NEW YORK (TIP): Diwali maybe a month away but for Indian Americans at Times Square, festivities started as early as September 22 when the entire cast of Besharam made a special appearance at the ‘Maharashtra Tourism Diwali at Times Square’. But Diwali at Times Square was much more than just the special performances from the Besharam team. Roughly about 30,000 people attended the Diwali event on Sunday at the busiest area for pedestrians in the world where 3,00,000 people visit every day. In a bid to tap major international source markets and increase tourist arrivals, the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) participated in the early Diwali celebrations. Speaking on the occasion Minister for Tourism, Government of Maharashtra, Chhagan Bhujbal said, “Due to this event, the image of Maharashtra is going to be boosted in all international markets, not just in the USA. We want foreign tourists to come to Maharashtra, explore its rich cultural heritage and UNESCO world heritage sites like Ajanta, Ellora and Elephanta caves.
They should also visit Tadoba Tiger Sanctuary, near Nagpur, where any tourist would spot tigers. It is my pleasure to invite all international tourists to indulge in the luxurious Deccan Odyssey train which covers the beautiful Maharashtra.” Mr. Satish Soni, Director – Tourism, Government of Maharashtra said, ‘It’s an extravagant event for Maharashtra tourism in a foreign land. We are glad at its grand success as thousands of people visited and enjoyed the event at the magnificent Times Square. We appeal to the people of the world to come to Maharashtra for an unforgettable experience. “There were many enquiries for the Deccan Odyssey train followed by the wildlife reserves, mostly from foreigners and local Americans,” said one of the organizers at the tourism booth. The festivities showcased Indian music, cuisine and fashion. Times Square between 45th to 47th streets was bustling with tourists and visitors dressed in traditional attire as they lined up to get the saffron Kolhapuri turbans, pointed mustache masks, Gandhi caps and chudis (bangles). The cultural festival included dance, diya, rangoli painting, Indian arts and crafts, fashion show, photo booths with ethnic outfits, celebrity autograph/photo booth and much more. The event saw some famous dancers performing Lavani, and other well-known Marathi dances styles, Bhangra, fusion etc.
Dhol – Tasha and Tutari enthralled the crowds eagerly waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite Bollywood stars. Groups like Sangharsh and Sankalp promoted Govinda festival by forming human pyramids. Late in the evening at the Light Up Times Square concert had the music maestro Shankar Mahadevan also created a sensation through his voice and musical troupe. “Where in my dreams did I think that I will sing Ganpati bhajan at Times Square,” said Mahadevan. The concert also saw Canada based group Culture Shock perform live on a mix of songs. Although Indian Americans dominated the crowd many tourists as well as local Americans enjoyed the festivities. “This is my first ever encounter with India. I have heard a lot about the country that it is colorful and vibrant but experienced it for the first time. I loved the energy and the sense of community and also the samosas. My next holiday destination is India for sure,” said Suzan Lew. The festival encountered mixed reactions from the Indian Americans. “Diwali is a festival of lights and what better place to celebrate than Times Square. It is like a mela out here, I have never seen such a crowd in the US. Only Indians can party like this, I am proud to be an Indian,” said Pragya Mahajan who wore a saffron turban. “Celebrating Diwali at Times Square is celebrating the cultural capital of the world (India) at the cultural capital of the United States,” said Sunny Doshi, a new Jersey resident.
While there were positive responses to the event, many Indian Americans were disappointed with the ‘westernized’ Diwali celebrations and poor management. “Speakers at the very end did not work. We tried to go forward but feared stampede and because there were no screens to look at we headed back,” said Reetu Kumar who had come with her 68 year old grandmother. The night culminated into the star studded performances from Bollywood actors Ranbir Kapoor, and debutant Pallavi Shardha who made a special appearance along with Rishi and Neetu Kapoor to promote their upcoming film Besharam. The crowd gathered at Times Square went ballistic on catching a glimpse of one of Bollywood’s most eligible bachelors. Dressed in a black ‘sherwani’, the young Kapoor danced and interacted with his fans as his father recalled visiting the city years ago and expressing gratitude for the adulation shown to him and his family. Congratulating Maharashtra Tourism for its achievement, Rishi Kapoor said, “I am proud to be a part of Maharashtra.” Complimenting ASB Communications and Event Guru, Shankar Mahadevan said, “Congratulations for pulling this off. To do this at Times Square was close to impossible. God bless”. “I came to the USA over 36 years ago and I still remember being awed by Times Square when I first saw it. I told myself even at that time that I will showcase the diversity and richness of India at this location. I am so thankful to all those who came here today. I am equally thankful to Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation, Air India, MoneyGram, DishWorld, Wells Fargo, Bank of Baroda and all other sponsors without whose support this event would not have been possible”, said Neeta Bhasin, President, ASB Communications, the conceptualizer of the event.