The Merchants of BollywoodPhotos - David Wyatt


The Merchants of Bollywood
, now playing at the State Theatre, is a rich and colourful introduction to both India’s film industry and its long tradition of dance. The program says the nearly 40 skilled and brilliant dancers wear 1200 costumes during the piece, and the energy and splendour are constant. This reviewer has never seen such rapid and accurate footwork!

The show, based on the family history of the choreographer, Vaibhavi Merchant, tells the story of Ayesha, a young dancer who leaves her home in Rajastan, to realise her dream, a film career in Bollywood. Later, as a successful director, she returns home to try to reconcile with her estranged grandfather. The atmosphere of all this is something like The Ziegfeld Follies meets A Star Is Born (30s version), vivacious, fast-moving, sometimes illogical and a little unconvincing (to an Australian eye), but always entertaining. The well-known ‘alternations’ of the Bollywood film, almost in the manner of vaudeville or English music hall, sometimes dramatic, then comic, lyrical, or merely energetic, face-front show-stopper, can mean each individual scene loses a little in the overall scheme.

Written and directed by Toby Gough, The Merchants of Bollywood has a terrific score by Salim and Sulaiman Merchant, but disappointingly uses all recorded music, even the singing. There is certainly a loss of believability when dancers mime lyrics, and some ‘live’ singing, even done by vocalists to the side, would much increase the show’s emotional force. As it is, the audience, while always impressed by the constant energy and brilliance, can feel a little puzzled by the plot, and bombarded by the style. Perhaps too much is packed in, and a simpler, clearer dramatic arc might be preferred. But I don’t think that’s Bollywood…

For this reviewer the most effective scenes were the more traditional, whose flowing, lyrical music, movements and costumes were more distinctive and unusual than the blunt, aggressive, determinedly modern scenes. Carol Furtado manages both the traditional and contemporary aspects of her character with equal skill, while Deepak Rawat, despite remarkable agility and energy, appears less comfortable. Chander Khanna, Arif Zakareia, and Satwinder Singh Jaspal give solid, entertaining and moving performances in their various character parts, and the ensemble is simply dazzling, from start to finish. It’s on till the 28th.


Venue: State Theatre, the Arts Centre
Dates: 17th February to 28th February 2010
Bookings: Ticketmaster 136 100 or 1300 182 183

Canberra Theatre Centre
Dates: 1st March to 7th March, 2010
Bookings: Canberra Ticketing 02 6275 2700

QPAC Concert Hall
Dates: 8th March to 14th March 2010
Bookings: Qtix 136 246

Civic Theatre
Dates: 17th March to 21st March 2010
Bookings: Ticketek 02 4929 1977

State Theatre
Dates: 22nd March to 11th April 2010
Bookings: Ticketmaster 136 100

Festival Theatre
Dates: 12th April to 18th April 2010
Bookings: Bass Ticketing 131 246

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