From ‘Salaam Bombay’ to ‘Chakalaka Baby’ to the alluring tune of ‘Chaiyya, Chaiyya’ Chaiyya’, Bombay Dreams – Andrew Lloyd Webber and R.R. Rehman’s musical – manages to keep the audience engrossed in a melodrama based on fabled Indian movie themes of the fight between the good and the evil.
While Bombay Dreams is not as inventive or innovative as one would have expected from the creative skills of Mr. Webber, who after all has hit after hit on Broadway including “Phantom of the Opera” and “Cats’ – but it keeps the audiences engrossed in the story wherein the good triumphs over evil with enigmatic and sexy dance numbers. At one point one felt that the story line gets lost in the sumptuous dance ensemble numbers with vibrant music. Bombay Dreams is a mediocre story about Bombay. A tour guide Akaash (Manu Narayan) rise from the depths of the Paradise stump to become a Bollywood superstar. He gets there with the help of Priya (Anisha Nagarajan), an aspiring independent filmmaker planning a movie about her finance, Vikram (Deep Katdare), a lawyer who represents Bombay’s underprivileged. Priya helps Akkaash get his start by hijacking the entertainment at the Miss India Pageant, where he meets the glamorous film actress Rani (Ayesha Dharker), who insists he co-star in her next film. Akaash rockets to fame, but turns his back on his grandmother Shanti (Madhur Jaffrey), his friends in paradise, and his promise to make enough money to buy the slum to prevent it from being bulldozed. He soon must decide whether money, fame and rani are more attractive to him than his family, friends and the budding relationship with priya. Bombay dreams is in fact the classic formula story which works in every Bollywood film. It is written by Mera Syal and Thomas Meehan who have adapted classic Indian movie themes by cleverly integrating them into the plot by giving them a typical western twist. Using the plot contrivances for humor in this way helps anchor the show and the characters’ occasional comments on the twists in the plot resemble Bollywood film. The production is skillfully realized with Steven Pimlott’s direction bringing all the elements nicely together. Hugh Vanstone’s lights are well done, but are overshadowed by Mark Thompson’s lavish (and numerous) sets and costumes. They render, in vibrantly colorful theatrical terms, the Bollywood-style atmosphere the story requires; Thompson’s designs for the film-within-the-play musical numbers are especially successful in the way they embrace almost-contrived glitz and glamour. The large group numbers, which employ some two dozen performers, are nothing short of spectacular. In the ‘Salaam Bombay’ opener, the extravagant “Lovely, Lovely Ladies” and “Bhangra” for the Miss India Pageant, and the full-out Bollywood showstoppers “Shakalaka Baby” and “Chaiyya,” with Anthony Van Laast and Farah Khan provide most invigorating choreography. One performer who outshines all her co-stars is Ayesha Dharker (Rani) who has several juicy numbers as she exploits her curves and skills to enthrall the audiences. At one point when she exploits her body to display her assets, the hero Akaash tells her “now cover those golden globes.” But Ms. Dharker’s vivacious and sexy stance is reminiscent of Indian actress Helen who performed some killer dance numbers in Indian films. Sriram Ganeshan turns in the show’s most engaging performance as Sweetie, a eunuch harboring an eternal flame for Akaash. He possesses the stage presence most of the others lack, a terrific voice and expert comic timing. With all its shortcomings, Bombay Dreams does provide two and a half hours of solid entertainment.