The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Twinkle toes and Hollywood-bound
- 14 Kalitala girls hone talent to perform in Melanie Griffith’s California gala

Seema Mondol, 12, doesn’t have parents. She used to live with her mashi, whom she calls ‘ma’, and her family, in their tiny home in Ashoknagar. She did go to school, but she also had to help out with the household chores, which left little time for anything else.

Now, she even has the chance to dance and play the violin. These days, she is busy preparing for a trip to Los Angeles, to visit “Melanie Auntie” and perform for a celebrity audience there.

Fourteen girls from Kalitala, with similar backgrounds, will take their musical talents to a charity dinner in LA, organised by Hollywood star couple Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas, at their sprawling Beverly Hills home. Both are ardent supporters of the Calcutta-based NGO Sabera Foundation, and have organised the event on October 10 to raise money for it.

The girls are all set for their trip from Kalitala to California this Puja. Seema Barni, 9, grins shyly and says: “Aami khoob khushi. Sobai amader naach dekhbe. (I am very happy. Everyone will see us dance).” The programme planned by the youngsters includes two “welcome dances” (they enthusiastically do a little demonstration for visitors), two dances performed to Bengali songs, Jhunjhun moyna and Behure lagan, and a violin “concert” of “English songs”.

Preparations started months ago, and are on in full swing. Their “dance ma’am” comes on Saturdays, but they rehearse their steps at every opportunity. Violin practice is almost every day.

Antonio Banderas might be too busy shooting a film in Canada to come for a visit, but he is keen to build a school for the girls here. And Melanie Griffith visited Sabera’s home, beyond Thakurpukur, earlier this month. They performed Jhunjhun moyna, which “she loved”, and played a few pieces on the violin. “We also sang with Melanie Auntie,” they say.

The album compiled during Ricky Martin and then Melanie’s visit, with other stars lending their voices, will be launched on the night of the Beverly Hills function. “We are a little nervous because there will be lots of people there,” they chorus. Sonali Datta, 12, fears they might forget some steps, but are working hard to avoid that. Seema Pal, also 12, is concerned by the added pressure of their performance being videotaped. “But that also means that many other people will also get to see our performance, which is very exciting,” she laughs. “They haven’t seen Bengali dances, so I’m sure they will appreciate it,” Seema Mondol believes.

Sangeeta Biswas, 9, is a lot more confident. “Aamra nischoy bhalo korbo. (We will definitely do well.)” Their excitement is infectious. One child mournfully complains: “Why can’t I go' I can also dance.” An older girl consoles her: “We will all get a chance. You will also go soon.”

They have all been encouraged by their family’s acceptance of their trip abroad, despite initial reluctance. Seema Mondol says her ‘ma’ was not happy at first, but she later realised that this is a great opportunity for her to “see the world”. “She knows that his can lead to bigger and better things.” Seema Pal’s mother feels this is a jumping-off point for her and that if she is good at what she does, people will notice. “There will be a lot of famous people there and maybe some will like me and give me a chance…” she says.

Spending 10 days in a house in Hollywood might be a far cry from where these girls used to be, but they seem unfazed by the bright lights that awaits them. “I don’t know what we will do for the other nine days, but Madhumita, a girl here, has been there last year (to meet Penelope Cruz, her sponsor) and she talked about a park. I really want to see that park,” Seema Pal remarks. She isn’t afraid of the newness of the experience, however. “They are people just like us. The only difference is that we are Indian and they are bideshi,” she adds, sagely, before going to back to rehearse her steps for the big night in Beverly Hills.

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