Students, faculty and community members entered Larison Dining Hall on Nov. 3 and were greeted by students offering to place a tikka or bindi on their foreheads, a mark of red ink symbolizing energy and spirituality in many South Asian cultures. An evening of celebration of South Asian food, film, dance and culture took place at the 47th SASA dinner, presented by the University’s South Asian Student Association (SASA). The event began at 5 p.m.
Hosted by organization president Lynette Santhakumar ’19, the dinner and its accompanying performances and presentations were centered around the cinematic elements of the countries of South Asia. “We are all connected to the area through friends or family,” Santhakumar said. She also thanked the audience for their attendance, especially SASA alumni who “have left us with the legacy to continue building upon.”
SASA aims to celebrate and spread awareness for South Asian culture at the University. The nations honored throughout the night included Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
For many students such as Amisha Chhetri ’22, SASA has provided a place for cultural unity and comfort. “Being in SASA has been one of the best experiences of my life. Being with all these people, this has been the first time I have felt at home,” Chhetri said.
The performances of the night included traditional bhangra dances, many of which incorporated modern elements or classic moves often seen in South Asian cinema. The audience clapped along to the opening dance number “Akhar/Rolex Bhangra,” performed by Gursimran Singh ’21, Rishaan Misra ’22, and Sid lyer Sequeira ’21, while enjoying an appetizer of vegetable samosas.
Throughout the night, announcers explained elements of different South Asian nation’s cinematic industries, informing attendees of how different countries have tackled issues such as censorship and gender norms in their films. The cinematic theme of the event was inspired by the film “Crazy Rich Asians,” and the conversations and controversies surrounding its depiction of South Asian cultures.
Additional performers of the night included the Bisonettes and the Nepali Boys, a music group consisting of Nigesh Prajapati ’19, Shishir Budha ’20, Shrawak Lama ’22, and Spandan Marasini ’21. During an energetic audience participation segment, attendees filled the stage and were led by Soni Madnani ’20 and Esha Sharma ’20 in a short Bhangra dance, consisting of classic moves most commonly associated with India.
Following the audience participation, attendees were served their dinner, which included chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, and naan. SASA members also performed a comedic movie scene inspired by the Maldives film industry in which a daughter brings her boyfriend home to meet her parents for the first time.
Iyer Sequeira, the writer of the comedic skit, discussed what his favorite part of planning the event was. “The creative aspect, especially since we had a very specific theme this year: South Asian cinema. All the components of the creative planning contributed to the immersive experience I hope the audience had!” Iyer Sequeira said.
After a large final performance, complete with confetti cannons, the dinner concluded with an awards ceremony for SASA members, as well as audience participation awards for especially spirited members of the audience. Categories included Best Dressed Male (Wilder Brice ’22), Best Dressed Female (Sherab Dorji ’22) and Most Enthusiastic Member (Chhetri). Best adviser was granted to Associate Professor of English Meenakshi Ponnuswami. Ponnuswami declared the award to be truly belonging to the members of SASA. “They handle this enormous event on top of everything else that they do, so this is really their award,” Ponnuswami said. The SASA members also honored and gave flowers to all senior members, thanking them for their dedication to the organization and leadership.
“Growing up in Connecticut, I’ve never had much of an Indian community so coming here, SASA has been such a great Indian community to grow and learn more about my culture during my time here,” Zara Saldanha ’20 said.
The sold-out event has long been a campus favorite, with many attending the dinner for years. “I’ve been coming to this event for 15 years and it’s by far my favorite event of the year,” Associate Professor Michelle Johnson said.
Anne Marie Brook ’19 reflected this sentiment. “I love coming to this event every year to support my friends. My favorite part, besides the food, is watching the dances and seeing how much work everyone puts into it. It really pays off,” Brook said.
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