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Bhangra Boogie

In Cover, Culture, Music

2021, like 2020 before it, is a year that looks best in the rearview mirror. The last twelve months have been filled with all manner of, let’s say, bumps in the road—new COVID variants, pervasive supply chain issues, decreased unemployment benefits and the looming restart of student loan payments. There’s no shortage of reasons to celebrate the final calendar day of 2021.

Locally, the celebration will take many forms around the South Bay this New Year’s Eve, from dance nights to black tie affairs, Gatsby parties to historical light shows.

One of the more popular themes this year is the Bollywood party, an event style that promises to bring plenty of rhythm, romance and excitement to the last night of the year.

The wealth of Bollywood-themed options available this year speaks to the continued vibrancy of the region’s South Asian culture. Just 40 years ago, the Indian-American population of Santa Clara County consisted of little more than 5,000 people. As of 2015, Pew Research Center listed San Jose as the fourth largest Indian-American population in the US, totaling roughly 160,000 individuals.

Both Cupertino and Milpitas are now majority Asian cities, with South Asians making up a large part of the group. Many come to the area for work, or to be near family, or simply to plug into what has become a booming and fertile South Asian immigrant community. For years, Indian grocery stores have been a common sight among the South Bay’s strip malls; in 2014 the Towne Theatre on the Alameda became a dedicated Bollywood theatre. These days, cricket is also becoming popular in the South Bay, with clubs emerging and pick-up games bowled in local parks.

This New Year’s Eve, multiple event promoters around the South Bay are holding Bollywood-style parties for the area’s booming South Asian population—as well as everyone simply interested in having a good time. Mountain View, Milpitas, Sunnyvale, San Jose and Fremont all have Bollywood New Year’s Eve events planned, ranging from themed nights at established clubs—like San Jose’s Back Bar and Opal in Mountain View—to one-off parties at event spaces.

At My Royal Palace—a huge, 6,000-square-foot banquet hall off Calaveras in Milpitas—local promoter Vamsha Events is hosting a “Bollywood Bash” inspired by glitzy, one-stop parties in Vegas.

“We wanted to take it to an upper notch,” says Vamsha founder Rimpy Gill. “We’re creating a Las Vegas style club experience right here in the Bay. I’m really excited.”

Vamsha (which, in Hindi, means “lineage,” or “family”) came into existence during the pandemic when Gill, a 25-year veteran of supply chain management, took the opportunity to reassess her life’s path.

“We were all in that reflective mode of ‘one life to live,’ and [I decided to do] what I always wanted to do, which is creative events.”

Prior to starting Vamsha, Gill had plenty of experience attending events like these, and had planned several of her own large-scale parties for friends and family—including a few at My Royal Palace. Vamsha’s Halloween party (which would have been the event company’s first major ticketed event) was canceled in the planning phases due to the Delta variant. Now, however, they’re ready for the party to begin in earnest.

Included in the festivities for the Bollywood Bash are dinner and dancing, a DJ and live dholi (Indian drummers), a balloon drop at midnight and a cruise-ship-inspired wristband system for drinks.

“A Bollywood party has to have lots of dancing, music, food and alcohol. We are all about having fun,” Gill says. But for the party to really go off, one item in particular has to be right.

“Music is what’s going to rock the party, right?”

Musically, Bollywood Bash reflects the characteristic diversity of the South Bay, with hip hop and top 40 being mixed with desi and bhangra hits—a style of dance music popular among the Indian diaspora in the UK.

“It’s very upbeat and fast music,” Gill says.

To illustrate, she shares an experience she had on a cruise in the years before COVID. One night, after hours of music, the ship’s dancefloor had gone quiet.

“I gave my phone to the DJ and said, ‘would you mind playing a few songs for us?’ One of them was a bhangra song, and believe it or not, the moment he turned it on, everyone who was sitting down got up and started dancing. It’s so cool and so loud, it actually makes you get up and dance.”

Bolly Tadka—an event company run by promoter Anjali Sharma—has two separate Bollywood nights planned this New Year’s Eve: one in downtown San Jose at Back Bar, and another at the Urban Grill banquet hall in Sunnyvale.

“Ideal Bollywood style events will have the latest Bollywood songs, a live Bollywood DJ and attendees are encouraged to wear Indian outfits,” Sharma says over email, promising a lively night of music in Hindi, Punjabi, Telugu and English.

2022 will be Bolly Tadka’s fifth year as a Bay Area event promoter. Sharma says preparing for something like a New Year’s Eve event takes at least a month of effort: decorations and props must be secured, music and dinner prepared.

With the Omicron variant currently on the rise around the Bay Area, and predicted to cast a dark shadow over this winter, safety is also a primary concern.

“We’re checking vaccinations,” says Gill at the Bollywood Bash. “In the end, it’s about the community. We want to be sure everyone can go back home and hug their families.”

And after the uncertainty, pervasive sense of danger and general disruption of 2020-2021, more than anything, the organizers of this year’s Bollywood events want to relieve some of the community’s stress.

“It’s about getting the message out that it’s okay to have fun,” Gill says. “We are so hard on ourselves. We are very family oriented, taking care of kids and the elderly. It’s ok to take time for yourself. It’s okay to go out. In the end, when you get old and you’re on that rocking chair, you should have a lot of good memories that make you smile.”

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