Sometimes the dreams of Bollywood stories come true.
When “Bollywood Boulevard” comes to the Chandler Center for the Arts on Saturday, March 28, patrons witness the love story of Aaliya Islam and Rohit Gijare, associate choreographer and choreographer.
New Jersey-born Gijare and Chandler native Islam met through their mutual love of Bollywood dance and music. She moved to New York City in 2016 and soon thereafter auditioned for Gijare’s dance company, Exodus Artistry.
Even though their paths crossed in the years prior as captains of their respective collegiate Bollywood teams, this was the first time they formally met.
Gijare decided to see the Brooklyn Nets game and invited company members to join. New city, new dance company, and an outing not far from her place, Islam went and everything changed. The two bonded over their love of Bollywood and the two became inseparable.
Together they created “Bollywood Boulevard,” danced across the country and made dance videos together. There was one hurdle: persuading Islam’s parents to allow them to marry. See, they came from different South Asian and religious backgrounds—He a Hindu Marathi and her a Bangladeshi Muslim. Eventually, her parents fell in love with Gijare, too.
After a secret trip to Arizona to ask her parents for Islam’s hand, Gijare proposed to her in true Bollywood fashion with a big dance number at Exodus’ recital in 2019. Islam had no idea her family and friends were in the audience.
“This past June, we had our company showcase,” Gijare says. “For six months we (the company) were planning this elaborate Bollywood proposal.
“We’re very Bollywood in general. At the end of the show was our big finale dance. We had one separate rehearsal when Aaliya was not there. We had to figure out who would bring out the ring. We changed the ending (without Aaliya knowing). Luckily, she was very, very surprised. We brought in her family and friends from Arizona and all across the country. It was a very memorable program.”
Up next are two Bollywood weddings, starting in late May in Arizona.
“In May, we’re having a traditional Bangladesh-style wedding,” she says. “Then in June, we’re doing a full, Indian-style wedding in New Jersey. Right now we’re in India doing wedding shopping.”
The “Bollywood Boulevard” comes before the wedding.
“It’s a super fun Bollywood show,” she says. “It’s a super fun experience of getting to know the film and cinema of India, all the way from the very, very beginning.
“There was a huge transformation from what it started to what it is now. It’s great music, great fun and great dancing.”
Islam was born and raised in Chandler and attended Mountain Pointe High School and University of Arizona where she studied pre-law.
It’s a dream, she says, to bring her show to the Chandler Center for the Arts.
“When I heard they were reaching out to Chandler Center for the Arts, I thought, immediately, this would be a dream come true. It’s like coming full circle.
“I performed at Chandler Center for the Arts with my original dance teacher in Arizona. I had my debut solo performance at the Chandler Center for the Arts. That’s what started my professional dance career. With this big touring production coming to my hometown, I’ll be able to show my community and family exactly what I’ve been doing in New York. It’s a huge opportunity and honor. The lighting person at the Chandler Center for the Arts saw my photo on the program and called my dad and said, ‘Is your daughter performing at the Chandler Center?’”
For Islam, Bollywood dancing was her saving grace. She grew up a fan of Bollywood but, admittedly, felt “weird. Nobody knew of the industry.”
“When I was little, my friends were listening to Radio Disney or N Sync or any of those songs happening back then. As I went from high school to college, I was suddenly exposed to the Bollywood dance team. There were other people like me who love Bollywood. I got to meet students from other colleges throughout the nation.
“Rohit and I used to compete against each other, but we didn’t know each other. It’s all come full circle.”
Women like Nick Jonas’ wife, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, is making Bollywood more mainstream, as she’s an Indian actress, singer, film producer and the winner of the Miss World 2000 pageant. She’s one of India’s highest-paid and most-popular celebrities.
“With the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and Priyanka Chopra Jones, people are starting to see more of Bollywood in mainstream Hollywood,” Islam says.
“We’ve been performing in front of non-South Asian audiences. I never imagined I’d be touring in a Bollywood show. When I was watching Bollywood movies, I never imagined a show like this getting so much traction in the United States.”
“Bollywood Boulevard” is filled with dance, live music, colorful costumes and stunning visuals so audiences can understand the spirit, artistry and history of India’s famous film industry.
“The wonderful thing about the show is, overall, it’s very unique,” Gijare says. “It brings dancers, musicians and singers all together on one platform, performing simultaneously, which hasn’t been done too often. I think having a live band and singers while we perform to them adds a different dynamic for us and the audience members.”
“Bollywood Boulevard,” Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 N. Arizona Avenue, Chandler, chandlercenter.org, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 28, $38-$68.