sun 16/06/2024

Beyond Bollywood, London Palladium | reviews, news & interviews

Beyond Bollywood, London Palladium

Beyond Bollywood, London Palladium

New Bollywood musical is more tourist bait than effective dance drama

A blast from the past: Raghav (Mohit Mathur) returns to his folk roots

It seems almost redundant to critique a show that so ably – if unconsciously – critiques itself. “The power of Bollywood is it’s unique!” cries one character, before squandering that uniqueness in tired East/West fusion; "Dance should have feeling!” proclaims another as he launches into a propulsive routine as far removed from the emotional narrative as London is from Mumbai. 

In trying to rescue Bollywood from cliché, the show’s creators have instead cursorily employed a hodgepodge of dance drama recyclables, from star-crossed lovers embodying different styles and art informed by family trauma to the old “Only the big show can save our MacGuffin!” Honouring her late mother (Pooja Pant), Shaily (Ana Ilmi, pictured below) wants to preserve her precious Munich dance theatre; her drunken father (Sudeep Modak) demands she turn a profit or sell up. In search of inspiration, Shaily travels to India, where initially exploitative choreographer Raghav (Mohit Mathur) falls for her during a magical cross-country journey.

Beyond Bollywood, London PalladiumThe story is stretched thin over nearly three hours, not helped by bluntly expositional dialogue. (Sample: “This is Munich! Germany! Not India! And the theatre is dying – JUST LIKE YOUR DREAM!”) There are enough empty platitudes like “Follow your heart” and “Turn dreams into reality” to fill a thousand Milistones. In the second half, the show openly embraces its tourist-bait role with a guide to regional festivals, in place of a candid portrait of modern India.

Similarly, the question of artistic nationalism – expat Shaily wants to rediscover her roots, while Mumbai-based Raghav swaps folk dance for Western styles – gets frustratingly short shrift. The specific experience of this contemporary all-Indian company remains a mystery, nor is there any meta-theatrical comment on exporting native culture. Lloyd Webber-produced Bombay Dreams suffered from a surfeit of socially conscious plot; Beyond Bollywood settles for the odd burst of melodrama. The heightened tone extends to comedy, both intentional (and unfunny) – Modak’s clowning assistant – and unintentionally hilarious – Ghost Mother submerged in a fog of dry ice.

Beyond Bollywood, London PalladiumThe saving grace is Rajeev Goswami’s well-paced, athletic routines, powered by Salim-Sulaiman and Irfan Siddiqui’s hypnotic music – both live and pre-recorded. BBC Young Dancer viewers will recognise traditional styles like Kathak, Lezim and Bharatanatyam, and Pant (pictured left) offers a master class in their precise, hyper-articulated percussive footwork, razor-sharp pirouettes and nuanced expressiveness. The lovers are more charismatic individually than together; Mathur – with his Poldark-ian aversion to shirts – particularly enjoys the spotlight.

The ensemble delivers Goswami’s rhythmic formation work, soaring leaps and synchronised tumbling with joyful abandon, though falters on lifts. Forays into other styles, like a contemporary-lite pas de deux, are unmemorable, save a baffling camp detour (three words: it’s raining men). The Palladium stage feels a tad bare, with just video projections as a backdrop to Prajakta Gore’s colourfully costumed performers, but at its high-voltage, heart-pumping Bollywood best, the show transcends its shortcomings to provide spectacle with real crossover potential.

There are enough empty platitudes like 'Follow your heart' and 'Turn dreams into reality' to fill a thousand Milistones


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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Jaswinder Shergill (mother) was the star performer for me! Her opening performance was breathtaking and early demise was only compensated by her "ghostly re-appearance and of course the finale with her daughter. The "Riverdance" choreography was one of the most accomplished pieces I have seen - Good Luck Beyond Bollywood.

I agree with you Sangita, The mother was the only dancer that was able to touch my soul with her passion and performance. Beyond Bollywood was fun, colourful and up-beat. The story perhaps a bit cliché but overall a good night out!

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