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'Bombay Dreams' cast proves Bollywood's foray into US

By Mayank Chhaya, IANS

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It is a tribute to the eclectic nature of Hindi cinema that its Broadway representation "Bombay Dreams" is now featuring three top female characters played by actors of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

Tamayra Gray, who plays Priya, is African American; Anjali Bhimani, who plays Rani, is Indian American; and Yolande Bavan, who plays Shanti, is Sri Lankan American.

Gray, of course, knows no Hindi and has seen very little of Hindi cinema. Bhimani admits to being more at home in English and Spanish than Hindi or her mother tongue Gujarati. Bavan also does not know Hindi and has not seen a single Hindi film in her life.

Gray, who won America's heart but failed to win the first season of the hit reality show "American Idol", and is on a limited engagement with the show, told IANS: "I have always been very captivated by Indian culture.

"I grew up with my mother's best friend who is Indian. I grew up around her family and I remember going up to her and looking at her hands hennaed and I would go 'oh I want that too'.

"I fell in love with the food. I love foreign movies. I have seen 'Monsoon Wedding' and since 'Bombay Dreams' I have watched Bollywood movies, which I never did earlier. It is amazing - from the dancing to the passion in anything that you see in Bollywood movies. It is just beautiful."

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical has been playing to mixed reviews, with some reports that it is not drawing enough audiences to recover its investment. There are also reports that the show's producers would bring in a well-known name from Hindi cinema to boost its appeal.

"I am very excited about the show and I am very proud of it because it is something we have never had on Broadway," said Bhimani, a trained stage actor from Orange County, California.

Bavan said, "I have always known Indian culture because I sing jazz and I opened the first 'Bombay Yatra'. I went three years later again. I do talks on similarities between jazz improvisation and Indian music, which is very much the same thing. You set a theme and a pattern and improvise on that. The ragas are just that."

Gray, Bhimani and Bavan agree that popular Indian cinema is on a roll worldwide but is some distance away from mainstream acceptance.

"That is part of what is exciting about this show. It is just another step on the road to introducing that to the world audience and not just the Indian audience. Especially with movies like 'Monsoon Wedding' and 'The Guru' coming out here, people are starting to accept such cultural phenomena. I think it is definitely on its way, Bhimani said.

Gray said for a mainstream American like her, at first Mumbai cinema "agitates one".

"I don't think a lot of Americans who come to the show have any idea of what they are watching. They think they are watching just another musical and its not so much that as introducing you to what goes in a Bollywood movie. It is a great introduction for the American public," she said.

Bavan said in her judgment Indian cinema is "getting expanded" internationally because it generally conveys a sense of unbridled fun and joy.

On the impact of popular Indian music, Gray said in the past year and a half a lot of Indian influence has found its way into American mainstream contemporary music like Jay Z, who incorporated a Bhangra beat.

"It is definitely going to surface very soon. It is just great music. It feels great to your body. Your body is able to move beautifully. You can incorporate great dancing. You could not do your typical hip-hop dancing to a typical Indian track. It is not possible. You won't get the full experience."


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