The Merchants of Bollywood at the Peacock Theatre
A beautiful extravaganza of Indian dance, The Merchants of Bollywood, written and directed by Toby Gough, highlights the history of Bollywood via a poignant tale of tradition, family unity, ambition and love.
Successful Bollywood dance arranger Ayesha Merchant (Carol Furtado) had been trained from childhood by her grandfather, Shantilal (Denzil Leonard Smith), to become a classical Indian dancer. She and Shantilal, “the last great guru of the dance”, are the only two remaining members of the Merchant Dynasty and guardians of the sacred dances of the Indian temples; but as a young girl Ayesha rebels and leaves home to make her own way in the world, lured by the glitter of Bollywood. After achieving success creating a contemporary choreographic style, she returns to her homeland to find her grandfather has become an embittered drunk who rejects her because she has turned away from her roots.
The Merchants of Bollywood follows the format of the “masala musical”, but also includes an overview of the changing dance forms of the genre and a spiritual exposé of Indian tradition through dance. Spanning the golden age of Hindi cinema of the 1950s, to the romance and action films of the 1970s, back to the more family-centered romantic musicals of the 1980s, and finally contemporary cutting-edge Bollywood films reminiscent of Western pop music videos, the show exhibits a spectacular display of Indian dance styles. The music is fantastic, the dancing is brilliant and the costumes are remarkable and very creative, with eye-popping colours.
There are some touching, even tear-jerking moments: after Ayesha returns home, she is courted by her childhood sweetheart through a sweet romantic number in white attire – very Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; and while her grandfather is dying, Ayesha performs for him his beloved, traditional Dance of the Gods – exquisite. When he passes she wails “don’t leave me now…I came back to tell you I love you!”.
The innovative last scene takes place at an Indian film awards ceremony, with a very humorous host monologue directed at the audience, and a spectacular dance finale. With excellent acting and singing, outstandingly beautiful choreography, fantastic energy, spirit and humour, sparkling, electric set design, and magnificent costumes, The Merchants of Bollywood makes you want to jump out of your seat and shimmy. This lovely insight into Indian culture and dance is tremendous fun.
The Merchants of Bollywood is on at the Peacock Theatre from 24th May until 11th June 2016. Book your tickets here.
Watch director of artistic programme Katy Arnander speak about the show here: