Beyond Bollywood | or how I had a Bollywood scene

The s.o. loves me despite some of my weirdness (and sometimes, because of it). Case in point, he surprised me with tickets to Beyond Bollywood – even though the last thing he will ever watch is a Bollywood film which I really like. Beyond Bollywood is a sell-out musical in Mumbai which just had its London debut.

We didn’t just watch the show, I managed to have my very own Bollywood scene with some of the team and Irfan Siddiqui (Lyricist). Read on. 

I should start by saying that I am very very difficult to please when it comes to musicals. I watched Chicago (about 8 years ago) 3 times because it was so flawless in terms of music, singing and dancing. I watched The Commitment once and I’m NEVER GOING AGAIN (see my “lovely” review on that one).

Beyond Bollywood

The story

Beyond Bollywood is the story of a young girl from Munich who wants to keep her dead mother’s Indian Dance Theatre alive. She travels to India where she works as a choreographer’s assistant for a while and then travels the country with said choreographer, learning something about her native country, dancing (and love obviously) in the process.

If that’s not a Bollywood script I don’t know what is.

A few words on Bollywood

Perhaps a few words on Bollywood from my perspective would be useful here. Bollywood for me is basically like Greek old films on steroids. There is always a boy meets girl thing going on, love comes (cue dancing in fields with hair blowing in the wind), some evil circumstance (or parent) gets in the way, they overcome, they get married, they live happily ever after. In between all that, there is always dancing and singing for no apparent reason. You either love it or hate it and I tend to love it.

My favourite film by far is Devdas, but I love all Bollywood period films, mainly because of the amazing traditional music, the folk inspired dancing and the costumes. For example, here’s Aishwarya Rai as Umrao Jaan in the homonymous film. Notice the music, the way the eyes are used in the dance and the unbelievable costumes.

See what I mean?

Most Bollywood films are *very* contemporary, with stories unfolding in the here and now. Naturally, costumes are modern and choreographies too, with a lot of Western influences. See for example the song “Rock N Roll Soniye” from the film Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. (Tip – got to 2:47 to see Kajol – the most lovely of actresses – shake it)

See the difference?

(By the way, yes, I do get that I’m not from India and I do get that I’m judging all of this from an outsider’s position. But hey, we can all enjoy film, song and dance wherever it comes from so just let me know where you feel differently in the comments.)

The dancing

With all that in mind, Beyond Bollywood is pure Bollywood when it comes to the story and the dialogues. That’s not a bad thing, just a statement of fact. In places, it’s cringeworthy, especially if you are not accustomed to the style. Having said that, a number of musicals are even worse when it comes to dialogue so no complaints here.

The first act starts beautifully with some Kathak dancing (this style is really magical) and then the story itself begins. The heroine leaves (that takes an age) and moves to India and impresses a Bollywood choreographer with her Western influenced dancing. Ana Ilmi is lovely and likeable and great with Indian style dancing. I was not incredibly impressed with the Western style dancing but maybe that’s just me. We also get the impressively beautiful Mohit Mathur and a funny Sudeep Modak, the obligatory comedy relief.

The dancers are not your usual perfect corp de ballet style of troupe. They are all sorts of shapes and sizes (which I count as a positive) and they need some more time together to work on timing and coordination. The overall effect though is energetic because they are very enthusiastic and work hard to bring the audience along.

On we go for the internal drama of the hero to be revealed and the inspiration given by the heroine to travel India and rediscover folk dancing (oh, and love. Obviously). This is where things become a lot more impressive for Western audiences I think. Really, there are great musicals out there for me to go watch jazz and rock n roll. The Indian stuff is what Beyond Bollywood should push more to the fore I feel. It takes ages to get there and that felt like the best part of the whole show.

I don’t know Indian dancing. So to be given an opportunity to see some of it, with a bit of explanation thrown in is amazing! Basically I’d have loved double the time for this part of the show and a lot less of the jazz/street stuff and the setting up of the story. They journey is what matters and I’d love to have seen more of it.

Timing aside (and leaving any cynical part of yourself outside the theatre), the Indian style dancing is really really joyful and amazing to watch. A very good experience.

The songs

The songs are lively, well sung and the music moving or uplifting. However… they are basically playback. Nobody actually sings (!) and some actors do ad-lib but only for some lyrics and not for others. I think they need to address that. Either get them to ad-lib to everything or nothing.

It’s a shame I don’t speak the language of course. There seemed to be a number of jokes and funny references to old films and popular culture that some of the audience got. We could hear people laughing with things that we couldn’t understand so it’s clear that there is a lot of intelligent and funny stuff with the lyrics and some of the characters. I asked the lyricist (true story) and he confirmed that he used pop culture references. I count that in the major positives of this show.

Overall I think this can be a great musical but some of the balance and the singing weirdness need to be fixed.

My Bollywood moment

At the end of the show, we were standing outside and this lovely gentleman approached us. “How did you find it?“, he asked. “Really good“, the s.o. said.  “Oh, I’m just part of the UK team“, the lovely man said when I asked, and then proceeded to introduce us to the lyricist, Irfan Siddiqui whom I got to ask questions about the pop culture references I mentioned.

With Irfan Siddiqui

Here we are, smiling 🙂

Went home, opened the website, am left with distinct impression that the first man was Rajeev Goswami (the Director, Choreographer & Writer).

Now, if *this* was a Bollywood film, Rajeev (obviously it would have been him) would have left India, tired that everybody liked him because of his fame. He would then come to London, meet me and proceed to impress me with his character (since I don’t know he is famous). I would then discover his fame, run away, sing a sad song and then love would conquer all.

I wonder what the s.o. would think of that.

Disclosure: Saw Beyond Bollywood on 09 May 2015 and we paid for our tickets in full. No prior discussion with the theatre took place.
Beyond Bollywood
At the London Palladium
Argyll Street, London, W1F 7TF
Until June 27

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