Dhiren Mehta, Co-President of Pratham LA, spoke briefly about the origins of Pratham and the numerous projects in the works. Mehta then handed the reigns over to Vaidya, the night’s central speaker. The actor and philanthropist spoke about the importance of the event and the joy he has felt working on behalf of Pratham for the past few years. He even provided some comic relief, regaling guests with his experiences on the sets of various Hollywood and Bollywood movies. Vaidya later put on his emcee hat and introduced a group of youth from the Jain Center who performed a traditional Ganesha dance.
In keeping with the entertainment, SoCal’s dancer and choreographer Amrapali Ambegaokar also performed a breathtaking kathak dance that garnered a bevy of applause from the near 350 people in attendance. Kristina Akheeva, an Australian model-turned Bollywood actress, was also in attendance and gave a heart-warming speech about her upbringing and decision to pursue an acting career in Bollywood. Akheeva made her debut in the 2013 hit Yamla Pagla Deewana 2.
The night’s most emotional moment occurred when local coordinators Manisha Merchant and Mahesh Vyas surprised everyone by conducting a live interactive conference with a Pratham school in Pune, India. The session began with the school children singing India’s national anthem and followed with introductions of each student by their teacher, Ms. Archana. Bina, the oldest student in the class, spoke eloquently about her experience with Pratham and thanked the organization for providing her an opportunity to earn an education, despite her families’ financial difficulties. Bina’s humble words left the audience with smiles on their faces.
The night culminated with a pledge drive as volunteers urged those capable of helping to donate to the organization. The NGO collected numerous pledges including a $100,000 donation by an anonymous donor. The largest donors were The Sudesh & Chitra Arora Foundation , Sarva Mangal Family Trust,
Navneet & Ritu Chugh and Ravi & Vandana Tilak. As the evening came to an end, magician Michael Stroud conducted an explosive magic show that included rings, animals, lights, and even fire. Stroud’s brave volunteer was none other than Bollywood actor Omi Vaidya. Sudesh Arora, Sumita Batra, Pravin Mody and Navneet Chugh all on the Board of Directors for Pratham Los Angeles lent their active support for the event.