Elected leaders, Businessmen and Film Stars Mingle at SACC’s Gala Dinner

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By Manu Shah

HOUSTON: Houston politicos and business elite, a few Bollywood and Hollywood actors and one extremely funny standup comedian emcee made for an interesting and entertaining combination at the 20th Annual South Asian Chamber of Commerce Gala held at the Westin Galleria on Wednesday, February 12. The often long speeches and platitudes  were kept short and the evening’s entertainment was laced by Mo Amer’s lighthearted and breezy comedic humor. His take on his transition from Kuwait to Houston, his 15 year-old cousin named Osama and large families was hilarious and as he put it “Allah made him funny!”

Ash Shah

Ash Shah

The evening was abuzz with guests catching up with each other at the social hour and appreciating local artist Janavi Mahimtura’s paintings, which were up for sale. It took repeated pleas by the emcee to get everyone to take their seats and the evening finally kicked off with a lively dance by students of the Sugar Land based Bollywood Shake dance company. A technical glitch with the music system caused a few minutes of delay prompting event co-chair Mustafa Tameez to quip “it’s a tough day when brown people can’t get the technology right.”

Chloe Choudhary, whose deep, soulful voice stirred hearts at the recent ICC Republic Day program with her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, once again wowed the audience with the national anthem. Tameez and co-chair Ash Shah got the evening started, with Tameez appreciating the team effort that helped put the evening together in a record two months.  Shah briefly outlined the objectives of SACC and touched upon his growing involvement in the film industry, explaining the basic difference between Hollywood and Bollywood movies. “Hollywood movies cater to one emotion in a movie, be it murder, action, comedy or romance”, he joked, “but Bollywood has the enviable ability of combining every ingredient into one movie! Indians call it good value for money”!!

SACC President Nomaan Husain described his chance encounter with the evening’s special guests – Javaid Anwar and Anthony Melikhov –  at the White House Christmas dinner last year and was so inspired by their achievements that he ended up inviting them for the Gala. The SACC unanimously voted to honor Anwar with the Business Leader of the Year award.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker lauded the role South Asians have played in transforming the city with their thriving business culture, while Harris County Commissioner’s Court Judge Ed Emmett said he loved the expression “calm, collected and the coolest” that was used to describe him. Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, Attorney General Greg Abbott who is running for Texas Governor, former Congressman Nick Lampson, Houston City Court Judge Ravi Sandhill and US Congressman Al Green’s spokesman Sam Merchant were all present to show their support for the organization.

And judging from the cheers Democratic State Senator and Texas Governor hopeful Wendy Davis received, there were plenty of Democrats in the hall too!  She spoke of her race and promised to make educating the next generation her number one priority.

Javaid Anwar related the response his wife had when he told her he planned to quit his steady well-paying job as a petroleum engineer and branch out on his own. “‘Have you lost your mind?’”, she said when he told her his plans, he tittered. He went on to buy an oil well, struck gold and today is the proud CEO of Midland Energy and Petroplex Energy, operating over 200 wells in West Texas. His advice to the younger generation: believe in yourself, work hard, be patient and most importantly, give back to America and your motherland.

Anthony Melikhov,  the evening’s other special guest had an equally impressive story. He sold his pharmaceutical company for millions but instead of sailing around the world in his yacht decided to head to the jungles to find a sense of the meaning and purpose of life. He returned to Chicago a year later to start a foundation – Unite 4 Good and “learnt to be happy.” The organization helps improve living conditions of the people around the world.

The evening’s other celebrities  the actors – Karina Smiroff, Wilmer Valderrama and Neha Dhupia – also spoke of their personal experiences in the film industry with Dhupia joking it was unfair she had to vie with the dessert for everyone’s attention! But she didn’t have to worry as everyone was vying for her attention for a photo op well into the evening.