing up. “The culture show is reminiscent of the talent shows we all did back home.”
For Nagalamadaka, the culture show was “about celebrating your culture with your South Asian community and showing your culture to the greater Brown community.”
SASA is a particularly diverse club because it represents an entire subcontinent as opposed to a single country, Haque said, adding that she thinks of the culture show as “a moment for there to be some common ground between all of us.”The proceeds raised from donations at the show and tickets for the afterparty hosted by SASA went to Pink Ribbon Pakistan and CanKids, organizations combating cancer and providing cancer care support in Pakistan and India respectively.
Clarification: This story has been updated to include a description of Yash Collections.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Neelima Majji's name. The story also misnamed Yash Unique Collections. The Herald regrets these errors.