At the Pacific Coliseum on Thursday, April 4
Shiamak Davar admitted he knows he's not Shah Rukh Khan. "But I'm still sexy," the part-time Vancouver resident and Bollywood choreographer joked.
Point taken. Yes, it's true that Bollywood's full cavalcade of celebrity heavyweights, which includes film royalty like Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai, is reserved for the Times of India Film Awards ceremony on Saturday (April 6).
But seven South Asian singers brought to life one of the most characteristic and distinctive aspects of the Hindi-language movie industry: the filmi hits. More than just an opening act for the awards ceremony, it was a Bollywood blowout unto itself. And it certainly wasn't without its glitz and glamour: Femina Miss India 2002 winner and Bollywood star Neha Dhupia, resplendent in an elegant black gown with gold and silver accents, worked the Desi crowd effortlessly.
Looking sharp in a black suit, Davar kicked off the three-hour-long evening by singing the languid ballad "Jaane Kisne" (he joked about how an English lady said she loved the song because she thought the lyrics were "Johnny, Kiss Me"), accompanied by a scantily clad dancer couple. Although intimate and romantic, it was a surprisingly low-key start for the evening's festivities. (Davar's repeated requests for the not-yet-warmed-up audience to sway their hands in the air was met with crickets.) Fear not, true believers, for he established audience rapport with some call-and-reply singing. And when things shifted gears with a high-energy number replete with fireworks, flames, and an energetic dance entourage dressed in streetwear, the enthusiastic audience found their voice.
Shalmali Kholgade, in a shimmering blue dress, was also surrounded by a circle of dancers, albeit for the slower, passionate ballad "Pareshaan" from Ishaqzaade. But Kholgade also took things uptempo. Not only did the vibrant "Radha" from Student of the Year and the infectious dance beats of "Lath Lag Gayi" from Race 2 keep things musically upbeat but the accompanying dances, divided into male and female contingents, provided some of the most visually striking numbers of the evening. The men, decked out in white kurta with gold embellishments, waved red scarves while the women, clad in black, struck up confident, modern poses on-stage, standing atop chairs.
Ottawa-born R&B singer Abbas Hasan, wearing a black jacket, sunglasses, gloves, and wallet chain, delivered a slick, short, and smooth set (without backup dancers) that included his single "Sona".
What not only got the party truly started but kept it going was when the British-Indian rapper Hard Kaur hit the stage. Living up to her name in both the Sikh context (princess or lioness) and the English play on words (hardcore), her bright-pink top and short skirt contrasted her hard-hitting street swagger. With nary a soft ballad, she served up a pounding mix of beat-driven, hip-hop hits, including "Sadda Dil Vi Tu (Ganptai)", "Char Baag Gaye", and "Singh is Kinng" (the title track from the Akshay Kumar blockbuster). Bolstered by a rhythm-nation phalanx of dancers, her charismatic performance took on an almost military feel, as she commanded people to pump up the bass and proclaimed that Singh is king and God is queen. "If I get out of control, it's not me—it's the alcohol," she spouted from "Peeney Do (The Alcohol Song)". Fierce, indeed.
As a counterpoint, Hard Kaur's intensity was mellowed out by Mohit Chauhan, looking laid-back in a brown jacket and cap with an acoustic guitar in tow. The folksy Indipop and playback singer performed a soulful set of ballads, including "Dooriyan" and "Masakali".
Kavita Seth showed off her powerful vocals both a cappella and also set to booming dance beats. The celebratory vibe proved too irresistible to the audience, who cheered and clapped along to the likes of the catchy "Tumhi Ho Bandhu" from Cocktail.
But it was not until Sunidhi Chauhan graced the stage that a small number of audience members finally took to the floor to dance. Kholgade proved she could belt it out to rock-driven beats, coyly teasing the audience with long pauses and singing along to both smooth grooves and faster tempos.
Shalmali Kholgade and Hard Kaur returned as a duo for an encore, performing not only "Daaru Desi" and "Ek Glassy" but also Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel". Mohit Chauhan also performed a multisong encore (joined by a guitarist on-stage at one point), as did Sunidhi Chauhan, who sung a few gentle ballads (with a few firework bangs to wake up anyone who was unwittingly lulled into savasana—it was a long evening) before belting out an uptempo number to close out the night.
If the Musical Extravaganza's spectacle was anything to go by, Saturday's awards show will add even more glow to our sometimes sun-starved stretch of Brollywood (brolly, for those who are unaware, is English slang for umbrella).