Helicopters, Bollywood Stars and Serendipity.


humshakal-film-shoot-sept-2013-36On Sunday I was a very lucky girl! I was flown by helicopter from Surrey to Chatsworth House in Derbyshire to spend a day on the sets of a Bollywood film.

It was probably one of the most magical days of my life.

From the moment I woke up at 5am to the time I got back home at 6pm – I was like a child on Christmas Day. So excited!

Flying at sunrise

Flying at Sunrise

The thing I was most excited about was the helicopter ride! You see, I’ve never been in a helicopter before, and to be flown over London city at sunrise and to land on the front lawn of Chatsworth House is an experience that I will never ever forget!

Saif Ali Khan

Saif Ali Khan always on the phone

We spent all day watching the filming of a Bollywood film called Humshakal due to be released in June 2014 and featuring big stars like Saif Ali Khan, Bipasha Basu and Riteish Deshmukh. I don’t get star struck very easily, as I believe actors are just doing a job – for which they are fortunate to get paid a lot of money. I do admire those who make it to the top – because it is a tough industry and for every mega star who makes it, there are 1000s who have failed. But still, I have no time for big egos, and so meeting stars doesn’t faze me!

It was really interesting to watch the process of filming, and see how each scene is shot in so many different ways – and how many takes are needed for what seemed like very simple lines. I was amazed at the number of crew on location. The entire team was made up of people from England as well as a large Indian contingent. It was really interesting to see (and hear) how they worked together – and one could often see the clash of cultures. 

 It was truly a super day – and I will cherish the memory for a long time.

But, I have been thinking about how the whole experience came about – and what led me to get a phone call from one of my class Jhoomers on a Saturday afternoon asking if I could make the trip the following day.

Well, it all goes back to the Coffee and Cake Morning that I held for Breakthrough Breast Cancer on my birthday on the 14th of September.

Just a quick recap!

Breakthrough Coffee and Cake Morning 14 sept 2013 (11)

Jhoomers and their cakes

coffee-and-cake-morning-14-sept-20131Just Jhoom! has partnered with Breakthrough Breast Cancer and pledged to fundraise for their campaigning and research activities for the next 12 months. The event I held on that Saturday morning was one of the first ones in the hope to kick-start and encourage other instructors to follow suit. It was all quite lastminute – and I really wasn’t sure how successful it would be – seeing that I really hadn’t done very much planning! I had literally booked a hall, sent an email to all my Jhoomers, put an event on Facebook and bought some tea and coffee supplies. The rest the Jhoomers did! They turned up, they brought cake, they ate cake and they donated their money generously… and in one hour we raised £216. Not bad for an hours work! And, I was on a real high afterwards. It felt good to give back, to raise money for a worthwhile cause – and just to spend time with my Jhoomers and friends in a social, relaxed environment. It was a lovely, fun morning.

Attending the morning was someone I’ve known for many years – but who has never been to my classes before. Katharine Gordon and I used to work at the Cranleigh Arts Centre around the same time in the early noughties. Katharine saw the event on Facebook – and replied that she would be there both for the Coffee and Cake Morning and the Just Jhoom! class before. She was there, she Jhoomed – and she loved it! She promptly signed up for the rest of my classes for the term. So, there was something else that was successful from that morning – a new Jhoomer for my classes. And I can tell you – she is a true Bollywood Diva!

Katharine had only been coming to my classes for 2 weeks – when her partner Philip (a helicopter pilot) mentioned that he had been asked to fly a helicopter in a Bollywood film and would she like to accompany him? Also, because he would be filming for much of the time, would Katharine like to bring someone with her to keep her company? And, guess who she chose!!

So there I was being invited to visit a Bollywood set, spend the day milling with actors and crew, and be transported there by helicopter. As you can imagine – it took all of 5 seconds to make up my mind and change all the existing plans I had for Sunday!

And, it all came back to the Coffee and Cake Morning.

Philip and Katharine in the front!

Philip and Katharine in the front!

