Shorter Diwali features rhythmic dance, jokes, serious commentary

| Contributing Reporter

Senior Arushi Bhalla dances in the Senior Dance during Ashoka’s Diwali show on Friday night. The annual production was shortened this year to about 2 1/2 hours.

With the lights of Edison Theater dimmed, only a few things stood out: the steady laughter of the audience punctuated by moments of rapturous applause, the saturated colors bursting forth and energy pulsing as performers moved nimbly across the stage.

One part tradition and one part irreverence, with sharp quips about pre-medical school culture and miniature narratives concerning life with Indian parents—to which some members of the audience could be heard exclaiming, “Oh my god, that’s so true” or “My dad did that, too!”—the show felt like an inside joke, but one that all were welcome to join in on.

Designed specifically to be shorter than in previous years, the skit in this year’s Diwali show was limited to 20 minutes, and each dance routine was cut down by two minutes—so the entertainment clocked in at about 2 1/2 hours.

Freshman Rasika Reddy, a member of the Raas dance team, felt that shortening the skit added to its humor.

“[The] skit was shorter this year, so they really packed in the humor, and I think it was more funny,” Reddy said. “I loved the jokes that they incorporated because they were all so relatable.”

Held on Friday and Saturday night, the event overlapped with Dance Marathon not only in its timing but also in its philanthropy efforts as well. In previous years, Ashoka, the cultural group that puts on Diwali, has donated to an international charity organization, but this year, co-philanthropy chairs Vikram Gurusamy and Supritha Prasad, both sophomores, chose to donate the event’s proceeds to Children’s Miracle Network of Greater St. Louis—the same cause as Dance Marathon.

“Ashoka…really wanted to expand its reach outside Wash. U. to the greater St. Louis community,” Prasad said. “By establishing a relationship with a local charity as opposed to an international one, the partnership does not stop with simply fundraising. By choosing to benefit Children’s Miracle Network, we have laid the foundation for our members to also volunteer their time.”

The theme of the performance, Diwali Night Live, a parody of the popular comedy show “Saturday Night Live,” provided a framework for familiar “SNL” sketches like “Penelope,” “Cowbell” and “Weekend Update” to be adapted to incorporate relevant cultural commentary. Music by artists like Akon and Hilary Duff made unexpected entrances alongside traditional Indian folk music and Bollywood tunes.

More than a dozen students, as well as Justin Carroll, associate vice chancellor for students, stepped forward during the diya lighting ceremony to wish the audience a happy Diwali, each one speaking in a different language, including Mandarin, Portuguese and Hindi.

The evening also addressed more serious themes, particularly with its opening tribute. In response to the recent campus controversy surrounding a Halloween photo uploaded to Facebook that offended many in the Muslim community, Ashoka chose to open the performance with a message of unity.

“In light of recent events, we would like to reach out to other student groups,” senior Meghna Kataky said. “We stand in solidarity.”

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.