Light was shed on the history of Indian cinema Wed., Oct. 27 at the Collins Center for the Arts with the hit Indian musical “The Merchants of Bollywood.” Featuring dancers from hit Bollywood films, the show was a great reminder of the quality of Bollywood to those who were familiar with it and a top-rate introduction to those who were not.
Blends of traditional Indian dancing and modern American moves were naturally housed in the framework of the show’s plot. The story followed Ayesha Merchant’s rebellion against her father’s classical philosophy of Indian dance, her rise to prominence as a Bollywood director and the eventual compromise that kept her father’s ways alive, combining elements of old and new. The audience ate up this celebration of the best of Indian and American cultures with prolonged bouts of applause and clap-alongs to the rousing musical numbers.
The dancing was brilliant, choreographed by famed Indian choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant, whose family the story is based on. In addition, the lighting operators, props crew and costume designers deserve a pat on the back. When the lighting synchronized with the percussion the songs really took off and drew the audience in. The props, including cars complete with functioning headlights, added another dimension of realism. The costumes brought the characters to life, helped create setting and flat out looked outstanding.
It was a musical, so singing and dancing were to be expected. The songs never seemed forced, fitting right in to whatever was happening. Many times, the dances were explained as takes for a film, a flashback to the history of Bollywood or something else that felt seamless and right.
Despite being an Australian production, by writer and director Toby Gough, the show seemed to authentically capture the essence of Bollywood. It was rehearsed entirely at the Film City studios in Bombay and all members of the cast are regular and notable performers in the Bollywood scene.
“I could have produced this in Sydney or London, but authenticity for us was very important from day one,” said music producer Mark Brady to the New York Times.
The dancing and music were just Indian enough to retain cultural credibility and just American enough to entertain the Maine crowd.
It was not all just moving and grooving — comic relief was effectively diffused throughout the night. Wisecracks from the more clever characters had audience members laughing, and other characters masquerading in drag generated some noise of their own. The humor was at times a tad lowbrow, but to the point where it grew tiresome. At other times cleverness was the punchline, the variety of material appeasing those in attendance.
Bollywood is often seen as Hollywood’s inferior, a smaller and less important industry. Perhaps Bollywood is like Hollywood’s brother, also good but just in a different way. “The Merchants of Bollywood” was far from what most people would have expected going into an Indian musical. Full of fast-paced, drum-heavy music and Americanized dancing, this show was something of a pleasant surprise for the ticket holders, who nearly filled the Collins Center and enjoyed an interesting Wednesday evening.