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Hindi Manch: Binding Boston Audiences In A Spell……

Shuchita Rao

 A USA National Hindi Convention (Hindi Manch Rashtriya Mahotsav) was an outstanding event that celebrated Hindi language and Indian culture and held on the evening of November 30 and through the weekend of Saturday, December 1 and Sunday, December 2 in Burlington, Mass. The occasion was the 10th anniversary of local non-profit organization Hindi Manch. On the three days of the convention, a 1500 member audience was treated to live music, dance, theatre, poetry reading sessions and workshops by celebrity figures as well as other talented artists from USA and Canada. Organized through the dedicated efforts of a steering committee comprising of five members, Jharna Madan, Raksha Soni, Anish Khanzode, Ajay Jain and Preetesh Shrivastav who managed multiple teams consisting of several more members and a total of 350 volunteers, the event held at two locations in Burlington, MA presented the talents of over one hundred local artists and visitors from outside Massachusetts to a diverse audience.

Hindi Manch, a Boston based non-profit organization started by a team of language lovers such as the noted playwright, the late Shri Mohan Dali, Smt. Shubha Chungi, Dr. Pradeep Shukla and Chaitanya Godse has been led by a dynamic president, Shri Preetesh Shrivastav for the past ten years. Over the years it has won hearts of Boston audiences and sponsors with its annual entertainment shows that have put the spotlight on spreading the awareness of the Hindi language and Indian culture through the medium of music, dance, literature and theatre. For this year’s Hindi National Convention, Platinum patrons included Saxena Family foundation, Priti and Mukesh Chatter, Vandana and Vivek Sharma, Juju Productions LLC, Srinivasan Family foundation. Gold sponsors included Hina and Anil Shah, Babita and Sanjeev Sood. Silver sponsors included Sadhana M. and Triveni N. Upadhyay Family Foundation, Sawhney Family foundation.

On Friday, November 30, a beautifully decorated entrance with flower garlands, large gold Ganesha and white elephant statues at Burlington High school greeted concert attendees. A walkway adorned with multiple colorful red and yellow printed panels containing brief biographies of North India’s greatest literary figures such as Munshi Premchand, Mahadevi Varma, Bhartendu Harishchandra etc educated and informed the viewers . Shobha Sastry’s ornate stage decorations provided a royal backdrop for music, dance and live theatre presentations. A bustling bazaar with multiple vendors selling attractively priced clothing, jewellery, accessories, home furnishings, artifacts and life insurance led concert attendees through a long corridor to the cafeteria where sumptuous meals and tea were provided by local food caterers at designated break times. Each day’s event was planned in a manner to allow for socialization between the multiple program offerings.

The inaugural ceremony began with the rendition of a Kabir poem, composed in the Dhrupad style by the renowned Padmashri Gundecha brothers. The A cappella presentation by over twenty young students who study Hindustani classical music with this reporter was followed by a warm welcome by Jharna Madan, a lamp lighting ceremony and a dance-drama that told the story of the valiant Jhansi Ki Rani (the queen of Jhansi who led a rebellion against British forces in 1857) using the words of poetess, the late Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s poem “Khoob ladi mardaani who tho jhaansi vaali rani thi”.

In the presidential address that followed the Jhansi ki Rani dance-drama, Shri Preetesh Shrivastav spoke about the mission and vision of Hindi Manch organization to concert attendees concluding with the lines “Ubhi tho naapi hai mutthi bhar zameen humne, aage saara aasmaan baaki hai…” (we have only measured a handful of land up until now, what remains ahead is the entire expanse of the sky…). Preetesh’s exceptional ability to connect with the audience, his spontaneous oratory, keen emotional intelligence, fantastic ability to recruit talent, delegate work, manage and deliver high quality entertainment projects to its audiences has garnered tremendous good-will and admiration within the Indian American community in Boston.  “President ke hisaab se taali bajaayiye” (clap your hands in the manner a president should be recognized) was probably the most loved phrase that he repeated multiple times during the weekend bringing smiles to faces in the audience.

