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Bombay Dreams on Broadway
|by Dr. Neria H. Hebbar|
A handsome slum dweller (Akaash) from a certain Bombay slum called Paradise, has aspirations of becoming a Bollywood movie actor. He lives in a jhopadpatti with his old grandmother Shantiji. Of course, he is talented because he has the gift of singing and dancing - prerequisites for becoming a Bollywood star (though singing is not really a necessary talent as playback singers lend their voices to heroes). Soon a rich, corrupt business corporation is planning to tear down the slums and construct high rises. The hero's friends and neighbors, including a eunuch (Hijira) called Sweetie, are outraged. When a lawyer, with his beautiful fiancé (Priya), visits them and offers his services pro bono, the slum dwellers are thrilled. The lawyer's fiancé is very sympathetic to the plight of the poor and also is a daughter of a famous movie mogul of Bollywood (who has had a row of colossal flops).
The rest of the story is vintage Bollywood movie in a fast forward mode. There is a scene where Rani jumps into a fountain in a white sari and is completely wet. Song and dance sequences, including the recreation of the famous 'Chaiya Chaiya' song on slow moving train top is well done. 'Mujhe Rang De' is sung to a pleasing spectacle. Of course, there are predictable twists and turns one can expect in a Hindi movie including a wedding scene where the villainous bridegroom is prevented from marrying the doe-eyed innocent bride, who was unaware of his nefarious activities until the last minute. She is saved from the jaws of injustice just in time to wed our hero. There are the usual masala - villainy and murder, comedy, songs and dances, pathos, fight scene (dishum, dishum, they call it), and above all entertainment in Bombay Dreams on Broadway. It is a shorter version of a Hindi movie on stage (only two hours long instead of four!) But everything one can expect from a Hindi movie is included in the play. There is even a procession with giant idols of Ganesh for the festival.
The show has just opened on Broadway and has been received fairly well. The newspaper reviews in New York that can make or break a show, I am told, are decent and encouraging. Having seen many Hindi movies, I have mixed feelings about it but one who is uninitiated (like the majority of American audiences) the experienced could be charming. Perhaps, I expected to see a truly great Hindi movie (an oxymoron?) on stage but the colors, costumes and the settings as well as the songs made up for any faults. Though the first scene is reminiscent of a high school play with all the explanations about Bombay film industry, the show does get warmer and interesting as it progresses. The combination of A. R. Rahman (music) and Andrew Lloyd Webber (producer) strikes a note that is interesting.
All in all Bombay Dreams is entertaining. I would not classify it as a masterpiece, portraying Indian culture at its best, to the American audiences. However, to a curious audience who have become acutely aware of India recently - because of Information Technology and outsourcing - Bombay Dreams is a good introduction of another aspect of Indian culture, namely the pop movie culture with a worldwide following. After all, millions of people all over the world flock to see Bollywood movies, which makes more than 900 movies a year. But hardly any even make an appearance in the American horizon.
Andrew Lloyd Webber was said to have been fascinated with Rahman's musical talents and wanted to bring it to the stage. The music in the show is vibrating as well as loud, and scintillating and emotional - typically Rahman style, with bold beats of drums and dramatic crescendos. Only two Hindi songs are recognizable from old tunes. The show has been running in London for almost two years to packed houses. It was well received in London, where Indian culture has deeply infiltrated British life. The story and the music for the American audiences have been considerably altered, with addition of two new songs and simplification of the story line. So even after seeing the Broadway version, it would be worth your while to see it again in London.
Manu Narayan, who plays Akaash, is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburg. Anisha Nagarajan left NYU as a sophomore to portray Priya. Both seem to have a good chemistry between them. Manu is a good dancer and Priya has a grace of an Indian classical dancer in her steps. I only wish she had more chances to show this in the play. You can see them below in practice. Madhur Jaffrey is a well known actress with movie and theater experience. Ayesha Dharker, who plays the buxom Rani has both stage and Hollywood experience. She also played in Bombay Dreams in London.
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