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'BollySpace' melds Indian film traditions with digital media

Three graduate students from the Comparative Media Studies Program have been suffering from sleepless nights lately, but not because of finals.

Aswin Punathambekar, Zhan Li and Sangita Shresthova are the creators of "BollySpace: An Interactive Dance Technology Project," and founders of the MIT South Asian Interactive Dance Technology Group, which seeks to bridge MIT's vibrant South Asian arts community with innovative technologists as a long-term project.

The students began their collaboration in January, and in March received a grant from the MIT Council for the Arts to finance "BollySpace." Since then, they've been working feverishly on the project, which will be presented May 11 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Wong Auditorium, in conjunction with the Media-in-Transition Conference on Globalization and Convergence.

"BollySpace" is based on the Bollywood genre of film--Indian movies that feature large segments of song and dance. Bollywood films have become part of everyday life in South Asia and among diasporic South Asian communities. Song and dance routines from the films have been adopted as part of communal events such as weddings and festivals.

"BollySpace" uses music and themes from film with six live dancers who interact with digital images projected on a screen. According to the creators, this will be the first time this type of interactive dance has been paired with elements from non-Western popular culture.

"'BollySpace' is a collaborative, performative student project that explores the cultural significance [of Bollywood] in increasingly global and convergent media environments," said Punathambekar, Li and Shresthova.

Although Punathambekar did not want to reveal too much about the performance, he described it as a multimedia spectacle based on the theme of love in Bollywood films. "The technology being developed will give people a chance to explore their [Bollywood] fantasies in a digital space," he said.

Punathambekar, who is from India, has extensive knowledge and experience with Bollywood films. Li has expertise in game design, and Shresthova, who is Nepalese and Czech, has studied classical Indian dance, as well as modern and contemporary dance techniques and choreography. Punathambekar said that each of the creators brought unique skills and interests to make "BollySpace" complete.

Punathambekar, Li, and Shresthova hope the MIT South Asian Interactive Dance Technology Group will become a permanent fixture on at MIT. They plan to continue developing the group in the fall and will schedule more performances next year. For more information on the group or "BollySpace," contact the Comparative Media Studies Office at x3-3599 or

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 8, 2002.

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