A lively Saahitya Sammelan ensued in the latter part of Friday evening. Well known poet Alok Shrivastav who is recognized internationally for his contribution to Hindi-Urdu shaayari and acclaimed Bollywood actress Deepti Naval participated in the in Hindi and Urdu poetry recitations by New England area poets as well as visiting poets from outside Massachusetts. A Bollywood song rendition by Dr. Mohan Subramaniam touched the hearts of listeners. The Saahitya Committee comprised of chair Maneesh Shrivastav and members Syed Ali Rizvi, Sunayana Kachroo and Jaya Pande. A beautifully designed magazine by Gopika Narula and Deepa Modi’s Patrika team also featured several poignant Hindi poems authored by poets from United States and Canada. The brilliant introductions by emcees and session coordinators, Raksha Soni, Pratibha Krishnamurthy, Jharna Madan, Syed Ali Rizvi, Sunayana Kachroo among others deserve special mention.

The events on Saturday, Dec 1 began early in the morning with SaReGaMaPa song competition semi-finals at the Francis Wyman School in Burlington. A workshop by actress Deepti Naval and her live in-person interview with Preetesh Shrivastav allowed for a close glimpse on the life struggles that shape the making of an artist. Three Hindi plays  “Fail Kara Do Yaar” (directed by Jayanti Banerjee and Amitabh Lala), “Bakar Bakar” (directed by Chaitanya Godse) and “Mirchi Kola” directed by Pratibha Krishnamurthy) were presented by local actors as well as visiting teams from outside Massachusetts. Candid humor and the insightful study of society and human behavior written in the drama scripts by authors such as Yogesh Soman, Chaitanya Godse and Preetesh Shrivastav was brought out well by the directors and actors. The Drama committee chaired by Sanjay Jain and Pratibha Krishnamurthy had the assistance of members Amal Jawa, Dileep Gehlot and Parul Kumar.

On Saturday evening, the finals of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa competition drew a packed crowd into the Burlington High auditorium and led the contestants and the audience through an action packed journey of melody, rhythm, anticipation and excitement. Several participants who were part of semi-finals as well as committee members sang a group medley (Wohi Sikandar and Gallan Goodiyaan) organized by Dr. Meena Sundaram. The performances in the competition attracted several out-of-state contestants and were delivered in great style. They were judged by the renowned playback singer Padmashri Kavita Krishnamurthy, noted classical vocalist from New Jersey, Mitali Bhowmik and popular playback singer from Connecticut, Javid Raza. Following the competition, the audience was treated to a one hour melodious performance by Smt. Kavita Krishnamurthy in which she rendered nearly a dozen of her hit film songs backed by a live Bollywood orchestra with musicians from India and the USA. Her husband and Guru, the renowned classical violinist Dr. L. Subramaniam attended the event. Kavita Krishnamurthyji narrated stories from her 45 year long journey as a playback singer and spoke of her gratitude to the Hindi language and music that helped her gain stardom in the Indian film industry. Winners were announced at the end of the evening’s proceedings and trophies handed by the team of judges to the winners in multiple categories that spanned a range of age groups. The music committee consisted of thirteen local artists led by Meena Sundaram , Sneh Jaisingh and Anish Khanzode who worked tirelessly over several months of organizing in-person and skype auditions of dozens of aspirants from all over USA. The Sa Re Ga Ma Pa contest gave aspirants a chance to give their best in terms of rigorous preparation to sing before 1500 music lovers. Sound engineer Jawed Wahid managed a challenging job of playing correct karaoke tracks and the requirements of live performances with great attention to detail.

