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Fab 50 dream of Bombay

An unusual Fame Academy has Birmingham pupils mixing Bollywood, bhangra and rap. Michael Shaw reports

The girls are in school uniforms rather than saris and in a music practice room in Birmingham instead of dancing around a lavish Bombay film set.

But the moment they start singing in Hindi they sound like stars of Bollywood, India's prolific movie industry.

To a loud bass beat, the pupils rehearse the title song from the 1998 hit romantic musical film, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. "Tum paas aaye, yun muskuraaye," they sing. "Tumne na jaane kya sapne dikhaaye." ("You came close to me and smiled You don't know what dreams you have shown me.") The students from King Edward VI Handsworth school are among 50 secondary pupils in Birmingham taking part in Fame Academy Bollywood or FAB, a music education scheme run by Sampad, the South Asian arts agency.

Like contestants in the BBC's talent contest, the pupils have auditioned to take part and will be assisted by a team of professional coaches. These are led by Shin Parwana from DCS, a band famous to fans of bhangra music, which mixes Punjabi folk with Western dance and pop.

But, unlike the Fame Academy television series, there will be no eliminations and Mr Parwana will not be attempting the vicious put-downs of Simon Cowell, the Pop Idol judge.

"It's not about character assassination," Mr Parwana said. "It's about building confidence."

Although the Bollywood Fame Academy has attracted the most interest from girls, at least 20 boys are involved from Washwood Heath technology college and King Edward VI Aston.

These include a handful of white and African-Caribbean pupils who, the coaches say, have made swift progress with the Hindi and Punjabi lyrics.

Skinder Hundal, Sampad's operations manager and an ex-DJ, said the scheme aimed to raise South Asian boys' aspirations by giving them skills in a music style they loved.

"They are exposed to Bollywood music in the same way that black boys are exposed to rhythm and blues," he said.

Next month the teenagers will record their own CD and perform at the MAC arts centre in Birmingham. The pupils will also compose their own Bollywood-style songs and bhangra.

Mr Hundal hinted that Sampad would seek help from the composer AR Rahman, who wrote the scores for the West End musical Bombay Dreams and the film Lagaan.

The teenagers have already begun writing their own English rap lyrics which they will add to remixed versions of their Bollywood songs.

Rajvinder Chohan, 16, said her lyrics attempt to express the fusion between growing up in the West and being desi (which means local, from India or Pakistan).

"We are like Bonnie and Clyde," she rapped. "But desi-fied."

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