Thanks to Phene and Chhetri, Bollywood bowls Bates over


By Doug Hubley
Photographs by Phyllis Graber Jensen

In a dance exercise last fall, students paired off and took turns jumping: One member of each pair would lift off as the other touched down.

Taking turns with the jumps proved hardest for an unexpected pair, seniors Shachi Phene and Shlesma Chhetri. “We are so used to getting back in synch with each other, we just could not manage it,” explains Phene.

“Not even once,” adds Chhetri.

Shachi Phene '12, photographed by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College.

Shachi Phene ’12, photographed by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College.

Phene and Chhetri have choreographed more than 40 dances together at Bates, and their exploits in South Asian dance, notably the colorful and exuberant genre seen in Bollywood films, have made them campus stars.

A few years ago, Bates dancers like Harita Daraneeswaran ’10 got the Bollywood ball bouncing at Bates, and Chhetri and Phene have made the most of what they inherited, displaying a dedication as energetic and uplifting as the Bollywood spec-tacles they have created.

Shlesma Chhetri, photographed by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College.

Shlesma Chhetri, photographed by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College.

They have not only studied dance but taught it, extending a Bollywood offering in physical education that dates back to 2006. They perform in productions by the Department of Theater and Dance and numerous student-organized events such as International Club coffeehouses and the wildly popular Asia Night variety show.

They even organized a dance club, Bates Masti — taking on a deep commitment that involves everything from choreography to costuming to wrangling overcommitted fellow students.

Photograph by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College.

Shachi Phene, seen here, and Shlesma Chhetri, below, take part in a faith discussion sponsored by the Multifaith Chaplaincy in 2011. Photograph by Rene Minnis

A sociology major, Chhetri is from Kathmandu, Nepal. Phene, a double major in economics and psychology, was born in India and now lives in Lexington, Mass. Phene was formally trained in classical Indian dance, while Chhetri is largely self-taught.

“We’re coming from different places but we are both equally passionate about what we want to show on the stage,” Phene says.

Photograph by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College.

Photograph by Rene Minnis.

Known for bright, colorful costumes and infectious rhythms that fuse traditional Indian with Western styles, “Bollywood dances, songs and movies are associated with having a good time — joy,” says Phene. “It’s something people of all ages can do together.”

“Even first-timers end up having so much fun with the dance,” Chhetri says.

In that sense, the pair have given back to the Bates ethos of inclusivity that gave Bollywood fertile ground to grow in. “Bates has created an environment where people are very interested in learning about each other,” says Chhetri.

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