Before the release of ABCD 2, I and Vernon Monteiro, along with whom I had founded the Fictitious Dance Group in 2009, had parted ways. After the film released, people kept messaging me that I should once again try for the World Hip Hop Championships. Last time, we had made it to the finals. But this time around I felt I wasn't prepared. The group had split, so I didn't have many dancers to do it all over again. I started thinking over the idea of going only in mid-July, but by that time we didn't have much time to prepare.
I brought together eight dancers, one of whom had never performed on stage. There were two other dancers who were valued more for their flips and less for their dancing abilities. But I decided to give them a chance. There were only two dancers from the original group which participated in 2012. I had 25 days to prepare with the boys - Karthik, Prashant, Sunny, Chandan, Mohan, Pavan, Raja, Shijin, Akshay and Swapnil - who were aged between 19 to 23 years. But before that I realised that three groups from India were already chosen by the organisers of the India Hip Hop Championship. Then at the last minute, one of them backed out. So the organisers called and said that we could go if we wanted to.
That's when I called Varun Dhawan, who during the shooting of ABCD 2 had enquired about how we managed to compete the first time around. I told him we had self-funded the trip, pooling in our own money to travel to Las Vegas in 2012. He said that the next time, he would help us financially.
So when I called him, he was surprised when I told him of the trip. He asked, "Are you sure you're going?" given that it was a last-minute decision. He was as worried about our readiness. He got Pond's to aid us and chipped in his own money to help us collect the resources needed to travel and stay, this time in San Diego. We didn't even have a place to rehearse.
My father rented a shed in Vasai so that at least we could come together under one roof before going. We practised for maximum 10 days, but devoted both day and night polishing our moves. We kept hoping we'd get a good place because there were leakages and it really wasn't an ideal environment but we didn't find anything. We made the best of what we had. Now we are converting the space into a studio.
I didn't reveal to anybody that we were going because I myself wasn't sure if we could pull it off. We applied for the visa with only eight days left to the competition. When it finally came through, we learned that our flights were cancelled. We bought new tickets and somehow made it to San Diego, only a day before the competition. Most teams had already been there two to three days earlier.
On the first day, we didn't get accommodation in the hotel where most teams were put up. So we had to stay 50 miles away from the venue. There was no place at the hotel to rehearse so we practised our routine on the streets. The next day was the preliminary round. There were 90 teams from all over the world in our category alone, each the best of their nation. Even if you finished last, you could proudly say that you were a winner because you made it this far.
We finished third and received a standing ovation from the crowd.
We wowed them with a performance which highlighted aspects of Indian dance. We had infused Indian flavour into hip hop. There was a slight Tollywood touch to it too. One of the songs I chose was the Ganpati track from ABCD. It was a risky experiment because crews don't deviate much from the hip hop culture. But I wanted to either stand out for my performance or be thrown out from the competition.
My aim was to change the mindset of the people that Indians cannot create something on their own. I wanted to prove that we don't need to follow others, that we can set an example of our own by adding our own Indian flavour to the dance. It was apna style. The judges came to us after the performance and appreciated that very aspect of our performance.
Each round we incorporated some variations into the routine and raised the difficulty level. The judges kept changing too. In the semis, we finished fourth. It was a big accomplishment as we beat the defending champions, the Brotherhood crew from Canada, who finished fifth in the same round. It is one of the most revered, respected hip hop dance groups in the world. In fact international dancers were coming and asking us to teach the hook move or some distinctly Indian step such as the thumka.
After our first time in the competition, we had left feeling that something in our story wasn't complete. That dream is now accomplished as we will return as winners with a medal in our hands. And we did it our way, demonstrating our own style. People often bemoan that India is lagging far behind the international hip hop dance scene. That it does things a decade too late. We proved them wrong.
Varun kept in touch throughout the competition. He kept asking about the results, how we were doing and motivated us even when we were tired with constant practise. After we won the bronze medal, he said that he really didn't think we would return with one. "But you've proved you are something else altogether," he said. "You've made India proud." He said that on our return he will throw us a big bash celebrating our success.
But for now we are heading to Las Vegas to celebrate our success. It's because of our exploits there in 2012 that inspired Remo Sir [Remo D'Souza] to make ABCD 2. It only seemed fitting that we go back to the place where it started it all, that changed our lives. To think that we did all this in three weeks is unbelievable.
(As told to Suhani Singh)