If I had not held it, would Katharine have started coming to my Just Jhoom! classes? If she hadn’t been attending my classes would she have thought about accompanying her partner to a Bollywood film set? If she had gone, would she have thought of me as the person to accompany them? I don’t know. But I am grateful for the sequence of events – because it gave me this fabulous, truly mind-blowing experience.

 Deepak Chopra talks about the Law of Giving and Receiving. He says:
“The universe operates through dynamic exchange . . . giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of energy in the universe. And in our willingness to give that which we seek, we keep the abundance of the universe circulating in our lives.”

I didn’t hold the Coffee and Cake Morning with the intention of receiving anything personally. It really was about raising money for an important charity. But I got so much more than I bargained for. Fun, friendship, laughter, happiness and… a helicopter ride! And for that, I will always be grateful.

Life is truly amazing! Don’t you think?

PS – Big Thank You to Katharine and Philip for a Jhoomtastic experience!

Westgate Mall Images


westgate-mall-children-3Images are powerful things.

A single image can evoke strong emotions.

They remind us of times – both happy and sad.

These are the images from the Westgate Mall siege that have really stayed with me – a mother protecting her baby from harm – the fear in her face all to palpable; a young girl running towards the safety of a police officer – alone and vulnerable; and a mother on the floor with her children – are they too scared to move – or are they dead?

So when I watched this clip (Nairobi Attack – Family rescued from Kenya Mall) I could not help but shed a tear.


The bravery of the policeman, the terrified expression of the little girl, the innocence of the baby and the people from the floor above urging the woman – paralysed with fear – to get up “Amka Mama” – “Get up Mama”.  All emotions welling up at the same time – fear for the children, pride in the policeman, gratitude and happiness that the family were safe, anger at those who had caused this atrocity….

And, as I read this in The Telegraph – I feel HOPE…
“The details and the pictures that will emerge from Nairobi in the next few days will be harrowing, but do not judge by appearances. Kenya’s story is one of resilience, not fragility: it has recovered from al-Qaeda’s ravages in the past and will do so again!”

Westgate Mall Attack



Light a candle for Kenya. Pray for peace.

For the last 2 days my time and thoughts have been consumed by what has happened in Kenya. I have been glued to the TV and surfing the internet to find out what I can about the attack at Westgate Mall.

Although I am not in Nairobi – and am safely tucked away in a Surrey village – I feel like the attack has happened on my doorstep. Family and friends have all been affected – so many directly. People I know have died or been injured. Sitting here in my home I feel helpless. I cannot help physically by being there to give emotional support to my sister and the rest of the family and my friends or to give much needed blood at the hospitals.

And, as the siege continues for a third day, my heart goes out to those people who have lost their loved ones – or are still waiting for news – as there are still hostages being held in the mall.

This senseless violence, this tragic loss of life, this unnecessary trauma – I cannot understand it. Why?


My school friend Henna (on the left) helps an injured woman

Jeremy and I are due to visit Nairobi in November – and regardless of what the British government advices – we are going. And, I would urge others not to abandon Kenya at this time. Tourism is a huge necessity to the economy of the country. Many people’s livelihood depends on tourists visiting the country. Don’t let this awful attack deter you. If you do, then the terrorists will just claim another victory – and this we must not allow!

Just Jhoom! Creative Director Shalini Bhalla appointed Project 500 Ambassador


I am delighted to have been chosen to be a Project 500 Ambassador – acting as as a role model for women and girls wishing to embark on exercise, movement and dance coaching.

This new campaign is to address the imbalance in the number of male to female coaches, creating a more diverse workforce to drive the growth of female participation in sport. Devised by Sport Hampshire & IOW (SHIOW), alongside Oxfordshire Sport Partnership, Bucks and MK Sport, Get Berkshire Active, Active Surrey, Active Sussex, and Kent Sport and Physical Activity Service, Project 500 will see a combined five hundred female coaches recruited, developed and deployed across the seven South East counties between April 2013 and March 2015.


Just Jhoom! Charity Fundraising in June


Guest Blog by Just Jhoom! Instructor Megan Jayawardena

When St Peter’s Hospital saved her mother’s life, Natalie Bowden, 44 of Horsell, decided she would try her hand at fundraising as a thank you. Little did she know that a few months later, she would be sky-diving and Just Jhoom! Bollywood dancing in the name of raising much-needed funds for the hospital.

