Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Up-beat, sexy dance, eye-popping costumes and catchy music.

The Merchants of Bollywood

touring company , Wales Millennium Centre , December-18-06
The Merchants of Bollywood by touring company This review first appeared in the Western Mail...


THIS is one of those don’t think about it too much, feel good shows that does just what you expect of it - and does it exceedingly well.

A stage full of fabulous dancers in stunning multi-coloured costumes shimmering with enough sequins and gold baubles to light up the drabbest of December nights.

The story is as predictable as the average Bollywood movie with a family feud (the Merchants) and a love interest, with all ending happily. This time round it is the tale of a young temple dancer Ayesha whose grandfather had been one of the legendary early Indian film pioneers.

The grandfather Shantilal Merchant played by Arif Zakaria had devoted his life to making cinema the new temple for the Indian people, to speak in one language to help heal the rift of partition.

But as speech and music brought more and more commercialism (and sex)
into the industry he took a principled stand and retired to his native Rajasthan village. Here he tends the flames at the family temple and bring up his granddaughter daughter Ayesha, played by Carol Furtado in the ancient arts of dance.

Somewhere along the line a young lad Uday played by Dipender Singh appears in the plot. I think he has lost the ability to speak somewhere along the line. So, mute but cute, he has also been brought up by the grandfather and becomes Ayesha’s beau.

But Ayesha has set her sights on making her own name in the film industry, rejects the temple dancing and off she flits to Bollywood. She is, again of course, a huge success as a choreographer, swapping the Temple for Travolta.

This basically forms the first half of the show. Not too much plot and dialogue – when it is of the standard of “What use is the past if it holds us back?” no-one is complaining – but masses of incredible dance set to well-known Bollywood film songs and thumping contemporary tracks.

This is what we have come to see. Incredibly energetic dance merging and mingling ethic styles with everything from hip-hop to disco all against thumping beat that make sit impossible to keep your feet still.

There are a few jarring elements that perhaps are not so jarring in Bollywood, particularly the camp film director that seems just a rather dated and silly caricature. But then maybe in Bollywood film directors are like that.

Similarly the chief dancer who is Ayesha’s love interest needs to be told no matter how good your chest (tattoos and all) it isn’t necessary to whip your shirt off at every opportunity. Although a friend did ask me at the time why, with a chest like that, was I complaining? She had a point.

The second half of the show plummeted into Bollywood panto. Three not particularly funnymen that served the purpose of filling us in with what had happened since Ayesha had gone off to Bollywood and how disillusioned grandfather had hit the bottle.

Sadly they also gave us a terrible slapstick routine that was farcical and ribald in equal measure. One passage centred on talking about a man’s camel and his wife, with the other chappie not sure when he was referring to the wife and when the camel. Apparently she wouldn’t lift her legs. You can guess the rest. Sadly we didn’t have to.

The plot dragged along in a sentimental way with Ayesha rediscovering her roots, coming home, being reunited with lover boy and finally executing the great Temple dance her grandfather had always wanted her to do. He drops dead on the spot but Ayesha will continue the family and the tradition of keeping the temple flames alight.

Enough plot. Back to the dance. Which fortunately is just what happens. After the introduction of more traditional dance and musical elements including spinning drummers it is back to Bombay for the film awards.

Guess who wins choreographer of the year? And guess who she dedicates it to? That’s right – so time for a grand finale with another high-octane disco extravaganza that runs and runs.

The real stars of the shows are those superhuman dancers and the choreography of Vaibhavi Merchant on whose life it is apparently loosely based.

The dancing continues through the curtain call. Yes, Dipender Singh gets his shirt off again. Bags of fun and dancing that knocks the socks off most shows I have seen at WMC (including Footloose). A night of up-beat, sexy dance, eye-popping costumes and catchy music.

Reviewed by: Mike Smith

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