Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Bring on the Bollywood

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Gita Mistry

Phizzical Bring on the Bollywood, CAST in Doncaster, 2 June 2017, 19:30

"On 2 and 3 June 2017, I attended the Southbank Centre's Alchemy Doncaster South Asian Arts Festival at the CAST in Doncaster Theatre. A splendid venue only 4 years old.  I was there primarily for the musical, Bring on the Bollywood, but there were two other events associated with the show:
which took place on Friday afternoon. I opted for the dance workshop.

At the workshop, I introduced Jane to Bollywood. She said she enjoyed the experience even more than ballet and found everyone extremely friendly. I have to say I was pleasantly impressed with what we accomplished in the short time especially as we had missed the start owing to of an accident on the motorway. Happily, we had not missed much of the session itself. This was very engaging with good instruction and explanation- coaching with a clear definition of movement and meaning of mudras (hand gestures which are used to depict narrative in Indian storytelling influenced by the Kathak style of dance). We learnt rhythm and timing to moves and beats so that by the end of the 90 mins learnt a full routine. Hats off to the lead's facilitation skills and those of the other cast members as we were exposed to many moves to follow and copy. There was a range of age groups from 5 through to 70 with various abilities and backgrounds - some who had never done Bollywood dance and others who were returning after years of doing Indian dance. It was rather fun.

The play that we saw in the evening was directed by Sâmir Bhamra in association with Belgrade Theatre Coventry.  Bhamra was the creative director of the London Asian Film Festival and has been a mentor to emerging artists. He was the executive producer of an international dance festival and delivered three large-scale events during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games including a carnival procession across the East Midlands alongside the Olympic Torch Relay. He developed his skills at the National Theatre and was seconded to Royal Shakespeare Company where he worked on the World Shakespeare Festival under Deborah Shaw. 

Set in India but with plenty of references to London, the show had all the mix of a good Bollywood spectacular -  great dance and music, superb costumes with plenty of changes and good comedy too.  Fun, lively, colourful, family drama, romance, comedy - the cast engaged superbly well and were very in tune with each other.  Quite a feat to hold the audience's attention for some 90 minutes in the first act and another 60 in the second.

Turning to the dancing, there was a lot of traditional Indian styles including Kathak and Bharatanatyam as well as folk dances like Bhangra. We were reminded at the workshop that Bollywood is a fusion of many styles including Western ones."

Jane Lambert adds:

"The Hindi cinema, popularly known as “Bollywood”, is the biggest film industry in the world in terms of ticket sales and one of the biggest on every other measure. It is extraordinarily popular - not just in India and other countries where there is a big Hindi speaking population - but even in countries where Hindi is not spoken.

Sadly, even though there is a big audience for Hindi films in this country, very few folk of non-South Asian heritage take the trouble to see them. That is probably unfortunate because I suspect that we are missing out on a lot of fun. Phizzical Productions Ltd, which is touring the United Kingdom with a stage musical called Bring on the Bollywood, aspires to give those of us who do not speak Hindi a taste of that fun. Speaking as a complete ingenue in this genre I can certainly say that it was fun. However, I leave it to Gita, who knows a lot about South Asian art, to opine whether it was at all authentic.

The plot was a little convoluted. An “overworked, underpaid NHS doctor” flew home to India for her brother’s wedding. Her father is a retired army officer and her mother a lady of leisure. Neither her brother nor his intended bride is looking forward to their wedding. They were promised to each other by their parents but they really can’t stand to each other.

On the plane, the doctor sits opposite a handsome but rather mournful young man carrying an urn. The reason for his unhappiness was that he was jilted at the alter. The contents of the urn are ashes of photos and love letters but for the time being were led to believe that they are the ashes of his dead wife. The young man is on the way to meet his friend who is love with the woman who is engaged to the doctor’s brother.

The young man and his friend find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere. The brother offers to put them up at his parents’ home but only at an inflated price. On arrival, the young man meets the doctor with whom he had travelled on the plane. “Of the billion people in India how come I meet you?” He says. But they are attracted to each other and the attraction grows when the brother and sister, his intended bride, her lover and the young man take a hike in the idyllic Valley of the Flowers.
In the valley the last character turns up, namely the woman who had left the young man standing at the altar. She tries to win him back but he wants none of it. He sends her on her on her way. After a lot of parental resistance the young man married the doctor, his friend marries his love and the doctor’s brother joins the army much to his father’s delight.

This was quite a long play. The first act was 80 minutes long and the second 60. But for me, it passed very quickly largely because of some lusty singing and vivacious dancing. Most of the songs where in Hindi but the signature tune “Bring on the Bollywood” was in English. In the workshop which I described in Bollywood Beginner 3 June 2017, we tried the routine of one of the songs. According to Wikipedia
“the dancing in Bollywood films, especially older ones, is primarily modelled on Indian dance: classical dance styles, dances of historic northern Indian courtesans (tawaif), or folk dances. In modern films, Indian dance elements often blend with Western dance styles (as seen on MTV or in Broadway musicals), though it is usual to see Western pop and pure classical dance numbers side by side in the same film.”
In our workshop, we were taught the importance of hand movements and the symbolism of some of the gestures such as the drawing of a bow. At various points of the show Gita whispered some of the cultural allusions which would otherwise have been lost on me.

There were many strong character roles in the play and the actors performed them well. I particularly liked Rohit Gokani who played the retired colonel, Anthony Sahota his spoilt and somewhat wastrel son, Nisha Aaliya, the doctor and Sophie Kangola the intended fiancée who showed enormous patience to me in the workshop, but perhaps it is unfair to single any of them our for special praise because they were all good.

The show is in Hornchurch until the 17 and then Poole, London, York, Oldham, Truro, Oxford and Peterborough. If you live anywhere near those towns I unhesitatingly recommend it."

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