On Sunday, December 2, the audience was treated to ten short skits by school-aged children that were based on epic stories such as Ramayan, Mahabharat and literary works of Saint poet Kabir, Bhartendu Harishchandra among others. Celebrity actor turned film director Jugal Hansraj famous for his roles in the movies Masoom and Mohabbatein graced the event.  His encouraging presence in the audience was a source of joy and inspiration to the children. Attractive stage props, costumes, accessories, make-up and creative direction made the themes of the plays come alive. “Meghana’s native language is not Hindi and she spent hours of her time memorizing and practicing her lines for her play over multiple weeks” said her mother Madhavi Seethamraju of Lexington, Mass. The Baal Yuva Manch committee led by Ruchi Dwivedi and Sumeet Sharma was assisted by members Aruna Varshneya, Ajay Jaisingh, Shamita Behl, Suman Garwhal and Jharna Madan. To channelize the energy of young children into learning Hindi language, the work of famous playwrights, to express their creativity through the medium of theatre was an endeavor that mobilized families and teachers to come together to nurture language and acting skills among our youth. The Baal Yuva Manch was a perfect example of the realization of Hindi Manch’s mission which is to pass on the heritage of Hindi and related languages to the next generation through activities related to education and entertainment.

Later that afternoon, two particularly poignant and thought-provoking theatre presentations, “Rai” and “Ek aur Dronacharya” touched the hearts of the audience and resonated with them on many levels. The first play were staged by a team of accomplished actors from New Jersey under the direction of Ameeya Mehta. The liveness of music, dance, dialog delivery in authentic dialect, communication between the artists and the audience and the inspirational power of the true story about Rai folk dancers from Madhya Pradesh written by Indira Dangi made the presentation a powerful experience for the audience. “We worked for about six months to learn and perfect our content and were keen to present it only after we were confident about delivering it in the most authentic manner possible” said Ameeya Mehta who is originally from Madhya Pradesh but has spent over twenty years in the United States. The second play, “Ek Aur Dronacharya” written by Shankar Shesh and directed by Madhu Nene cleverly juxtaposed the dilemma faced by Dronacharya in the Mahabharata epic with the difficulty faced by a modern day Acharya (professor turned principal) in administering the affairs of a college in an honest and forthright manner. The complex plot took interesting turns and brought to the fore the compromises made by individuals under the pressure of power, corruption and shifting circumstances. More than twenty talented cast and crew participated in the play. Five year old child Krisha Narayan from Lexington sat engrossed through the entire length of the play. When asked what she liked about the play, she replied “I was very happy to see my dad Satish Palayam act in the play”. What a powerful example for young children to witness a reflection of society in the mirror of live theatre and to see their parents and siblings take active interest in cultural pursuits!

The three day event concluded with a vote of thanks by Shri Preetesh Shrivastav who remembered Boston’s playwright, the late Shri Mohan Dali and acknowledged the work of Hindi Manch founders, the members of all the committees, sponsors, participants, volunteers and the audience. The last couple lines from Preetesh Shrivastav’s poem Ek Sapna Humne Dekha Tha “Jo Sapna Hote Such Dekha Tha, Usko Such Hote Dekha Hai” (the dream we had imagined in our minds , we have seen it come true) rang true through the three day event. The ambitious production and flawless execution of the three day Hindi National Convention was a labor of love, passion, commitment, energy and hard work of many people from the Boston area. Kudos to Hindi Manch President, Preetesh Shrivastav for his vision and to the Hindi Manch team for an outstanding job in bringing together the community of music, language and theatre lovers with artists to celebrate precious Indian heritage.

List of Hindi Manch Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Winners:

Age group: 6-12

Winner: Dev Merchia

First Runner up: Shriya Jha

Second Runner up: Raina Parikh

Age Group: 13-20

Winner: Chinmay Joshi

First Runner up: Disha Sankholkar

Second Runner up: Shreya Binu

Age Group: 21-50

Winner: Geetika Kulkarni

First Runner up: Manshree Damle

Second Runner up: Vinay Saini

Age Group: 50-Plus

Winner: Sudhir Oak

First Runner up: Rakesh Chauhan

Second Runner up: Tej Singh

Winners in the duet category:

Winners: Sagar Tayde and Shyala Mahant

First Runner up: Ravi Arora and Rakesh Chauhan

Second Runner up: Sudhir Oak and Ashwini Joshi.

People’ Choice Award Winners: Shriya Jha, Chinmay Joshi, Sagar & Shyala, Sudhir Oak and Geetika Kulkarni.

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