On the first Sunday of December, Mahesh Thoke, a PhD student in Chemistry at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, did not stay in his dorm and watch movies as usual. As night fell, Mahesh braved the chilly wind, rushing to catch a bus with a couple of friends heading for the Jiangenian (“Gap Year”) Theater, which stands near the renowned 798 Art District in the northeast of the city. Waiting for them was a show named “Lost in Love for India”. Mahesh, born in western India’s Maharashtra State, started his life in Beijing this year; it’s his first time living thousands of miles away from home. Hearing from his classmate, Nidhin Chundapurakal, that the show would feature Indian song and dance, Mahesh was looking forward to going with him and two other Chinese friends.
In the small theater, over 80 people were seated in rows of stools and chairs, ready for a lovely evening. Professional dancers from China and India stunned the crowd with Kathak, Odissi and Bharatahnatyam dancing. The combination of Tabla and Sitar added beautiful melodies to the air. When the Bollywood dance hit the stage and pushed the show to a climax, some people in the back couldn’t help standing up, swaying and shaking.
Surprised at the refined performance, Mahesh felt almost like he was back in India. “Classical Indian dance is difficult, but the Chinese dancers really did a great job.” Then, as the original soundtrack of the movie It’s My Friend’s Wedding was turned up, Mahesh became more excited, for it was Nidhin’s turn to take the stage and win applause and cheers from the audience.
Freed of the heavy curtains that divide the stage and the audience, the show became less formal but more lively. It attracted many Chinese spectators who are interested in Indian culture, and offered a chance for them to experience Indian films, dance and clothes through games. Two teams, three on each side, contested their knowledge by guessing the names of Indian films according to imitations of typical scenes. A young man and a young woman followed a dancer to learn some classical Indian dance moves; they were a little shy in front of the crowd, but made a great effort. Two other dancers invited two women as their models, to show the audience how to correctly wear a saree.
Time flies when you’re having fun. As the show ended and the lights went on, the audience was reluctant to leave. Some of them exchanged phone numbers and added each other on Facebook or WeChat to remain contact. A little girl, in her father’s arms, waved goodbye to the people around her. A teenage boy, wearing glasses and school uniform, looked back, time after time, at the stage where the performers were busy taking group photos. An old couple picked up their coats and walked out, chatting and grinning.
A young woman with short hair was polishing her movie camera in the back of the theater. Her name is Yang Jie. She was invited by the event planner to film the whole show. She has been a fan of Indian films for six years, since her interest was first awoken by 3 Idiots in college. Yang had worked as a TV journalist, but her passion for Indian films led her to her current employer – a company that introduces and imports Indian films to China.
To date, three shows have been conducted in the name of “Lost in Love for India” this year. Seema, a 23-year-old Uygur woman, is the planner behind the scene and also a hostess on the stage, where her jokes with the performers always entertain the crowd. Seema invited a group of friends to perform, or assist her in organizing the shows. They call her “Xiao Mai”. Seema has been into Indian culture since she was a little kid, and says that “the humanity and cultural appeal in Indian films” move her deeply. When she was old enough, she traveled to Hyderabad and Mumbai. Motivated by her love for India and supported by her friends, Seema has decided to continue the series of events in 2017.
Even though the vibrant show was over, Mahesh and his friends from both China and India were about to have even more fun. Beijing’s freezing winter couldn’t dampen their spirits. They sang Indian songs along the way on the metro to Wudaokou, a business district in northwestern Beijing where numerous overseas students visit every day. They sat down in an Indian restaurant, feasted themselves with tasty curry and rotis, and extended their Sunday evening delight with a good chat.
Photographs courtesy of Seema.