Thousands dance to Bhangra beats and Bollywood music as a celebration of India during Carnival
By Florencia Costa
On Saturday, Rua Augusta turned into an Indian street. The iconic road, which goes down from the city’s main avenue towards the downtown was awash with Indian colours and filled with sounds of Bhangra and Bollywood songs. It was the day of Bloco Bollywood, the Indian community’s street carnival, which has become a permanent feature on this megalopolis’s cultural calendar.
On a cloudy day, a parade vehicle, fitted with huge speakers, was parked on the street, with a large crowd of Brazilians – in colourful Indian attires – and Indians forming a ring around it. Decorated with banners donning the face and messages of Gandhi, the vehicle – called trio – moved slowly down the street as the sounds of Indian music bounced off the high-rises sitting on its flanks. The day began with Ratnabali Adhikari, an Indian artist who has a musical group called Oxalá Masala, rendered two beautiful songs: “Ekla Cholo Re” and “Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram…” with the crowd joining with rhythmic applause. Then, dressed as Gandhi, a Brazilian actor appeared on the trio, talking about the Mahatma’s philosophy. “Go on in celebration and joy, without violence. Namaskar,” said the actor to huge applause.
On top of the trio were the Indian Consul-General in São Paulo, Amit K Mishra, the Commercial Consul, Digvijay Nath and the director of the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Center, Puja Kaushik who also spoke about the relevance of Gandhi’s message in today’s world.
Then began the show the Indian community and lovers of Indian culture wait for the whole year. With MC Vijay Bavaskar, the owner of Samosa & Company restaurant, exhorting the crowd, the DJ began belting out Bollywood numbers. Accompanying the songs was a group of Brazilian drum-players from the University of São Paulo. With the drummers playing bhangra beats on their drums, a group of Punjabi boys broke into a dance to loud cheers on top of the trio.
Bloco Bollywood is an annual street party that goes down Rua Augusta, playing Indian songs to which thousands dance as they follow the choreographies of Brazilian and Indian dance teachers. This year, Iara Ananda, of Bollywood Brazil group, and Disha Malani, of Feels Like India, choreographed dance moves of the gathering from top of the parade vehicle.
But what does the word ‘bloco’ mean? It is a word, in Portuguese, which means a group. It is a group that organizes a street carnival party. The city of São Paulo has more than 600 blocos. They parade through the streets, each playing music of their choice. Most play samba and other Brazilian rhythms. But in a cosmopolitan city like São Paulo, there are some blocos inspired by foreign themes. One, for example, honours the Beatles.
Created by the Indian community in Brazil, Bloco Bollywood is the street party that happens during the Brazilian carnival every year. In the 150th year of his birth anniversary, Bloco Bollywood, the biggest Indian gathering in the entire continent paid a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi in front of a crowd that swelled to thousands as the event progressed. The Indian bloco attracts large crowds every year, but this year was special as the community’s initiative was supported by the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre, which works under the Consulate General of India in São Paulo, to promote Gandhi’s message among the Brazilians.
Bloco Bollywood, since 2016, was created with the twin objective of celebrating Indian culture on the streets of Brazil and to make a cultural connection between the two emerging countries with music, dance and cinema. The Brazilian carnival is reminiscent of street parties in India, with their music, percussion, colours and joy. In the past five years, a large number of Brazilians have joined the Indian party because there is a very positive perception of Indian culture in Brazil.
In 2016, the first year of the parade, Bloco Bollywood had already attracted the attention of the Brazilian media because it was unusual for an Indian party at the largest Brazilian festival. It is good to remember that the Indian community in Brazil is not very significant in numbers as compared to other countries. In all subsequent years, the Brazilian media covered the Bloco Bollywood because it was indeed an interesting experiment of mixing Indian and Brazilian sounds and music – and culture.
This year, the Brazilian media covered Bloco Bollywood — the most exotic and different gathering of São Paulo’s street carnival — like never before. There were live broadcasts on the main Brazilian news programs, especially TV Globo, the top news channel throughout Brazil. “Bloco Bollywood shook Rua Augusta and remembered the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi,” said the Globo reporter who covered the event live. In the middle of bhangra, a Brazilian woman made sure to demonstrate her Hindi to TV Globo’s cameras: “Aap Kaise hai?” (“How are you?”); and “Sab Kuch milega” (“Anything is possible”).
(The author is a journalist based in Sao Paulo and one of the organisers of Bloco Bollywood. Views expressed are personal.)