Broadway Series South bought the internationally acclaimed 2006 Indian music and dance spectacular The Merchants of Bollywood, written and directed by Tony Gough, choreographed by Vaibhavi Merchant, and lavishly produced by Mark Brady for Australia’s ATA AllStar Artists, to Raleigh Memorial Auditorium for one night only, on Oct. 21st. But judging from the ecstatic audience response to this musical extravaganza, billed as coming straight from Film City in Mumbai (Bombay), The Merchants of Bollywood may very well pass this way again. The sooner, the better.
The Merchants of Bollywood, with its splendid prerecorded score by Salim and Sulaiman Merchant and entertaining commentary by the show’s Narrator (Tony Mirchandani), begins in India, in the temple of the supreme Hindu god Shiva, amidst the deserts of Rajasthan, where the Merchant family has taught the traditional Kathak folk dance – the dance of the gods – for centuries. Now, former Bollywood choreographer Shantilal Merchant (played with great gravitas by Chander Khanna) hopes that his granddaughter Ayesha (portrayed with passion by Carol Furtado) will follow in his footsteps as teacher and preserver of the Kathak dance. But Ayesha Merchant dreams of a career in Bollywood, where her grandfather was a leading film choreographer during Bollywood’s golden age, just after the 1947 partition of the British Raj into India and Pakistan.
At that time, Shantilal Merchant believed that cinema could be a tonic, healing wounds inflicted by the Partition; but he left Bollywood in disgust when materialistic Western culture started to rule the cinematic roost in Film City.
Now Shantilal Merchant presides over a tiny dance school in a remote desert region, and hopes that his star pupils Ayesha Merchant and her childhood sweetheart Uday (the dashing and sometimes a little too showoffy Dipender Singh) will teach traditional Indian folk dances to the next generations. But Ayesha breaks her grandfather’s heart when she opts for a career making commercial films in Bollywood over continuing the Merchant family tradition of teaching folk dances that honor the gods.
With a series of ab-so-lute-ly fab-u-lous song and dance numbers, The Merchants of Bollywood chronicles Ayesha Merchant’s meteoric rise to become the most prominent female choreographer in Bollywood. But the woman that her film-industry co-workers have dubbed “The Princess of Romance” eventually experiences the same disillusionment as her grandfather before her, especially when money-made filmmakers such as Prabhakar Chavhan Budhan (camped up hilariously by Arif Zakaria) cheapen the cinematic product. So, when Ayesha hears that Shantilal Merchant is very ill and, perhaps, even dying, she goes home to try to heal the gigantic rift that has grown between them.
Composers Salim and Sulaiman Merchant’s invigorating musical score and choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant’s dazzling dance routines, which mix traditional Indian folk dance segments with disco-style production numbers from modern Western dance-influenced Bollywood films make The Merchants of Bollywood a must-see musical, and leave the Broadway Series South audience eager for an encore. Scenic and lighting designer Liz Berry’s spectacular sets, vividly recreating the temple of Shiva and Film City soundstages, and original costume designer Falguni Thakore’s attention-grabbing creations are two more reasons that Triangle theatergoers who attended The Merchants of Bollywood eagerly await a lengthier return engagement.
SECOND OPINION: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Oct. 18th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/10/the-merchants-of-bollywood-employs-authentic-indian-music-and-dance-to-tell-the-story-of-the-merchant-family-of-choreographers/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://broadwayseriessouth.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=Calendar&file=listevent-bss2008&eid=10037&type=video.
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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