Last night, the South Asian a capella group Columbia Sur had their annual showcase, featuring a cappella groups from colleges all over the Northeast. The event, titled “Zabardast,” was an exploration of Bollywood romance and a pretty cool deal, so we sent over Deepika Padukone enthusiast (and Bwogger) Nadra Rahman to check it out. Coincidentally, she can correctly pronounce “zabardast,” which means superb or excellent in Hindi/Urdu.
The theme of the night was “Bollywood romance,” which pretty much gave free reign to all the performance groups—90% of all Bollywood songs are about love, and the other 10% are also about love, but in a less obvious way. All the groups embraced the timely theme with gusto, although most seemed to take a melancholy approach to the subject of love.
First up were the MIT Ohms (very punny), whose biggest hit was a mash-up of “Take Me To Church,” “Aao Na,” and “Skyfall.” The effect of the arrangement was a sense of impending doom, (fitting enough for a dateless student on the eve of Valentine’s Day) but the songs worked well together, and were sung skillfully by a crew of (lovable) nerds.
MIT was followed by Yale Sur Et Veritaal, a group that had an inordinate number of tall girls. Their Hindi songs (“Rang Deeni” and “Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera”) were sung in that classic rural-gritty style found so often in Bollywood films, which was great for setting the mood. Their biggest hit was a mash-up of “Young and Beautiful,” “Tu Jaane Na,” and “I’m Not the Only One,” all of which were rendered soulfully.
That being said, the most exciting a cappella group of the first half was probably BU Suno, who backed up their vocals with impressively synchronized moves. They were energetic and clearly well-coordinated. Both “Pompeii”/“Sooraj Dooba Hain”/“Aa Raat Bhar” and “Do I Wanna Know”/“Sun Raha Hain” were huge crowd-pleasers, livened up by a wordless romantic skit in which a single rose was exchanged between singers. Another funny moment occurred when background singers acted out the lyrics of “Pompeii” with their bodies; it was oddly endearing. Overall, the songs were a bit lighter in tone, and we were left excited and buzzing, ready for the next performance.
Columbia Raaga lived up to our expectations, with lead singer Neha Nataraj singing as angelically as was promised by the MCs. The song “Nagada Sang Dhol” was well received, with most of us in the audience probably reflecting on how far we were from being Deepika Padukone, the actress/object of our affection who lip-syncs the song in the film Ram Leela.
After a samosa-heavy intermission, we returned with Cornell Tarana, whose “Galliyan”/”Centuries” was a good match-up, and adeptly sung. The songs complemented each other, and were a brief return to a darker tone, which was welcome. “Centuries” was done particularly well, and was almost violent.
Following Cornell was Harvard Mirch, whose “What’s My Name”/“My Name is Sheila” was a seamless combination. “My Name is Sheila” was obviously a throwback to every single brown kid’s middle school years, and a reminder of practiced gyrations in front of a bathroom mirror; “What’s My Name” constituted the night’s only attempt at rapping, and was a successful one. By far, the biggest disappointment of the night was when the group didn’t perform “American Boy”/“Desi Girl” (another middle school anthem), as written on the program. It was something we talked about with anticipation during the intermission, but alas.
Columbia Bhangra lessened some of our disappointment with a characteristically energetic and skillful performance, clearing the way for Columbia Sur to take the stage. They were obviously the crowd favorites, and endured teasing and call-outs long before starting. And they definitely delivered. I loved every single one of their arrangements, but was most moved by “Lay Me Down”/“Kabira.” The passion and soul was evident, and everyone in the audience seemed affected. The guy next to me muttered, “They’re so good,” while the girl on my other side said, “I need to be taken out on a stretcher now.” So yeah, they were good.
A few other notes: Call-outs were abundant, especially for Cornell Tarana. Parents were present and both proud and bemused. The MCs followed in the great tradition of MCing and were uncomfortably antagonistic towards each other (the highlight: “We’re lucky they didn’t laugh at your hideous face.”). All in all it was a night of bad jokes, middle school nostalgia, and yes, Bollywood romance.
Photo via CU Sur