Vaibhavi Merchant


Having experienced the industry first hand as a trained dancer and a theatre and film actress, and with the love of Bollywood being a family affair, one could say that she was destined for Bollywood. Before its return to the Australian stage, Anna Lozynski interviewed internationally acclaimed choreographer, Vaibhavi Merchant about spreading her passionate and personal message which she has framed in a colourful and culturally rich stage spectacular - The Merchants of Bollywood.



Vaibhavi MerchantWhat do you want the audience in Australia to take away from the show?

The Merchants of Bollywood showcases a palette of the rich and traditional dance culture of India and the glitz and glamour world of Bollywood. The audience should escape in to this world and take with them the infectious energy of the music, dance and a true story told with love about my grandfather, the late Shri B Hiralal, who was a renowned choreographer himself.

Tell us about what inspired you to create this stage spectacular?
Before I worked in film, I was a theatre performer. When I was asked to work on a show, I was elated because it took me back to where it all began. My grandfather’s work and all the stories I heard as a child was the inspiration. From there we decided to narrate a story of two Bollywood choreographers, each belonging to a different generation.

How long did it take you to choreograph this theatrical dance performance?
We spent about 3 to 5 months just on the choreography, plus hours in rehearsal.

When you were auditioning for performers to form part of the show, what particular qualities were you looking for?
My sister Shruti Merchant and I were keen to use dancers who were comfortable with a range of both modern and Indian styles. The show demands its dancers to switch from an Indian classical piece to Bolly hip hop, to modern and then into Indian folk, in minutes. Discipline is crucial for long tours.

What do the dancers find most challenging about the work during rehearsals?
Waiting patiently while a work is being choreographed; keeping track of all the instructions, which keep changing as we run each piece. It’s hard work!

Which scene in the show particularly resonates with you?
I am particularly moved by the scene before the finale where Ayesha is paying tribute to her grandfather. The moments are beautiful and the dialogue rounds out the story and the soul of the show.

About which aspect of Indian culture are you most proud? Which, do you find, is most misunderstood by westerners?
India as a country is so diverse in its culture. We are a peace loving nation and it is about this that I am especially proud. I strongly believe that people living on this planet should first draw attention to the fact that we are all one as a race. That is we are all human beings.

You have toured the show internationally over about 850 performances. In which city did you feel you achieved most penetration?
Probably Barcelona and Paris and hopefully Melbourne shortly.

In the earlier days of your career, you assisted your Uncle, Chinni Prakash. What did your role entail? What was one lesson your Uncle taught you that you have never forgotten?
I was my Uncle’s assistant. I had to teach the dancers and the actors the choreography set by him. He noticed that I was very quiet by nature, and that directing a set of 200 people might be a challenge for me. So he said I must shout to be heard, be clear and keep the energy running. Professionally, I have risen to this challenge. Personally, the quietness remains.

What made you decide to pursue a career as a choreographer over an acting one?
I set out to become a choreographer because I love the entire creative process. I have trained as a dancer, in addition to my acting career, to allow me to better understand what it felt like being on the other side of the camera and the challenges attached.

In your view, what can Hollywood learn from Bollywood?
I think both the industries are fantastic. I really hope there are more musicals from Hollywood as there are fewer than there used to be. Perhaps Bollywood will inspire its American comrade to again embrace the culture of musicals.


The Merchants of Bollywood begin their Australian Tour in Melbourne, February 17 2010, at the Arts Centre. Further details»

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