Four dancers holding candles appeared out of the the darkness, moving slowly and deliberately to the beat of a South Asian melody. Suddenly the lights came on, revealing an explosion of color — the beginning of “Jhalak,” or “glimpse” of South Asian culture, last Friday and Saturday nights.
A showcase of the music, dance and film of the Indian subcontinent, Jhalak was organized by the South-Asian Society (SAS) at Yale. Jhalak is part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a celebration of the achievements and culture of Asian and Pacific Americans coordinated by the Asian American Students Alliance at Yale, or AASA.
“It’s like Black History Month,” said Sarah Chang ’05, co-moderator of AASA. “We get to celebrate those who came before us and those who will follow.”
Jhalak featured current Yale undergraduates and graduate students in acts ranging from chart-topping Sri Lankan pop-star Ranidu Lankage ’05, performing his thumping hit “Oba Magemai,” to the spectacle of the “Bhangra Blowout” team.
Intended to introduce Yale’s community to a culture not always visible on campus, Jhalak performed to an almost-full Harkness Auditorium at the Yale Medical School. Show coordinator and SAS Cultural Chair Neema Trivedi ’05 said the weekend gave Yale students a glimpse at the talents and experiences of their South Asian classmates.
“Partially, it’s an educational process, but it’s also about friends coming out to support us,” Trivedi said. “There’s definitely an exchange of our cultures going on.”
Jhalak’s dynamism and energy captivated the audience. When Lankage began to sing his first powerful ballad, younger members of the audience swayed back and forth while a bearded man in his 50s was also on his feet, clapping his hands.
Jorge Gomez ’04, who has seen every show for the last three years, said Jhalak’s performers continue to impress him.
“Every year, the South Asian Society throws an amazing show and this year was no exception,” Gomez said. “The performers were amazing and the skits were hilarious — from the shows I’ve seen, it looks like Jhalak outperforms itself every year.”
Particularly popular with the audience was “Bombay to JFK,” a two-part skit illustrating the trials and travails inherent in a flight from India to America. In one scene, Indian security guards played by Nowshad Rizwanullah ’03 and Amman Fenster ’03 neglected to question a man walking through the metal detector with an object resembling an assault rifle, while they harassed an Indian couple and asked for bribes.
In the second part of the skit — a parallel scene in an American airport — the same two actors played American customs agents. This time, the Indian couple’s bags were pored over methodically, their food confiscated, and their son, secretly stowed away in their luggage, revealed.
In another segment, students modeled contemporary South Asian styles in a fashion show. Alia Chisty ’03, one of the models, said she loved the opportunity Jhalak gave her to do something that brought together her South Asian heritage and her life as a member of the Yale community.
“I always enjoy working on these shows,” Chisty said. “I love them because they join together so many different people from all backgrounds and cultural origins allowing us to celebrate diversity together.”
Toward the end of the show came a student-produced movie, “Sab Kucch Chalta Hai,” or “Anything Goes.” A spoof of Indian “Bollywood” films, the movie explored the triumphs and tragedies of Yale students in search of love. Done in a mock-dramatic manner set to a typical Indian soundtrack, the film had the audience laughing throughout its duration, despite technical difficulties at the beginning of the second segment of the movie.
Other Asian Pacific American Month events include a faculty dinner, a cultural show sponsored by the Korean American Students of Yale, and a talk with Iris Chang, the author of “The Chinese in America” and “The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II.”
“We have events all year,” Chang said. “But this is where we really bring everything together.”