A complete new-comer to fundraising activity, Natalie has raised nearly £4,000 for the Surgical Vascular Trust Fund. Two of the surgeons, several of the nurses, and over 100 friends, relatives and supporters enjoyed a Family Fun Day at The Plough Inn, Horsell on 22nd June. Just Jhoom! got the crowd dancing and were quickly joined by hospital staff and the chef. A superb time was had by all.

Natalie is much closer to her goal of reaching £5,000 to buy the vascular unit a second-hand ultrasounMicrosoft Word - Just Jhoom! June Charity Event.docd machine.Just Jhoom! Fundraising

All of us here at Just Jhoom! wish her continuing success with her sterling fundraising efforts.

Bollywood Carmen – my take on it.


For the last 2 weeks everyone seems to be asking me about my opinion of the live showing of Bollywood Carmen on BBC 3 that aired on Sunday 9 June.

I had written this blog almost immediately after watching the performance but am only posting it now. The reason for my tardiness is that I wasn’t sure I wanted people to read the blog – as I have been quite critical – and have quite strong opinions on what I thought of the show! But, as a few people have pointed out – they are my opinions, my take on the show!

I was really looking forward to watching this show. With strong names behind this production, including Kuljit Bhamra – one of the most talented and influential musicians and producers in the UK, Honey Kalaria – well known Bollywood dance choreographer and a stellar cast including Meera Syal and Preeya Kalidas, this BBC Three live televised event promised big things!

And boy did it let us down! And on so many levels!

I won’t go into the story – there is enough written about it and can be found online – but below is my take on the actual production.


I’ll start with the dancing – as it would be fair to say that I would scrutinize the dancing more than any other aspect of the show – after all it is what I am about. Given that the show had Honey Kalaria billed as the choreographer – I thought that the choreography would be of a high standard.  But I was sorely disappointed. The dances did not have enough content and the dancers really didn’t look like they knew what they were dancing to. They lacked facial expressions, their faces didn’t tell us the story – and they just didn’t convey the essence of Bollywood dancing.

The only bit of dancing that I think worked was the Flashmob sequence – but let’s face it – that isn’t that hard given that it is all simple, repetitive movements…

Over the years I have gone on and on about Bollywood dancing needing technique – and how choreographers and dancers are not creating good work because they do not have a solid foundation in technique. Yes – these dancers may have been good – in other forms of dance – but what was their knowledge, training and understanding of Bollywood dancing? You would not ask a jazz or hip hop dancer to perform ballet on such a big, important platform – so why do you not afford Bollywood dancing the same courtesy.


A mixed-bag really. The salmon-pink dancer outfits really didn’t do anything for me – and they seemed to get lost in the setting. Abhay Deol’s sherwanis looked good – but I was disappointed that Preeya’s red outfits didn’t have more of a Bollywood flavour. And the turbans for the guys? I mean really!? Otherwise costumes were ok….


The biggest let down of the cast – was the so called big Bollywood Star AD – Abhay Deol in the real world. Now at the best of times Abhay Deol is not a huge Bollywood star. Yes, he comes from an illustrious family of Bollywood actors – and has delivered the occasional hit film – but he is nowhere near as popular as his uncle – the legend that is Dharmendra or his cousins Sunny and Bobby. And most importantly of all, the men in the Deol family are not known for their dancing! In fact, it is an industry joke that they cannot dance! So why on earth did BBC think that Abhay Deol would suit this role – a role that needed someone with huge stage presence and the ability to dance. His acting on stage was wooden, he fluffed up his lines – oh yes it was very noticeable – and he did not come across as natural or at ease at all!

He even admits he us a rubbish dancer!! http://www.indianexpress.com/news/i-am-the-worst-dancer-in-the-world-abhay-deol/815877/

The rest of the cast were ok – given the rather poor script. Preeya Kalidas looked amazing – and put in an admirable effort – but overall the acting lacked conviction. Even old hands like Meera Syal came across as unnatural and ill at ease.

