'Maximum India,' in full bling

Thursday, March 3, 2011; C02

The reward for sitting through a three-hour, five-course dinner on a school night? An infectious jolt of Bollywood, the finale of the Kennedy Center's opening celebration for "Maximum India."

The three-week festival kicked off Tuesday with a black-tie reception and gourmet meal (prepared by 12 Indian chefs) with music, dance and readings from India's top talents. White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra (dubbed the "Indian George Clooney" by Jon Stewart) told us he was thrilled to see tabla drummer Zakir Hussain perform for the crowd. "He's a living legend," said the first-generation Indian American. "That's the point: to blend the history of the Kennedy Center with the cultural tradition of India."

There were plenty of shout-outs for the world's largest democracy: Sen. Mark Warner, head of the Senate's U.S.-India caucus, praised the country's legacy of civil disobedience; KenCen Chairman David Rubenstein said he studied India in college and has traveled back every year since ("I can speak the language, which is always helpful"); and Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar shared her love for the "robust, sometimes rowdy" homeland.

A few VIPs slipped out between the third and fourth courses (we lost track - there was lots of food), but most went the distance and were rewarded with the blinding rush of sequins in the final number of the night: a bouncy, feel-good salute to Bollywood dance and song.

Even all those sequins couldn't compete with the bling on KenCen President Michael Kaiser, who sported a custom-made Nehru suit with big, sparkly diamond and ruby buttons borrowed from the festival's fabulous gem display.

"I keep the suit," Kaiser said with a grin. "I have to give back the buttons tomorrow."

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