Created and produced by Heena Patel and MELA Arts Connect, My Bollywood Jukebox weaves Bollywood classics, contemporary songs, memory, and storytelling. The performance comes to Frost Amphitheater on July 25.
Bollywood. For some, this word means glitz, glamour, and over the top dance sequences. For others, it's a culture and way of being. All of this is true and yet doesn’t capture all that Bollywood is. The word itself is a combination of the words “Bombay” and “Hollywood,” and it’s a term coined in the 1970’s to refer to India’s and the world’s largest film industry based out of Mumbai that produces films in Hindi. The industry has been producing films since 1931, with an average of 5-6 songs per movie (and even up to 15-20) and an estimated 1,000 films per year. That’s a lot of years, movies, and songs––all of which have influenced hundreds of millions of people.
When I say influence, I mean that these movies, songs, and dances have shaped the lives, dreams, and passions of movie goers. From fashion and wedding decor and activities to dreams of being a dancing star and falling in love––all of it has been shaped by Bollywood. For me, Bollywood has literally been the soundtrack to my life and I know I’m not the only one. Its songs are connected to places, experiences, and memories, but even more than that, it has been a way of connection for immigrants and their children of the diaspora to connect to a country and culture and to each other.
My Bollywood Jukebox is about Bollywood songs and dance over time and the stories that make these songs a part of our lives off the screen. To give you a glimpse into the show and get you in the filmi spirit (filmi is an adjective to describe anything connected to Bollywood), here are memories and their Bollywood soundtrack connected to the lives of some of the cast and team of My Bollywood Jukebox.
Saffat Al-Mansoor, Dancer
Bollywood has been a source of connection for my family and me––to each other and to our roots. While my family is from Bangladesh, I was born and raised in Qatar. Growing up in the Middle East, Bollywood provided the connection to South Asian culture. A Bollywood movie release meant it was time for a family outing. We would go to the theater, watch the first half of the movie, get more popcorn and chat during the intermission, finish the movie, and then go home and discuss the entire film over tea, sharing what we liked and disliked, agreeing and disagreeing with actions and ideas from the movie.
While we watched many movies growing up, one that particularly impacted us all was Kal Ho Naa Ho. The selfless love depicted in the movie especially stands out and resonated with my family. So much so that we even made promises to each other to be selfless and be there for each other, especially before we die. This is why I connect deeply with the title song. The message to live life fully and to be kind to one another is one that I strive to embody.
Anisha Babbar, Choreographer
As immigrants to a new country, thousands of miles away from home, it was important to my parents that I was familiar with Indian culture while also integrating into American culture. Language was a big way of doing this and the easiest and most entertaining way to teach me Hindi was through Bollywood movies without subtitles. I was encouraged to pause the movie and ask questions, so I could learn Hindi more. I imbibed much more than the language from these movies. They were also my first experience of dance. I was mesmerized by the steps and took to learning them from the videos. From the folk-influenced steps of the first dance I learned watching Madhuri Dixit dance to "Mera Piya Ghar Aaya" to the more western influenced movements of Hritik Roshan dancing to "Dhoom Again," Bollywood dance introduced me to a variety of dance styles and has given me a way to express myself in any way I choose.
Shayanti Ghoshal, Singer
As an Indian classical singer, throughout my journey there have been songs that just seem impossible because of their complexity. One of the biggest ones for me is “Kuhu Kuhu Bole Koyalia.” I first heard this song in eighth grade when my Hindustani classical music guru (teacher) played it for me. My immediate thought was, “There’s no way I could ever sing it.” My guru knew better. Over the years, he helped me hone my technique and voice. The result? In 2019, I was finally able to perform the song as part of my solo recital to mark receiving my Sangeet Visharad (Bachelor of Music). My rendition is by no means perfect. The difficulty and nuances of this song make it one that continues to challenge me to keep improving, with each rendition a marker of my growth.
Lameesa Dhanani, Assistant Producer
Do you ever just watch someone do something with all their heart and think, “Wow, I wanna do that?” Madhuri Dixit and her film Aaja Nachle did that for me. While Bollywood was part of my childhood and I loved the songs and dancing, it was this movie that pulled me into the world of theater and live performance. From creating a stage performancethrough scenes and songs like "Aaja Nachle" that encouraged people to be a part of the show to the theatrical show itself (condensed into a 19 minutes and 37 seconds musical story),I was captivated by the process of making a show happen. Now, you can find me working behind the scenes, be it costumes or stage set-up for high school and college shows to now being the assistant producer for My Bollywood Jukebox. One movie, one song, and one play solidified my love for the arts and how I would later engage with it.
Nishant Bordia, Singer and Music Coordinator
While Bollywood was part of my life growing up in India, my love for music really started in the early 2000s with composers like Anu Malik, Pritam, and Himesh Reshammiya. When I immigrated to the US, Bollywood music was a big way that I could stay connected to my childhood and roots. So many of the songs capture the memories of growing up there, while others capture the myriad of emotions I’ve felt building a life here in the U.S. The song "Main Jahaan Rahoon" particularly strikes a chord as it speaks to the joy and sadness that comes with memories and places. The song starts with “Main jahaan rahoon main kahin bhi hoon teri yaad saaath hai,'' which literally means “wherever I am in the world, your memory is with me.” For me, this refers to memories of my homeland.
My love affair with Bollywood comes from my dad. My earliest memories are of moonlit car rides home after events and parties listening to his mixtape of songs from his childhood in India. His voice would mingle with that of his favorite singer Mohammed Rafi to melodic songs like “Chaudhvin Ka Chand Ho” to peppy numbers like “Aai Aai Aa Sukoo Sukoo” as he not only relived his youth through the music, but also created lasting memories and impressions on me.
All of it––the movies, the music, the dancing––has provided ways for people to connect, with themselves, with each other, with culture, and with the world at large. Creating this show has been a beautiful opportunity to revisit memories and moments that have shaped the lives of many immigrants and children of immigrants in North America.
On July 25, I hope you’ll join us on a trip down memory lane that is filled with music and dance. In the meantime, if you have memories associated with Bollywood, I’d love to hear them. Or if there is a song that you really enjoyed in the playlist below, let me know.
Heena Patel, producer, artistic director, and narrator of My Bollywood Jukebox is a creative producer, cultural strategist, consultant, speaker, and coach.The founder and CEO of MELA Arts Connect, Heena's work has focused on nurturing the ecosystem around South Asian performing arts and community. Over the years and through MELA, she's assumed the roles of producer, booking agent, manager, dancer, musician, teaching artist, and diversity and equity advocate. Recent credits as a producer and artistic director include the multidisciplinary stage show Bollywood Boulevard;immersive dance experience Garba360;desi:NOW, showcase of hyphenated South Asian identities;and Woven: The Indian-American Story featuring 30 different artist ensembles. For more information on MELA, visit melaartsconnect.com. Connect with Heena on Instagram and Facebook at @heenaconnects