Bollywood beats rock the US
Monica Uppal Popli

Bollywood aerobics are a hit with many Indians living in the USA
Bollywood aerobics are a hit with many Indians living in the USA
Bollywood aerobics are a hit with many Indians living in the USA

A group of 40 women and men is gyrating to the pulsating Dhoom macha le in an elegant dance studio. So what’s new about it? The class is Bollywood aerobics and the venue —Milpitas, California.

With its fulgent glory and international appeal, Bollywood is making forays into the fitness world in America. It’s literally making people dance to its tunes in Hollywood. The popularity of aerobics classes with a Bollywood tag is a gauge of Hindi cinema’s plenary influence, particularly on Indians away from India.

With easy access to avant-garde gyms, plethora of exercise-oriented classes and home workout videos by fitness mavens, people are thronging the Indian Community Center at Milpitas and neighboring Sunnyvale to attend the Hindi-movie-inspired workout classes. All nine classes a week, each with a capacity of 40, are currently full. The halls cannot accommodate more, so new applications are being rejected.

In the class at Milpitas, 13-year-old Neel seems to just let his body move to the rhythm of Dil Chahta Hai’s Koi kahey while sweaty Anu Dugyala is being pushed by the instructor to keep going. She keenly looks in the mirror on the wall facing her. Gopa Parameswaran is relishing the workout on Chaiya chaiya from Dil Se and Hitendra Dutt is punching forcefully to Baghban’s Chali ishq de hawa.

In the cool-down segment, Nishi Misra is obviously pooped out but as she stretches her arms over her head, she begins moving gently as the lilting Bahon mein chaley aayo tries to sooth sore bodies. She starts oscillating her head as Adnan Sami’s Kabhi to nazar mila comes on.

The reasons for joining Bollywood aerobics are myriad: It is a fun workout, a calorie incinerator, a body toner, mood elevator, stress buster, a connection with one’s homeland, an introduction to a new culture, a vicarious experience and an interesting way to socialise. Bollywood music, obviously, is the big red cherry on top.

For Liz, an independent consultant in the software industry, it is the unalloyed passion for all things Indian that drew her to Bollywood dance and Bollywood aerobics classes. A visit to Pondicherry sparked her interest in India. Like many Americans, she is fascinated by Indian food, shimmering clothes, ornate traditions and ceremonies depicted in Hindi movies.

“I watch Showbiz India (a TV program based on filmi songs) every week and love rava dosa with the hottest chutney,” says an effervescent Liz whose face is glowing after the workout.

She stumbled upon the Bollywood aerobics classes through an Internet search. Bored with regular aerobics, she found the class invigorating. It is a convenient way to keep fit and stay connected to the culture she wants to imbibe.

“I go to pubs where bhangra music is played often. I needed to learn steps to be able to appropriately dance to it. So I joined Bollywood dance and aerobics at Sunnyvale.”

For clinical dietician Prerana, who also attends both classes at Sunnyvale, it’s the best way to stay connected to the roots. Having grown up in Juhu, Mumbai, in the proximity of movie stars, the lure of Bollywood is but natural. “In India I used to listen to western music, but after staying here for 17 years, my first choice now is Bollywood music. I tried jazzercise which I found too repetitive. Bollywood aerobics revs up metabolism. The mind is so engrossed in the peppy music that sometimes I don’t realise I am working out,” she says.

For Sharmila Udiavair, the timings are an added attraction. Also, the Indian Community Center environment gives her the feeling of being back home.

Bollywood aerobics and Bollywood dance classes were introduced by Mona Sampath at the Indian Community Centers in the towns of Milpitas and Sunnyvale. Three other instructors work under her to meet the rush.

Winning an all-India intercollegiate competition five times in a row, dancing in international shows of Karisma Kapoor and Akshay Kumar and donning the cap of assistant choreographer in an A.R. Rahman concert, gave her enough dance acumen to start dance classes.

An M.B.A. from Philadelphia University, where she also won the Best Choreographer of the Year Award for 2001, she came to the Silicon Valley for a job as a marketing manager. As a part-time job, she started teaching Bollywood dance at the Milpitas Community Center. The president and co-founder of the centre approached her with the idea of Bollywood aerobics.

A certified aerobics instructor from YMCA, she structured a total body workout with moves from hip-hop, rock and roll, jazz, funk, simplified classical and folk dances — all the staple ingredients of filmi jhatkas and matkas.

An exhaustive workout might tire a beginner but the music is a definite pick-upper. The one-hour class has four segments: stretches (10 minutes), cardio workout (25 minutes), abs workout (20 minutes) and cool down (5 minutes). Racy medleys and slow-paced songs from the Shammi Kapoor era to the hottest chart busters are used in the backdrop. The target is shaving off a whooping 500-700 calories per workout while providing salubrious entertainment. To sustain the vim and vigour of the students, different music and moves are used in each class.