OAKLAND, Calif. — United by their love for music and a common cause, thousands of people, mostly Indian American, filled the expansive Oracle Arena here June 15 to witness the magic created by the uber popular Indian artists, Sonu Nigam and Neha Kakkar, at Sankara Eye Foundation’s fundraising concert.
Delivering memorable ballads in creative ways, the two singers, accompanied by a symphony orchestra, provided thorough entertainment for over three hours.
Kakkar, with her charming presence and sheer talent, took over the arena, effortlessly interspersing high-energy Hindi and Punjabi songs with soothing romantic numbers. By switching between songs like “O Humsafar O Hum Nawaz” to “Nikle Currant” like a pro, Kakkar continued weaving her signature magic to loud cheers from the attendees. It is then no surprise that the singer, a product of the reality TV show, “Indian Idol,” now ranks among the top global YouTube artists.
When she was not performing solo, Kakkar was performing duets with the talented duo Kunal Pandit and Vibhor Parashar of “Indian Idol” fame. Not only for their vocal prowess, the trio also won over the audience with their eclectic styles and cool dance moves.
The energy in the arena was palpable as they continued churning one hit after another, making it impossible for the music lovers to remain seated. Some of them even flocked to the stage to groove to the peppy tunes, sending the security personnel into overdrive. The songs that they belted out included some of Kakkar’s biggest hits like “Akhiyan Nu Rehn De Akhiyan De Kol Kol,” “Morni Ban Ke,” “Coca Cola,” “La La La” and “Hook Up Song.”
From singing familiar party hits like “Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast” and “Main Tera Boyfriend,” Kakkar also dipped into her catalogue to present heart-tugging songs like “Tu Kitni Acchi Hai Oh Maa” and “Papa,” after which there was hardly a dry eye in the house.
After a brief talk by Murali Krishnamurthy, founder and executive chairman of SEF, Nigam, the cynosure of all eyes, appeared on stage and was met with thunderous applause. His arrival was signaled by the orchestra playing some of his all-time hits as video clips from other live shows streamed in the background.
Nigam, who has had a successful career spanning close to three decades, has legions of fans all over the world, courtesy his artistic musicianship. He kicked off his act with the 2016 hit, “Crazy Dil,” and followed that up with another of his smash hits, “Deewana,” getting the crowd even more pumped up. His first interaction with the crowd was: “Namaste, good evening, sat sri akal, kidda, kem cho…how are you guys doing?”
The melodious singer’s repertoire was a mix of songs spanning several genres and as he continued rendering them, he also kept engaging with the crowd. Every song of his was met with loud claps, deafening cheers and even whistles. Alternating between songs like “Mana Ke Hum Yaar Nahin,” “Shukran Allah,” “Yeh Dil Deewana,” “Maria Maria” and “Suraj Hua Maddham,” he drove the crowd wild.
A sense of calmness prevailed in the arena and fans swayed and held up their mobile phones as he sang his now-legendary song, “Kal Ho Na Ho.” He quipped that this song will definitely feature in his obituary.
Nigam’s song, “Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte,” from the 2012 Shah Rukh Khan starrer, “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi,” which is a mashup of old hits, also received a lot of love alongside “Bijuria.” His music got everyone on their feet and as fans jostled with each other to get as close as possible to the stage, Nigam requested the security personnel to loosen their grip for just a few minutes, and they obliged.
One of the highlights of Nigam’s act was the display of his versatility. Putting his own spin on softer melodies as well as peppy songs, he proved, once again, why he is still the heartthrob of music lovers of all ages.
The last few minutes of the show saw Nigam join hands with Kakkar, his protégée, to present a fiery medley of golden hits like “Laila O Laila” and “Eena Meena Deeka.”
The duo chose the lively song, “Om Shanti Om,” to bring the curtains down on one of the most entertaining nights of the year.
Krishnamurthy acknowledged on stage that he was initially skeptical about this concert becoming a hit since it clashed with a number of events like graduations and the India-Pakistan cricket match, but was glad that so many fans poured in their love and support.
“Thanks to you that we’ve become the largest eye-care provider in the world,” Krishnamurthy told the audience which comprised of fans, patrons and volunteers. “Can you guess how many surgeries we will be completing this year? Two million. Just imagine the number of people who can see because of your support. And we’ll not stop until we eradicate curable blindness.”
Krishnamurthy went on to share that three hospitals in India have now become self-sufficient – Coimbatore, Guntur and Bengaluru.
SEF, which has been working towards eradicating curable blindness in India for over 20 years, currently has nine super-specialty hospitals and is working on three new hospitals: in Hyderabad, Indore (to be inaugurated at the end of 2019 or beginning of 2020) and Mumbai (to be opened in the middle of 2020).
The hospital in Hyderabad, Krishnamurthy said, will be ready by the end of 2020.
SEF has earned a coveted four-star rating from Charity Navigator for its fiscal management practices and commitment to transparency.
“Big vision, self-sufficiency and four-star rating Charity Navigator for ten times in a row,” Krishnamurthy said on stage. “It means commitment to accountability, transparency, governance and keeping the overheads low.”
Krishnamurthy profusely thanked all the sponsors and donors, including Bank of the West CEO Nandita Bakshi, and the national promoter, Balaji Entertainment, for helping SEF realize its goal of eradicating curable blindness.
The organization provides free eye care for those unable to afford it, with the rural poor accounting for 80 percent (approximately 150,000 people per year) of the surgeries performed at Sankara Eyecare Institutes in India. Over 1.9 million people have received the gift of vision so far.
For more information, visit www.giftofvision.org.