Written and Directed by: Toby Gough
Choreographed by: Vaibhavi Merchant
Merchants of Bollywood brings a taste of India to the Stage.
The Merchants of Bollywood just completed their two-night run at the Auditorium Theatre this past Saturday and I was in the audience. I always think it is wonderful when international shows land in Chicago because it provides a kind of entertainment that is not always easy to come across here. I was especially excited to see the Indian culture represented on the stage well, especially because the show is billed as, “The first authentic Indian music & dance spectacular.” This particular show boasts some truly inventive choreography and costume design, but I felt as though it does not translate to a universal audience.
Shantilal (Arif Zakaria) is responsibility for upholding the ancient traditions of the Kathak dance, the dance of the gods, at the temple of Shiva way out in the desert. He plans to pass this tradition on to his granddaughter Ayesha (Carol Furtado) who wants to pursue a career as a choreographer in Bollywood. Shantilal used to be a famous choreographer but left the industry as it became commercial and lost sight of its purpose. The dance numbers that appear intermittently between the dialogue serve as snapshots of different phases of Bollywood history. As a person unfamiliar with the Bollywood culture it was nice to learn about how vast the industry is and how it has evolved over the years. However, I felt as though this could have been done through a narrator rather than a narrative. The dialogue portions drag on for far too long, particularly when Ayesha talks in front of a scrim as her younger self while all the action happens in the background. I found myself waiting for the next dance number since I was not emotionally invested in the story.
Even though the dialogue portions, and a majority of the humor, did not resonate with me, I saw a lot of the audience thoroughly enjoying themselves. In a way it reminded me of when I saw X Japan at Lollapalooza; those familiar with this style of entertainment were blown away while newbies spent the first portion of the experience trying to get accustomed. It was a show that definitely spoke to its intended audience. But dance is a universal language which is why I found those portions to be the most memorable part of the show. The closing number is still stuck in my mind and I doubt it will be vacating any time in the near future.
The greatest technical achievement of this show is the costuming by Falguni Thakore. She has created a kaleidoscope of colors that is truly mesmerizing. Director Toby Gough for the most part keeps the show moving along, but could cut some of the dialogue sections and provide more background and facts about Bollywood history. Choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant has put together some visually stunning sequences that are a nice change of pace from most dance shows that can be seen on Chicago stages.
While this is a show that is definitely not for everyone it does offer an opportunity to learn about the largest film industry in the world, where it comes from, and how it has evolved over the years. If you are a fan of Bollywood then this is the show for you, and if you are looking for something different from your everyday fare, keep your eyes open to see if this is coming to a city near you. It is worth taking a look at for the visual spectacle and raw energy present on the stage.
Date of Review: 10/4/2010