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BC Masti: ALC Showdown's 2023 Champions

Showdown, Boston College’s biggest dance event, felt even bigger this year. ALC always curates a great group of dancers, exposing the Boston College community to different cultures and styles of dance. But this year, the performances went above and beyond. With the largest crowd in BC history, each group brought electric energy. We saw Top Gun, Super Mario Bros, and even Phineas and Ferb. Yet, one group stood out above the rest. Masti, Boston College’s only Bollywood-fusion group, brought down Conte Forum. Speaking with Masti’s co-captains Gia Mitcham (she/her), Divya Kumar (she/her), and Punnya Kalapurakkel (she/her), it’s easy to see that with this group, lightning struck. 

Mitcham explained, “It was a journey. All of the club was involved in the SASA culture show which was like the last weekend of February. Because of the time constraint we essentially had three weeks. Three weeks to set up choreography, music and then teach and drill the team. It worked out in the end.” The intensity of the schedule bred a streamlined choreography team. “We normally have a board of choreographers, but being stuck with so little time we had to adjust. We ended up having to lock in with our co-captains, and choreographers provided input, but at the end of the day we had to be clear on our vision.” 

The vision was clear: an anti-colonialism theme that paid respect to South Asian freedom fighters. Divya notes the inspiration from the acclaimed film RRR, a Tollywood film that depicts fictionalized versions of real-life revolutionaries Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem. “Exactly one year ago, all of us went to see RRR, which shows the Indian struggle against British colonialism. We mentioned that it would be fun to make that our theme next year, and then put it aside and never really visited it again. When we were trying to decide our theme, it seemed the most obvious.” 

The storyline of Masti’s dances is a cornerstone of their club. Punnya notes, “Storytelling is big on Masti. We really spend a lot of time crafting the idea. It’s how we design our whole show. , we get the story and decide what plot points we want to hit. Then we try to figure out songs that represent Masti and operate in the Bollywood cross-genre space, but also represent the emotions we want to convey. We start with a storyline and it was like a sign from the universe when Naatu Naatu won best song that we chose the right theme.” 

After a sound mishap last year, when the narration was lost in the crowd’s noise, Masti knew the story had to be clear through dance. Gia, her first Showdown as a co-captain, explained the difficulties involved, “We had to operate with the understanding that the audience could not hear the music and they needed to physically see the story.” She notes the complexity of depicting this history: “We had a few concerns with our choreographers saying we should add dragging this person to communicate the storyline. But we did not want to sensationalize a reality that we have not experienced. We had to make the brutality very clear without doing too much. We tried to keep each part clear, you start with the village scene, then that being encroached on by the colonial force, and then the kidnapping, then taking back what’s theirs, then a loss and then the final battle.” 

Masti was shocked that an anti-colonialism message reached the Boston College audience. Earlier this year, OSI rejected a collaboration between Masti and the Boston College marching band. Eventually, OSI accepted the collaboration, but not without some convincing. “They told us there was no interest in a Bollywood halftime show. We’ve had to fight for our place at this school due to other’s problematic misconceptions,” “To be fully honest, I believed in our theme, but I told myself if this doesn’t resonate with the BC audience, that wouldn’t shock me.” Gia added, “I did hear from some people that they thought it was just a war, for some people the anti-colonialism went over their head. We had just hoped that people would appreciate the story.” 

Overall, Masti is excited by the love they have received from winning Showdown. Divya noted, “I think the best comments for me are when people say our message touched them or even made them proud of their culture. Those two moments are more important than any score, any clean lines or formation.” 

Punnya ended by thanking the other dancers and her community “The other dance teams as well have such a talent. We have such a talented student body. I genuinely have this belief that each dance group performs and leaves that energy on the stage for the next group. I also want to thank the South Asian kids at this school. we’re such a small community at BC, and I love you all. I hope this was a moment for the brown community in particular to feel seen by BC in a way we haven’t before...” 

Masti is excited to finally send their prize money to the charity SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together) and bring another stellar performance to the 2024 Showdown. 

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