Cheesy acting is part and parcel of Bollywood films. But there is good cheese – and there is bad. This definitely was not so good! The lines were clunky, the acting wooden and the lines just didn’t flow. It also felt under-rehearsed.


All would have been forgiven if the music had lived up to expectation! But no, this too just wasn’t quite right! As many people on Twitter said “It just wasn’t Bollywood enough”! And what was from Bollywood was watered down versions or worse still Anglicised versions of Bollywood classics.

I read another blogpost on the music – and I think this sums up perfectly just how I felt about the music. So I won’t repeat what this blogger says – take a look! http://saricladspeakers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/the-bbc-brings-bizet-to-bollywood-via.html

I think what angered me most is that there is an abundance of Bollywood music available – and cheap, watered down versions do not always show the music in the best light. Also, why on earth would you put on a Bollywood production and then not use Bollywood music? The mind boggles.


This was a difficult production to pull off – given that it was live, had multiple settings and large casts of dancers – it actually didn’t do too badly to be televised with minimum disruption. But, it was hard to escape the clunky scene changes, the wooden, cringy acting and the overall feeling that this was an under-rehearsed, ill-thought out production.

The only real winner in this whole sorry saga was Bradford City Park which looked stunning in the evening light with the fountains and colours and crowds.

So, that’s how I felt about the telecast of Bollywood Carmen. It really is my opinion – and I don’t want to offend all the people who did work so hard on putting this show together. But, I do think that this was a lost opportunity to showcase the beauty, colour, vibrancy and talent that is Bollywood in its best light. In that aspect, Bollywood Carmen failed miserably!

But hey – you might have seen something I didn’t – so do tell me – and if you haven’t watch it – it’s still available on iplayer until the end of June! http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0193ywt/Bollywood_Carmen_Live/

Inside No 10 Downing Street


Before the visit

Wow – what an amazing experience I had yesterday visiting 10 Downing Street!

Downing Street Invite
Invitation to 10 Downing Street

Of course, on getting the invite my first question was “What should I wear?”

Now every girl knows this is a dilemma at the best of times – but when visiting one of the most famous addresses in the world – the dilemma becomes one of epic proportions! Indian? Western? Business attire? Tea party – skirt/dress? Yikes – decisions, decisions, decisions!! So I did what every sane forward-thinking woman does! I posed the question to my friends on Facebook!

Answers ranged from:

“Indian for sure! Represent the best JJ..a nice Lengha.”
“Go Indian…. maybe a custom made “Just Jhoom” diamante embellished Lengha??”
“I think Indian! With jhoom colours!”
“Indian most definitely, or Jhoom! Harem pants?!?!?!”
“I would suggest Indian too. Come on Shalini. Wear a Sari.”

So it was fairly unanimous – Indian outfit all the way! (but definitely not a sari – I didn’t want to trip on the steps of 10 Downing Street!!!!)

The one comment that made me think – yes – definitely Indian outfit was from my cousin Shilpa. She said:
“Personally I would do Indian. Proud of our heritage and Jhoom is based on it.”

So, I pulled out one of my tried and trusted outfits – a simple blue salwar kameez – added some silver jewellery and was pretty much ready to go (or at least I was after an hour of doing my make-up, tying my hair-up, letting it loose again, tying it up again, down again…..you get the picture!)

Once at Waterloo station I decided (even though it was only one tube stop away) to get a cab! Just wanted to hear myself say the words “10 Downing Street please!” to the cabbie.

Talk about coming back down to earth with a bang! Walked up to the cabbie – confident – said “10 Downing Street please”. He didn’t bat an eyelid!!!! Probably has celebrities, ministers, well-known people asking him to drop them here, there and everywhere everyday! Oh well!

Shalini Bhalla at 10 Downing Street (2)
Outside 10 Downing Street

There was quite a large crowd of people waiting to go in to the building. Apparently David Cameron was holding an event for around 100 small business owners whilst Samantha (oh yes – first-name terms) was hosting our group.

