How V-Unbeatable, now performing daily at Global Village, achieved world fame in spite of tragedy

The Indian dance troupe now perform in memory of their departed friend and founding member Vikas


Nasreen Abdulla

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V-Unbeatable perform at Global Village (Photo: Shihab)
V-Unbeatable perform at Global Village (Photo: Shihab)

Published: Mon 16 Jan 2023, 3:20 PM

Last updated: Mon 16 Jan 2023, 3:44 PM

Children from the slums of an Indian city making it to a world-renowned international dance competition and winning it. The incredible story of V-Unbeatable has every element of a Bollywood film - with plot twists, drama, tragedy and of course music and dance.

The dance troupe was founded by Omprakash Chauhan and Vikas in a park in Mumbai’s Bhayandar suburb. As word spread, dozens of youngsters joined them. Then named Unbeatable, the group was known for its lively dance steps and acrobatic stunts. Tragedy struck when an accident during rehearsals caused Vikas to fall and injure his spine. Paralyzed neck down, Vikas was hospitalized for one month before he finally succumbed to his injuries. “I thought that was the end of Unbeatable,” said Omprakash. “Since Vikas suffered his injuries during dance practice, other parents were scared and refused to send their children anymore.”

After several months, Omprakash found an unlikely ally in Vikas’ parents. Going door to door, they persuaded other parents to continue sending their children for practice. So, the group reformed as V-Unbeatable, in memory of Vikas and had 28 members between the ages of 14 and 27. Many of them are children of daily wage labourers and live in cramped quarters.

Since then, the group has participated in reality shows, won competitions and performed at prestigious stages. However, what really propelled them to international recognition is when they performed at America’s Got Talent (AGT) in 2019. Their story attracted a global audience, and they went straight to the quarterfinals with a golden buzzer. Although they were placed fourth in the competition, they returned the next year to America’s Got Talent: The Champions and went on to win it. However, back in India after their win, they were hoping for a busy schedule with back-to-back performances when Covid struck.

Now, with the Covid restrictions relaxed and travel open, the troupe has arrived in Dubai’s Global Village for their first international performance since the AGT win. Today their number has swelled to 45 performers between the ages of 17 and 30.

We caught up with three members of the team for a candid chat. Co-founder and choreographer Omprakash, creative and managing director Maahesh More and team manager Vibhav Gupta talked about their journey, dreams and hopes.

How did America’s Got Talent happen?

Maahesh: The first time we got the call, we were in shock. We couldn’t believe that we had been called to a competition that we follow keenly on television. However, there was a mountain of challenges that we had to get through before we could even think of it.

Omprakash: We were 28 members at the time. None of them had passports. We calculated the total cost needed for our trip and we needed Rs7 lakh (equivalent to approximately Dhs31,630). According to AGT rules, they would refund the money if we made it past the first round. I borrowed half of it from my employer, who gave it to me interest-free. I also sold my bike. Everyone pitched in whatever they could. Everyone borrowed from wherever we could. It was a very stressful time for us.

Vibhav: I think the biggest challenge was that no one believed in us. Monetary support is one thing but mental support is another big factor. Everyone just thought of our kids as ‘street kids’. They kept asking ‘how far will they go?’

Photo: Shihab
Photo: Shihab

How was the experience there?

Omprakash: When we first arrived in the US, we were absolutely gobsmacked. It was beautiful, but we had no idea where to go or what to do. It was the first time any of us had been out of the country. We reached after a 22-hour flight and fell asleep as soon as we got to the hotel. The next day morning, all the kids were hungry. There was only a burger shop nearby. Many of our members are vegetarian but we had no option. So we bought burgers, removed the meat and ate the buns and veggies.

However, the kids were still hungry. Back in the hotel, I scoured everywhere and collected whatever fruits I could for them. When they were getting ready to go on the stage for the first performance, I had tears in my eyes because they were hungry and I was scared if they would have the energy to perform the routine, which requires a lot of power. However, the kids were very confident and as you know, they hit it out of the park. We got a standing ovation. It was unforgettable.

