How One Woman Changed India’s Art And Culture In US
With a laser focus on inclusion and diversity, one New Jersey woman has changed how India’s vibrant arts and culture are received by American audiences. Rimli Roy, director, and producer as well as dancer, choreographer, and thespian, launched Surati for Performing Arts, a non-profit organization in 2002 with the goal of creating programming rooted in Indian culture that would resonate with all, regardless of cultural or ethnic background. By hosting large-scale staged music and dance productions, lively festivals, color walks, and Indian holiday bazaars in public parks in and around New Jersey as well as nationally in name-brand theatres, Ms Roy’s events attract a multicultural audience ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand.
Over the years, Ms. Roy has steered Surati to organize hundreds of performances and events specifically to bring the community together through India-centric artistic programming, experiences, and celebrations.
Ms. Roy says,
“Through Surati, I have created programming that showcases Indian music and dance styles while fusing it with genres from the west like opera, jazz, ballet, and hip hop which not only has appealed to wider audiences, but also highlights the idea of inclusion and diversity which Surati strongly believes in.”
She adds, “Back in India, I was constantly creating, choreographing, and performing on a variety of themes and concepts from a relatively early age, many of which were televised. Upon my arrival in the US in 1999, I started looking for opportunities to perform. It took a couple of years for me to realize that there was an imminent need to set up an organization that would share India’s vibrant arts and culture and brings the American community together under one umbrella, regardless of race. I started Surati for Performing Arts to share the diversity of India to American audiences so they can experience India’s various provinces where each has its own unique identity, language and dialects, cuisine, clothing, and art forms, including dance. ”
In the beginning, Surati received very little in funding and Ms Roy would bankroll much of her performances through personal financing, local supporters and volunteers. Today, however, Surati is proud to consider NJ Tourism, Hudson County Cultural and Heritage Affairs / Tourism Development, and The Jersey City Office of Cultural Affairs as regular supporters of the non-profit. Due to its intrinsic artistry and the quality of its productions, Surati has been invited to perform at the United Nations, The Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, and the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, to name a few. Most recently, the government of India has invited Surati to perform one of its original productions in multiple cities. With these prestigious billings and support from the community, Surati is striving for the next level in its programming and community outreach.
“Finding grants and sponsors has always been a challenge,” says Ms. Roy. “At first, when we reached out for sponsorship, the amounts were very minimal. Over the years, we have built trust with the community as well as our sponsors and now funds have grown (although the pandemic has significantly slowed things down). Our corporate sponsors include insurance companies, banks, media houses, including local daily channels and TV networks, and of course, a whole host of local businesses. We had been invited to perform at various prestigious events at the United Nations (including the first-ever Diwali celebrations) and also for “India at 70” (70 years of India’s Independence). We were also invited to host the first Diwali at American Dream in East Rutherford, NJ last November.”
A highlight of Surati’s programming and perhaps a personal achievement for Ms. Roy is its original theatrical production, Ramaavan – A Musical, which has already started gaining popularity with its viewers. Conceived, developed, and choreographed by Ms. Roy, she says, “Ramaavan was a labor of love and personal achievement for me. It is retelling the story of Diwali through an unbiased medium that is interlinked with one of the greatest epics from India, The Ramayana. As an artist, I interpreted the story to be universally understood for the next generation and for all audiences. Using various dance techniques, choreography, and genres from around the world, I have reimagined Ramaavan using a more universal language and blurring the lines of race, gender, and color.”
The production has received many accolades since its debut and Ms. Roy is currently preparing the production to go on tour. Beyond Ramaavan, other original productions conceived by Ms. Roy include “Glimpses of India”, a dance theater extravaganza that brings scenes and cultural experiences of India on stage, and “Tyohaar – Festivals of India” a dance-theater experience that traces the history of various Indian festivals/holidays. Each of these productions incorporates Ms. Roy’s signature style of merging Indian classical dance and music with global dance and music genres.
“My goal with these shows is to educate and entertain through these performances and bring India’s ancient stories to the modern world with relevant interpretations where possible and needed,” says Ms Roy. “ We use the money raised from our year-round programming to fund our theatrical productions. Propagating and modernizing Indian Arts is very important to me and through Surati, I have been able to share my passion with the world.”