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Active Cultures: Bollywood soundtrack superstore

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Al-Mansoor, Bhavesh Patel's Devon Avenue video store, pulses with the synth drumbeats, soaring violins, and infectious keyboard riffs of Bollywood sound tracks, punctuated by the ubiquitous vocals of Lata Mangeshkar, the seventysomething singer who seems to appear on most of them.

Al-Mansoor carries music from across the Indian subcontinent--devotional music, classical music, folk tunes--but it specializes in sound tracks to Indian movies, both current ones still running in Bombay and classics up to 50 years old. There are walls of them, packaged in small cassette boxes, each box featuring an illustration from the movie--a woman in a sari, a man dressed in black holding a gun, a guy and a girl dancing. All the films contain original music to go with the often wild dance sequences. Even suspense thrillers feature moments when the actors throw away naturalism and begin jumping, shaking, and leaping around as they lip-synch songs.

But lately Patel has been too busy to enjoy the music. He's planning Craze 2001, the latest in a long line of touring revues from India. When the store's phone isn't ringing, his cell phone is going off. When things quiet down a bit, a friend appears at the door and knocks meekly.

The two converse in Gujarati, the language they grew up speaking at home, but Patel peppers his side of the conversation with English phrases: "No...no...OK, sure...no...OK...

I'll do what I can....I'll do what I can....Babu, I'll DO WHAT I CAN."

It's the Wednesday before Labor Day. Craze 2001 is still a little more than two weeks away, but it's driving Patel crazy.

"Our VIP tickets are 100 percent sold," he explains, "and still people are coming to me asking for tickets. I offered him three tickets and he wants five--I don't even know where I will get those three tickets for him. But I'll get them somehow."

Patel and his family have sponsored similar Indian shows for years. Posters adorn the walls of the store: Bollywood Star Wars (1995), Awesome Foursome (1998), Mega Stars Live '99, Mega Millennium (also in '99), Mega Blast Live (2001). The shows are packed with songs and dancing. The larger editions feature two to four Bollywood stars, plus an army of dancers, singers, and technicians to help re-create onstage the look and feel of the musical numbers from top Indian films.

Craze 2001, says Patel, will feature "songs, dances, skits, comedians, total live entertain-ment--four hours of nonstop entertainment." It stars current Indian celebrities Aamir Khan ("very big"), Anil Kapoor ("very popular"), Aishwarya Rai ("Miss World 1994"), and young starlet Preity Zinta ("becoming very popular"). Patel's father, Pravin Patel, started sponsoring the local engagements of these touring shows in the early 80s, when he and his family first moved to the U.S. from Nasik, India. He had come to manage an Indian grocery store in Houston for his brothers-in-law, Mafat and Talashi, better known as the Patel Brothers, famous for having put together a national chain of 35 stores and a product distribution network catering to an Indian and Pakistani clientele.

Pravin Patel saw the touring shows as a side business, but when he moved his family to Chicago in the mid-80s to take over the store on Devon he continued to sponsor them. The first show his son remembers was in 1991, when he was 12 years old. The following year Pravin Patel joined up with current partners Nick and Mayur Patel (no relation).

A few years later, when Bhavesh Patel was 15, he was given full responsibility for coordinating and publicizing the shows. That same year he took over Al-Mansoor and began to create Hindi mix cassettes and CDs.

His first tape was Mix Masala, a continuous dance mix of Bollywood hits that proved so popular it was widely pirated in India. "They just took my name off the label," says Patel, "kept the name of the tape and the picture of the girl on the cover, and sold it like that."

On a trip back home, Patel kept finding pirated copies of his tape for sale in the tiny stores that specialize in pan, the herbal concoction wrapped in a betel leaf and chewed. The tape was also pirated in the U.S. "I had some vendors come into the store and they tried to sell some copies of the pirated tape to me."

Patel was flattered but angered that he wasn't getting any of the credit or profits from the tape. When asked if he's since found a way to avoid piracy, he just shrugs: "You cannot beat the pirates. They would sell their own mothers."

When Patel created his next mix tape a year later, Mix Masala II, his only defense was to have more tapes and CDs made and then to market them more aggressively, placing them

in stores in the U.S. and India before the pirates could do the same. The effort seems to have worked. Patel assumes there are pirate editions of Mix Masala II out there, but he hasn't seen them.

Since then, he's turned out an average of one mix tape a year. His latest, Mix Master III, is behind schedule, but work on it and an accompanying video has been put on hold until after Craze 2001.

The last live show, Mega Blast, which took place July 20, did not sell well. "It is the economy. Last year, this show"--he points to the poster for Millennium Musti 2000--"was a total sellout. This last July, pfffft. We only had six weeks to sell it. But this show, Craze 2001, is already 70 percent sold. This time we have bigger stars: Miss World, Aamir Khan--"

Patel is suddenly distracted. His cell phone is ringing, again.

Craze 2001 starts at 8 PM on Saturday at the Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road in Rosemont. Tickets range from $25 to $75.

Call Al-Mansoor Video, 2600 W. Devon, 773-764-7576.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.

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