'Bombay Dreams' brightens Broadway

6/26/2004 12:00:00 AM
"Bombay Dreams," a musical about the Indian movie industry imported from London and revised for American audiences, has brought Bollywood to Broadway with all the lavish trimmings that $14 million can buy.

The budget is used to bolster a simple-minded, predictable show that wants desperately to be loved but the good news is there is much to like about this Andrew Lloyd Webber production and its mostly American cast headed by a promising young star, Manu Narayan, reports UPI.

Narayan is a compelling actor and outstanding singer who can light up a stage with sheer force of personality. Luckily, he is on the stage most of the time.

There also is much about "Bombay Dreams", as directed by Royal Shakespeare Company veteran Steven Pimlott, that lacks the sophistication expected on the Great White Way, if not in London's West End.

The book by British writer Meera Syal and American librettist Thomas Meehan ("Hairspray") is an obvious melodrama with little real emotional suspense, and the choreography by Anthony Van Laast and Farah Khan is energetic but crudely repetitive.

A.R. Rahman's music, with lyrics by Don Black ("Sunset Boulevard"), is at least authentic, since Rahman has written the soundtracks for over 100 Indian films, and the score includes three ballads that sound like hits: "Love's Never Easy", "How Many Stars" and "The Journey Home".

It's an eclectic mix of music ranging from the classical music of southern India to the Indian version of rock, performed by a 19-member pit orchestra assisted by two percussionists posted on either side of the proscenium in stage boxes who perform on a variety of Indian drums.

The drummers are costumed and sometimes dance along with the music, very much a part of the show.

Mark Thompson's sets and costumes are sensational and very beautiful in an exotic way that recalls fashion maven Diana Vreeland's adage, "Pink is the navy blue of India."

Hot colours and luxurious fabrics are used generously against backdrops of wildly cluttered slums, Malabar Hills mansions and luxury hotels to eye-popping effect. The show looks like all the millions it cost.

Narayan plays Akaash, a handsome slum youth of the untouchable caste who catches the eye of a seductively curvaceous and domineering movie star named Rani, deliciously played by Ayesha Dharker.

Rani brings Akaash to the attention of a lovely independent filmmaker, Priya, and for starters Rani agrees to play opposite Akaash in a low-budget black-and-white film unworthy of her status as a star.

Priya is a rebel who wants to make a film about the real life of India and its poorest people that reflects Akaash's own background. She is engaged to Vikram, a member of the aristocratic Brahmin caste, who pretends to be a pro bono attorney helping Akaash's grandmother and her friends when they are evicted from Paradise Slum to make way for a multiplex movie palace.

Actually, he is the real estate developer behind the project.

Vikram's duplicity leads to the fatal shooting of Akaash's best friend, a transvestite wedding entertainer called Sweetie. Vikram is arrested for the crime in the midst of his marriage to Priya, leaving the bride to the man she really loves and who loves her, the now-wealthy Akaash who can afford to buy Paradise Slum from the city and return it to its original inhabitants.

The show ends with Akaash and Priya's nuptials to the soaring strains of a traditional wedding qawwali, just as the audience knew it would from the first scene.

Priya is played spiritedly and with genuine charm by Anisha Nagarajan, and her father, a top studio film director named Madan, is played with great authority and elegance by Marvin L. Ishmael.

Deep Katdare is appropriately villainous as Vikram, and Sriram Ganesan nearly steals the show with his achingly sympathetic portrayal of the good-hearted transsexual Sweetie. As the grandmother, Madhur Jaffrey is altogether lovable.

Here are some of the dividends paid "Bombay Dreams'" audiences: a high-jet fountain that drenches the cast in an amusing dance scene; a procession of huge illuminated images of Ganesh, the elephant god; a glittering view of Bombay under the night stars; a wildly sexy Bollywood movie dance by the entire cast of 39 titled "Shakalaka Baby", the Miss India Pageant, and the Annual Indian Film Awards ceremony.

It's enough to make you want to see what Bollywood films, rarely exhibited in the US, are all about. Meanwhile, composer Rahman is writing songs for his second musical, a staged version of "The Lord of the Rings", scheduled to open in London in 2005.