IIFA Rocks 2023 lives up to its name in Abu Dhabi

The show featured performances by Sunidhi Chauhan, Badshah and Amit Trivedi, with the audience dancing in the aisles until the end

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Some of the biggest names in Bollywood music were at Etihad Arena on Friday night, performing the most popular hits from the past few years during a show that was more than three hours long – but still had audiences dancing in the aisles until the very end.

This year’s IIFA Rocks event was a starry affair. From the big names in the front row – including Varun Dhawan, Vicky Kaushal and Salman Khan – to the performers who took to the stage, it was an exhilarating evening.

But, as is the case with most Bollywood events, it started long after its scheduled time – about two hours late.

Palak Muchhal took to the stage first, starting the night out slow with songs including Kaun Tujhe and Lag Jaa Gale, before hosts Farah Khan Kunder and Rajkummar Rao made their big entrance with a song and dance routine.

The hosts were probably the only unimpressive part of the night, with their contrived and unfunny jokes, which at times made the audience almost cringe. Some of their sets appeared far too long and their attempts to interact with the stars during a segment called IIFA Ke Khiladi didn’t really hit the mark. Most actors seemed uncomfortable, barring Boman Irani, as none of them really performed the “tasks” they were given.

The biggest star of the night was undoubtedly Sunidhi Chauhan. She delivered an absolute rock-star performance – entering with a bang on the hit Sami from the film Pushpa, before slowing down the tempo for soulful renditions of Woh Tere Mere Ishq Ka and Lae Dooba.

She ramped it up a notch with the sensuous and playful Babuji Bhole Bhaale and Kaisi Paheli Zindgani, then transitioned to some of her biggest dance hits such as Crazy Kiya Re and Show me the Thumka, wrapping up what was the longest performance of the night, with a powerhouse dance routine to the tune of Sheila Ki Jawani.

Badshah, known mostly for his party songs (and some questionable lyrics), made quite the entrance as he drove a quad bike on to the stage to much applause from the crowd.

He was a hit with the audience as he performed songs that are popular in Bollywood clubs and at weddings and had the audience taking to the aisles to dance. She Move it Like, Paagal, Genda Phool, Jugnu and Abhi toh Party Shuru Hui Hai were all part of his set list but the highlight was Kala Chashma, during which Norwegian dance crew Quick Style joined him on stage. The audience seemed to love his performance, but his constant screaming into the mic was, at times, awkward.

The performances seemed to become shorter as the night wore on. Composer and singer Amit Trivedi, for example, focused mainly on love songs, but deserved a lot more time than he was given. Trivedi, along with his team of singers – Arun Kamath, Devenderpal Singh, Yashita Sharma and Meghna Mishra – brought a bit of romance to the evening, performing Shauq and Ghode Pe Sawaar from the 2022 Netflix film Qala, as well as Madhubala, Qaafirana and Dhol Yaara Dhol, but, again, the performance felt like it ended too soon.

Wearing his signature black outfit and dark glasses, popular Punjabi singer Sukhbir wowed with his performance of his recent hit Billi Billi Akh from the Salman Khan film Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan, before belting out Gal Ban Gayee – one of his most popular hits.

In what seemed like a rather strange pairing, actress Iulia Vuntur took to the stage next singing songs mostly from Salman Khan films and eventually joined on stage by Sukhbir as he performed his biggest hit Oh Ho Ho Ho.

While Sukhbir’s performance was flawless, Vuntur seemed like a strange choice for so much stage time, which would have been better justified by Trivedi or the final act, Nucleya.

Indian designer Manish Malhotra, who recently celebrated 25 years in the industry, presented his very metallic collection – the show featured dresses, saris and gowns in white, sparkling silver, some pastels, black and gold.

Nora Fatehi wore the show-stopping dress for Malhotra – a massive ball gown with an embroidered corset top and a navy skirt with a long train. Salman Khan closed the show, dressed in a black suit, featuring a jacket with sequinned lapels.

By this time of the night, the mood was a bit quiet, given that the show had been going on for more than three hours. However, electronic music producer Nucleya kicked things up a notch with his electro beats and very bright lights. Sadly, his was the shortest performance of the night as he only played two songs.

If Friday night is anything to go by, Saturday’s IIFA Awards ceremony seems promising, with an even bigger list of stars and bigger performances expected.

Updated: May 27, 2023, 12:18 PM