The score of originality?
'Bombay Dreams' is the only new musical of London's 2002 season, opening at the Apollo Victoria Theatre on June 19. RONITA TORCATO on what is at stake.
Preeya Kalidas and Raza Jaffrey...the lead players.
WAS it only the other day that one had the privilege of meeting the curly-wurly haired A.R. Rahman, dapper Shekhar Kapoor and pixie-ish Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber at a five star hotel in Mumbai? The trio were easy to talk to, all gung ho about their musical opus which would, hopefully, surpass Lord Lloyd-Webber's successes on the London stage.
Webber, the award-winning (Tonys, Grammys, Oliviers, an Oscar, Emmy) musician extraordinaire who has composed memorable music for blockbuster stage musicals ("Jesus Christ Superstar", "Cats", "Evita", "Phantom of the Opera"), has been extraordinarily generous in his mentoring and promotion of our Rahman, who is undoubtedly hugely talented and creative. The swarthy, cherubic-faced 35-year-old has written the music for more than 50 Bollywood films as well as numerous hit pop tunes. Though if you ask me, my own favourite happens to belong outside the aforementioned genre, his masterly re-working of the classic "Vande Mataram".
And Rahman has not disappointed Webber who has expressed satisfaction with the Chennai-based composer's catchy melodies. "He has a truly melodic voice ... (which) I believe could carry the torch of musical theatre into a new dimension ..."
"Bombay Dreams" is directed by Steven Pimlott, and relates the story of an economically-deprived youth who comes to Bombay (Gillian Tindall's "City of Gold" housing Asia's biggest slum) with dreams of making it big. Unsurprisingly, the themes are universal: love and prejudice, dreams and ambitions ...
And at its heart, a love story set against the backdrop of the rambunctious Hindi movie industry affectionately christened "Bollywood" in homage to that other place haunted by dream merchants in the city of angels.
Like very many other commercial films, the narrative spotlights the tried-and-tested plot of poor boy meets rich girl. And voila! The stage is instantly set up for conflict when Priya, the daughter of a wealthy and corrupt Hindi film director, falls head over heels in love with a poor guy, Akaash. Will there be a satisfactory resolution? Does the pair overcome the hurdles in their path and live happily ever after? No awards for guessing.
(From left) Preeya Kalidas, Andrew Lloyd Webber, A.R. Rahman and Raza Jaffrey...a mix of movie and new tracks.
At the press conference, Shekhar's actress-singer wife was conspicuous by her absence, even as it had been assumed (wrongly as we now see ) that she would be a part of the West End musical. As things have turned out, the multi-talented Suchitra is nowhere near the opus, with not even a cameo. The lead role is being played by a 21-year-old Preeya Kalidas (watch out for her in Gurinder Chaddha's "Bend It Like Beckham".) Ayesha Dharker has a role in it too. The hero's role is essayed by Raza Jaffrey, who co-starred with her in "East is East", has appeared in soaps and featured in an upcoming BBC series. Is he the Indian John Travolta that Lord Lloyd Webber is looking for? Only time will tell.
Interestingly, "Bombay Dreams" will not feature any music by Webber who is delighted to let Rahman enjoy all the limelight. Rahman has composed some 16 songs of which five are reprises of movie tracks including the "Dil Se" super-hit "Chhaiyya-Chhaiyya" and "Shakalaka Baby" while the rest are all-new tracks including a wedding song and a tapori number with hijras.
But all is not hunky-dory. Webber has expressed acute disappointment with the weak response from wealthy NRIs residing in Britain in opening up their purse-strings and sponsoring the show.
The idea for the musical was born some three years ago after Shekhar Kapoor, fresh from winning the West with the Oscar-nominated "Elizabeth", introduced Webber to Rahman. Webber is said to have been charmed by "Chhaiyya-Chhaiyya" and promptly bestowed his stamp of approval on Rahman's musical abilities. The Webber-Kapoor duo did not stop with Rahman. In due course, writer/actress Meera Syal ("Goodness Gracious Me") was roped in to flesh out a script from an outline provided by Kapoor and Webber, while the latter's long-time collaborator Don Black was engaged to compose the lyrics. To those who'd like to know, Don Black is credited with songs such as "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Born Free". Also listed in the production credits is Bollywood choreographer Farah Khan who worked in tandem with British dancer Anthony Van Laast to craft an East-meets-West melange of contemporary western dance and typical, high energy Bollywood routines with head-shaking and gyrations.
If all goes well then ( no last minute obstacles), "Bombay Dreams", the only new musical of London's 2002 season, will open on June 19 or thereabouts at London's Apollo Victoria.
Webber has been quoted as saying, "I've given three years of my life to put this together. I must get on with my own work now."
Needless to add, Lord Lloyd-Webber hopes the show will entice the young and also Asian audiences into the theatre.
His own music is replete with classical influences. Much in the same manner as pop music has been enriched by world music, musicals need fresh infusion from other continents, or so Lord Lloyd-Webber believes.
Writing in Connecting, the British Council newsletter he recalls that he was listening/viewing music videos sent by Shekhar Kapoor, when he discovered that the music had "a melody of pure gorgeousness or rhythm so complex or a level of musical invention on a single drone note ... that had me realise that I could be listening to something that I had always hoped would happen, the reinvention of popular music by another culture". That (reinvention), as he told another journalist "is coming from India ... I really look on Rahman as someone I can pass the mantle on to". Coming from Andrew Lloyd-Webber, this is high praise indeed. I know a retired Indian diplomat who's leaving on a jet plane for the West End and "Bombay Dreams". With no fairy godmother to conjure a phookat air ticket, khadka as we are, we can't wait for the musical to come to Mumbai.
The writer is a freelancer based in Mumbai.
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