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Friday, October 16, 2009

Bollywood Calling: San Francisco Man Wins Contest To Sing In Indian Film

Posted By on Fri, Oct 16, 2009 at 2:40 PM

click to enlarge Coming to a Bollywood picture near you...
  • Coming to a Bollywood picture near you...
It's not quite a Slumdog Millionaire story: Vivek Agrawal is a Stanford grad who lives in a Pacific Heights flat and spends his days working as a product manager at a tech start-up. But the 24-year-old has just landed a huge break -- beating 300 contenders in an online karaoke contest to sing in a Bollywood movie.

In July, Agrawal entered the BollyStar contest hosted by Saavn, a digital provider of Bollywood content online, and State Farm Insurance. Agrawal was planning to sing a cover into a Web cam as required for the contest, but a co-worker urged him to film a low-budget music video instead out on the Santa Monica pier. That's her in the sari in the entertaining video on Agrawal's Web site.

While the song "Kabhi Kabhi Aditi" is in Hindi (except for one repeating English line of "Everything's gonna be okay") Agrawal explains the song is about a guy cheering up a pouting girl. (Apparently the puppy at the end does the trick.) Compare it to the original from the 2008 Bollywood movie Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na.

Apparently, many online voters were impressed, and Agrawal was chosen as a winner out of a final pool by the legendary Bollywood music director, Pritam. (You know he's gotta be big if he goes by just one name.)

"I was completely in shock," says Agrawal.

The American-born native of the Chicago suburbs will now be flying to India in the coming months to sing in a movie under the musical direction of Pritam. Agrawal doesn't know the details yet, whether he's actually going to be a character in the movie, or just singing one number, or even serving as the voice for another character on screen -- a very common practice in Bollywood movies. (Agrawal says his dance moves aren't quite up to Bollywood standards yet.)

You could say Agrawal had been preparing for the role for years. He made his theatrical debut in his elementary school musical, singing "A Whole New World" as the title character in Aladdin back in Illinois where he grew up.

Since then, he has fallen in love with the melodic structure of Indian music and sang in the Raagapella South Asian singing troupe at Stanford. Since graduating in 2007, Agrawal has been composing and recording his own songs at his home studio for his first album. (You can listen to his other songs-in-progress on his Web site here.)

He's hoping singing in the movie will be his break into the music business: "I want to go to the place where my music can be appreciated the most. I think Bollywood is the best place to do it."

Agrawal says the paucity of Americans in Bollywood films is more due to lack of interest from his generation, not because of any discrimination against Indians raised in the States. (He has friends in India write his Hindi lyrics. He's not fluent in the language, although "I personally think I sound better in Hindi than in English.")

"My generation was encouraged to take up more traditional fields like engineering, medicine and law, and the creative arts weren't as prevalent," says Agrawal, himself the son of a engineer. "I think you're now seeing more Indians interested in writing and music and culture."

For now, Agrawal will keep his San Francisco pad and job as a product manager for Topspin Media, a company that creates online products for musicians to connect with fans.

Having just been transferred from Santa Monica a couple weeks ago, he's still a new guy in town. He didn't know a Bollywood movie based on the life of District Attorney Kamala Harris is purportedly in the works. "No way!" he shouted. "That's crazy!"

Perhaps not -- can she dance?

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Lauren Smiley


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