How has your life changed since AGT?

Maahesh: It was a turning point. AGT gave us recognition but then to go back and win the Champions version completely changed our lives. Everything that we had worked towards was finally bearing fruit. It gave us recognition and validated us in the eyes of a lot of detractors.

Omprakash: When we were announced as winners, that was one of the most unforgettable moments in my life. I felt like finally the days of our struggle was over. We had become winners and we would finally be able to start making money with our dance. After arriving back in India, we got an invite to perform in Hong Kong. We were preparing for it when the Covid lockdown happened. We were absolutely gutted. It has been two years since we won AGT but our struggle is still going on.

Vibhav: Since we won, Dubai is our first international performance. When we got the email, we were over the moon. To be able to perform at a stage like Global Village in front of thousands every day, I feel like this was the break we needed after the lull of Covid.

Photo: Shihab
Photo: Shihab

How are you liking Dubai? Is this your first time here? Did you choreograph a special dance for Global Village?

Vibhav: We have seen Dubai on TV and it was always a dream to come to this city. We are so glad it has happened now. Since we arrived, we have visited Burj Khalifa. It was so beautiful that we couldn’t get enough. Here, the organizers have paid attention to every minute detail. We ate amazing food; our stay is comfortable, and everything is perfect.

Maahesh: Till now, we have only done performances that are 3 to 5 minutes long. Our performance at Global Village is 20 minutes long. So it was a challenge for all of us to manage our stamina and to choreograph.

Omprakash: It is also a very different experience. So far, we have only performed on TV and in front of a limited audience. Some people would say that our stunts are camera tricks. This is the first time we have performed in front of a live audience. Also the crowd here is just a different vibe. Every time the kids perform, I stand in the audience and watch their faces. Many of them don’t understand the language or the songs, yet they encourage us so much. It means a lot to us as artists.

What is your daily routine like? What safety measures do you take?

Omprakash: We rehearse between 8-12 hours every day when we have shows. There is a lot that goes into making our routines so perfect. Our stunts are risky, so we spend at least 5 to 6 hours on every stunt to make sure it is done without hitches.

Vibhav: Safety is very important to us, especially since Vikas’ incident. At the time, we were inexperienced and had limited resources. We are absolutely adamant that we won’t let another accident happen to our kids, so we have very stringent measures in place when rehearsing.

How easy or difficult is it to manage a group of 45 youngsters?

Vibhav: There are small tiffs that happen occasionally. Most of the time it is because of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. Sometimes the vegetarians get non-veg food. However, it is more comical than difficult. The kids are very understanding towards each other and have a very deep bond.

Omprakash: To be honest, it is easier than you think. All our kids have a common goal. They want to improve their lives, make a living off dance and make money. So the little disagreements and differences don’t get in the way. They are good at solving their issues among themselves and very rarely do we have to step in.

What are your future goals and dreams?

Omprakash: Of course, we want to travel the world and perform at various places. However, my biggest dream and goal is to make sure that all my kids can sleep in their own houses. Many of them live in rented homes and life is often a struggle. I want to make enough money for each one of them to buy their own homes and live there happily with their parents.

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied

Vikas Gupta was ‘a wonderful human being’

The guiding factor in the team’s performance on a day-to-day basis, Vikas Gupta and the troupe were preparing to participate in a major dance reality show when he died in 2015. “He was a wonderful human being,” said Omprakash. “When he was alive, he was the glue of our group. If I ever criticized the performers and they got upset, it was Vikas who would pacify them and bring them back.”

The only son of this parents, Vikas was known for always having a smile on his face. “It was his dream to be on TV,” said Vibhav. “Sometimes when his father would scold him for wasting time on dance, he would tell his father that one day I will put you on TV with my dance.”

Every time the group performs, they wear shirts with Vikas’ name on it. “We are honouring his legacy,” said Maahesh. “We feel like somewhere, he is still with us in spirit and in our hearts. He is watching over us. And that feeling is what keeps us bonded as a group.”

V-Unbeatable perform twice a day till January 30 at Global Village.

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