Bollywooditis: A Volunteer’s Perspective

photo(3)On Sunday night at ten o’clock, I leave the Chabot Center for the Performing Arts and people stare. Because my shoulders are bouncing, my head is nodding, and I’m walking in time to music that is running in a constant loop in my head: Sada Dil Vitu/Fevicol/Kukkud. At home and famished after my twelve-hour day, my arm lifts elegantly for the cereal, my feet glide to the fridge for milk, with which I pirouette back to the counter as though I’m unfurling from above in a silky blue harness because in my head, I am Ishika Seth. I get into bed, assuming that after twelve hours on my feet, I will crash. But behind closed lids, I still hear it, still see it: purple chunris flapping overhead – o ho – green ghagras doing a thumka – a ha – and gold- sequined shoulders doing bhangra- balle balle balle. Under the covers, I am still dancing. Bollywooditis. I contract it every spring and fall, and the symptoms go away after about three days. Which is when I begin the countdown till the next Mona Khan Company showcase.

They used to ask me, “Are you a company dancer?” I wish. “Student?” Nope. “Parent?” Sorry. “Then why do you volunteer?” Simple. Look at the company merchandise for the answer: Love Bollywood.

I love Bollywood. Not in an “OMG, did you see the new Selena Gomez Bollywood-inspired video” way, or “Did you see the Bollywood routine they did on Dancing with the Stars/SYTYCD” way, or even a “Look at this awesome henna tattoo I got at the county fair” way. I loved Bollywood back when it was embarrassing to be caught watching people run around trees and come out in a whole new outfit as though the trunk housed a hidden closet, back when people covered their ears at your music and wondered who was killing that poor woman because why else as she wailing in such a high-pitched voice? I loved Bollywood before it was cool.

So why do I love Bollywood? Because it reminds me of childhood, of sitting in Nani-Nana’s air-conditioned living room watching Mithun take on eight goondas with one mutthi, or Aamir kick down a table, light it on fire and marry Madhu at his makeshift mandap while her bug-eyed father looked on. Like any displaced Desi, I cling to fillums no matter how many steroids Salman takes or how huge the age gap between Shah Rukh and his heroines because they are as close to Nani-Nana’s living room as I’ll ever get.

My first Mona Khan Company show, they put me on merchandise, where I watched people storm the tables buying everything in sight, tees, tanks, water bottles, for themselves, their daughters, nieces, friends who were inside right now and would kill them if they didn’t get that show’s hot item before it sold out. And sell out it did. Every time, the bulk of merchandise sells out at tech, long before show day even nears. I’m not the only one who loves Bollywood.

My second show, I was backstage. My job was to lead the students coming offstage around to the front of the theater where someone else guided them back to their seats. This was one of the most gratifying roles I had because I got to see their faces, especially first time performers, as they came off the stage, still high on the adrenalin of being in the spotlight, their five minutes of stardom. They were giddy, out of breath, hugging each other, lunging for their instructor, who was equally excited, and as they scrambled to put on their shoes and get back to their seats so they didn’t miss their friend/son/daughter in the upcoming act, they all wished they could go back and do it again then and there.

Most shows I help seat students. I watch the little ones come in nervously, in ridiculously adorable outfits, the adults excitedly checking each other’s outfits and hair pieces and even the teens peek out behind their iPhones and glance nervously at the stage awaiting their turn.

This last show, I was so busy running up and down the aisles, leading the next class to the green room, I barely got to watch any of the show. But I knew what was going on if my back was to the stage, based on audience reactions. Cries of “Aaaawww,” meant it was the Baccha Party. Moist eyes meant the Jeena kids were performing. Cheers that brought the house down meant Jollywood was onstage. If the audience was completely still, eyes glued to the stage, it was a company act. If they were hardly breathing, it was Ishika and Amit moving as one.

At the end of the show, you get to see just how many people it takes to put each showcase together. You see the instructors, choreographers, costume designers, merchandise coordinators, website managers are working behind the scenes. You get goose bumps as the Holy Trinity come onstage: Chitra, Amrita and finally, Mona herself. You look at these women who give more of their time and energy than any of us will ever know and you silently thank God for their presence in your life, their efforts in keeping your Bollywood cravings satiated, keeping you feeling close to your roots.

Each show, they acknowledge the volunteers, who, when all lined up, take up the entire width of the stage. That many people willingly devoting their Sunday all in the name of Bollywood, all in the name of Mona Khan’s vision of Bollywood.

That many people who, together, love Bollywood.

Phiroozeh Romer is a writer, Bombay Jam instructor and a life-long devotee to Mona Khan Company. Check her out at

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