Bollywood Ka Safar: A Search for Satisfaction
There was once a little girl named Phiroozeh who loved Hindi films. On weekends, she would snuggle close to her nani nana in their air-conditioned room and get lost in a world where Aamir sang to his college friends that his father always said he’d make it big one day, where Salman played the saxophone to convince Bhagyashree to say those three small words, where Sridevi sang Hawa Hawaii with big-big eyes to a roomful of sketchy goondas, wearing increasingly garish outfits (beginning with gold lamé and ending with sequined zebra print) which, one assumes, she hoped would kill Mogambo in case Mr. India couldn’t. One day, little Phiroozeh was taken to Canada where these movies were ridiculed by her new friends and so she put it away, this love, into the back of her heart.
Over the years, Bollywood came to the West; movie theaters began to show blockbusters and Phi, as she was now known, began listening to the music on her Walkman in secret, humming along under her breath. “Joote do paise lo,” she would sing, dancing in the car when she thought no one was looking because you can never listen to that music without wanting to dance.
And then suddenly, Bollywood was everywhere. Thus began Phi’s journey to find the perfect Bollywood dance class. In
Trinidad and Tobago, she immediately joined the University of the West Indies’ Indian dance class. They danced to Taal – it was beautiful, it was Classical, it was hard. In London, she found a good class but her work permit only lasted a year. In Vancouver, she searched high and low. This one was pure Bhangra, fun but not filmy. That one was called Bollywood but was all Jazz and Hip Hop, so modern-shodern, chee, not a jhumka or thumka in sight.
She watched “Kajra Re” on YouTube over and over and cried out in frustration, “This is what I’m talking about. This is Bollywood. A touch of Classical, a pinch of corny, a hip jhatka here, a head jhatka there, why is it so hard to choreograph a dance class like this?”
The next year, she met her own Salman Khan and moved to the Bay Area. Phi was in heaven – desi heaven. She immediately Googled dance classes and was overwhelmed by her options. She tried this one and that, until one day she discovered the Mona Khan Company.
At her first class, she stood at the back of the jam-packed studio. As the dancing began, Phi tried not to cry. Kya moves, kya style! There was the jhumka, there was the thumka. Hand through the hair now – the perfect touch of Bollywood cheesiness! Phi danced that first class smiling like an idiot. The choreography was perfection. The choreography would have made Amrish Puri tap his fingers and purr, “Mogambo khush hua.”
A different instructor took the floor and began leading “Om Mangalam.” Energy burst from her every limb. Even when she did a small move, it was big. When she jumped she soared. Her moves were so charged, Phi wondered how so much energy could be stored into a body so petite. This was Mona Sampath Khan. Dancing with her is like being pulled into a gravity-defying roller coaster ride, one you’re not quite tall enough for, but with Mona’s guidance, you make it through feeling every bit the Aishwarya you always pictured yourself to be.
Today, Phi has exactly 15 songs on her iPod that aren’t Bollywood. She is a Bombay Jam® instructor which means smiling ear-to-ear while dancing is just part of the job. Her students insist on calling her by her full name and do so with gusto. Phiroozeh car-dances with pride, blasting Bollywood up and down the streets of the South Bay because really, everyone should turn off that Justin-Wustin racket and sing along to Dilliwali Girlfriend.
The Mona Khan Company works overtime (just ask any of the husbands) to keep Bollywood fresh, authentic and smile-inducing. It incorporates the modern but never forgets its roots. It feeds Phiroozeh’s soul and, judging by the sold-out bi-annual shows, the souls of 1000 plus people up and down the Bay.
As for Phiroozeh, after fifteen years and four countries, her safar-ing is over. She is home.
Phiroozeh Romer is a writer, Bombay Jam® instructor and a life-long devotee to Mona Khan Company. Check her out at phiroozeh.blogspot.com