Inside 10 Downing Street

A lovely lady called Rosemary met us at the gate and took us swiftly through the main gate and then security hut – where I had to remove my hundreds of silver bangles before going through the scanner! That held the line up! And then, before you knew it, there we were standing outside the famous black door with the No 10 staring down at you. Wow! It was amazing. Before we had time to take it all in we were herded in through the door – military precision – leaving our phones/cameras at reception – and then through to the Terracotta Room for tea!

According to the Downing Street website:“This was used as the dining room when Sir Robert Walpole was PM. The name of this room changes according to the colour it is painted. When Margaret Thatcher came to power it was the Blue Room and she had it re-decorated and re-named the Green Room. It is now painted terracotta. There are many famous works of art in this room, on loan from the Government Art Collection.”

This room links onto the White Drawing Room: “Until the 1940s Prime Ministers and their wives kept the White Room for their private use. It was here that Edward Heath kept his grand piano. The room contains works by one of the most important English landscape painters of the nineteenth century, J M W Turner. These days it is often used as the backdrop for television interviews and is in regular use as a meeting room for Downing Street staff.”

We were lucky to see some of these amazing paintings – worth £18 – 22 million each! And the green chairs we sat on are worth £200,000 each. The mind boggles.

But it wasn’t just the grandeur of the place – it was the history. We were given a tour of some of the rooms by the Facilities Manager David Heaton – and it was amazing to see the architecture, ornaments, furniture – everything with a history of its own. David was so knowledgeable about each room, each painting, each chair – you could really hear the pride in his voice as he showed us around.

We then walked down the Grand Staircase…“Sir Robert Walpole took up residence as Prime Minister in 1735 and wanted the design of Number 10 to match his status. He employed a famous architect of the day to renovate the crumbling building and many of the features he installed, including the central staircase, still exist. Portraits of every Prime Minister line the walls in chronological order, with the most recent incumbents at the top and group photographs from past Cabinets and Imperial Conferences at the bottom.”

David told us how it took a whole day to move each photo down the staircase when a new Prime Minister takes office – just so the new Prime Minister’s photo is at the very top! Our final stop was the Cabinet Room where the Prime Minister holds his meetings with all the cabinet – before being led back out to the main Entrance Hall which houses Winston Churchill’s favourite armchair – which is so old – that no one is allowed to sit on it in case it falls apart!

People we met. People we saw.

AWA Samantha Cameron
Meeting Samantha Cameron

Samantha Cameron was a very gracious host. She spent about 30 minutes with our group – chatting to each one of us and asking us questions about what we did. I was really intrigued to hear what she said when I told her who I was and what I did. She said that her children had done Bollywood dancing as part of their sports hour at school the term before and had really loved it! For those of you who recall her husband’s rather un-informed comments about “Indian Dancing” on national TV last year you will probably find this as amusing as I did. And no, I did not challenge her comment – or ask her what her husband thought of their children doing Indian Dancing in school – although I would have liked to. After all, she is her own person – and just because David thinks something doesn’t mean she agrees! Although I did offer to go over and do a Just Jhoom! session with her and her children! That would be an interesting experience!

We saw David Cameron from a distance giving a speech in the famous Garden – and also walking about we saw George Osborne, Vince Cable, other ministers and James Caan too as he left the building. It really was business as usual for all these people.

Shalini Bhalla at 10 Downing Street (1)
Bee Hands outside 10 Downing Street

But for me, it wasn’t. It was an experience that I feel privileged to have had. I really enjoyed myself – and as Michael (the policeman on duty just outside the door) will agree with me, we were like school kids having our picture taken outside the door. Me next, me next – ooooo one with bee hands please! Welllll…. who knows if I’ll ever get the chance again!!!

And for those of you who suggested an Indian outfit – you were so right! Only 3 of us out of the whole party of 20 wore Indian outfits. For me – I felt right in it, very at home – and proud to share my heritage and culture that makes me who I am – and Just Jhoom! what it is!

Reference: https://www.gov.uk/government/history/10-downing-street#take-the-tour

Once again thank you to RBS, AWA, Pinky Lilani for this amazing opportunity – and to Gemma Nunn and Katie Allner at Caspian Media for their excellent organisation. And it was also great to connect with the other AWA winners. Looking forward to the next event!